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”
Pepper_Rabbit_Red_Velvet_Snow_Ball Pepper Rabbit – Red Velvet Snow Ball

★★★½☆

Red Velvet Snow Ball, inspired by a cake-flavored snow cone, is L.A.-based Pepper Rabbit’s sophomore LP and a whimsical follow-up to its bubbly debut, Beauregard.

Originally from New Orleans, Xander Singh and Luc Laurent find inspiration from genres across the board. From David Bowie to Jamie Lidell, the experimental pop duo wanted to create an album to get lost in. Red Velvet Snow Ball is just that.

The duo’s dreamy psychedelic pop is catchy, bright and creatively layered with depth.

Never straying from the common pop backbone, Pepper Rabbit finds comfort in experimentation and seemingly never-ending swirls and twirls of sounds in an effort to create an atmospheric sound that will engulf the listener.

The harmonized vocals in songs such as “In Search of Simon Birch” and “The Annexation of Puerto Rico” resemble a breezy style similar to labelmate Grizzly Bear. The hopeful key progressions and ambient pop blends together, creating a technological hodge-podge. Yet the accompaniment of orchestral instruments adds a dash of folk, but it’s in a less-obvious manner than last year’s Beauregard.

The ukulele has been replaced by the keyboard as the front instrument backed up by nearly a dozen instruments including the horn, clarinet and synths, which Laurent learned by watching instructional YouTube videos after bringing home instruments from working at vintage music store.

“Allison” opens with an eerie carnival-like tune, like an abandoned carousel with its music stuck on repeat and distorted from age. It’s enchanting and subtly naïve. With repeated loops, minor distortion and echoed keys, “Allison” is a dreamy lullaby.

The sophomore slump is completely foreign to this art-pop duo.  Red Velvet Snow Ball is layered so meticulously to sound as if there were a dozen members of the band. Releasing two albums in the span of 10 months is a feat, but creating two charming and equally creative and distinct albums is downright impressive.

Album closer, “Tiny Fingers” has a beautifully entrancing innocence about it. Think fluffy clouds, bunny rabbits and rainbows. The high-pitched keys and eclectic array of bouncing melodies flow gracefully throughout the first half of the song until a basic bassline awakens the dream into a peaceful reality. It leaves the listener feeling warm, hypnotized and maybe even a little lovestruck.

Pepper Rabbit – Red Velvet Snow Ball tracklist:

  1. “Lake House”
  2. “Rose Mary Stretch”
  3. “Allison”
  4. “The Annexation of Puerto Rico”
  5. “Family Planning”
  6. “Murder Room”
  7. “In Search of Simon Birch”
  8. “Dance Card”
  9. “The Ballad of Alessandro Moreschi”
  10. “Tiny Fingers”
Wild Flag - Wild Flag Wild Flag – Wild Flag

★★★★½

Without question, one of the most anticipated indie releases of 2011 is the self-titled debut from a new band called Wild Flag. Given the quartet’s pedigree, it’s not hard to understand why. For those who have been oblivious to the buzz, the group features former Sleater-Kinney members guitarist Carrie Brownstein (also of IFC’s “Portlandia”) and drummer Janet Weiss (also half of Quasi and one of former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus’s Jicks). Also on guitar is Mary Timony of Helium semi-fame (although she was in seminal outfit Autoclave and has released some quality solo work of her own), and the band’s secret weapon is keyboardist Rebecca Cole from an act called the Minders (of not much fame, but affiliated with The Elephant Six Collective). All the members add vocals, although Brownstein takes the most leads, with a few going to Timony.

The brutal truth about Sleater-Kinney (which also included Corin Tucker, who now fronts her own band) was that for all the influence it carried as the natural all girl extension of the 1990s riot grrl movement, the band was never an “easy” listen. In fact, for the most part, it was just the opposite: It would come close to a pop hook or a lovely melody and go in the exact other direction, as if to confound the listener’s expectations. Make no mistake, Sleater-Kinney rocked passionately, but its sound was all about the tension and the abrasiveness, and the songs were never “there” enough to make one perfect record.

In stark contrast, the “girrrls” in Wild Flag are now embracing the pop song, exploding everyone’s preconceptions about what a post-riot girl outfit might sound like. Like all the best bands, Wild Flag is more than the sum of its parts, and while it looks like a marriage made in heaven on paper, on record, it’s even better than one might expect.

It doesn’t sound like the quartet is trying too hard. It sounds like they’re having fun, and it’s also a fun listen.

That’s not to say that they’re all “shiny happy” pop songs a la like-minded micro-indie supergroup All Girl Summer Fun Band. Indeed, there is a toughness to their delivery, and the tension that permeates cuts such as “Future Crimes” is undeniable.

The single “Romance” that kicks off the record sounds like a manifesto in some ways: “We love the sound, the sound is what found us, the sound is the blood between me and you,” Brownstein sings. Wild Flag has a chemistry that binds all the disparate elements together: the hiccupping lead vox of Brownstein, the backing harmonies that align with the current girl-group revival, the pulsing psychedelic keyboard parts that anchor the interweaving guitar parts, the hand-claps sprinkled liberally throughout the tracks. All of it works, and the band sounds like a well-oiled machine.

Although it begins with a classic-rock flourish seemingly inspired by Golden Earring’s “Radar Love,” the Timony-led “Glass Tambourine” serves as a meditation on the delicacy of the counter-cultural movement of music. This is neither the “Green Tambourine” of The Lemon Pipers, nor is it the Black Tambourine proto-shoegaze assemblage destined for the influence category on the next-gen fuzz-pop masters. Nor is it Beck song “Black Tambourine” that may or may not have been an homage. Rather, it is a commentary on the delicacy of the music. Although on the surface it may sound tough and strong, the reality is, it could shatter just like any relationship (or band).

At the beginning of “Racehorse,” listeners could be forgiven for thinking they’re hearing a Led Zeppelin or Robert Plant cut, but Wild Flag throw in some Buzzcocks-like guitar lines a la “Noise Annoys” and once the vocals kick in, it’s clear they’re back in post-punk paradise.

If that’s really Timony on the lead vocals to “Something Came Over Me,” she’s never sounded so mature and self-assured. It’s telling that they have to “let the good times toll” before they can “let the good times roll.”  She’s saying that good and bad must take their toll before fun can be had, and that seems to be the real breakthrough of Wild Flag.

“Black Tiles”  finishes things off with an ascending and descending electric guitar line that sounds vaguely Middle Eastern, but it’s all Bawls-to-the-wall distorted guitar chords on the choruses.

Sonically, whether specifically inspired or an example of parallel evolution, there is a way in which the pivoting keyboard parts flesh out the sound of Wild Flag in a fashion similar to Chicago acts such as The Dials and Swiss Dots (formerly Telenovela). Without Cole’s keyboards, this could just as easily have been a Sleater-Kinney record without Tucker, and with the addition of Timony.

But of course, Wild Flag has discovered the power of pop and is not afraid to embrace it. Wild Flag is the summation of the girl-group legacy and the next sonic step for the remnants of the riot girl movement, even though they admittedly draw inspiration from musical history not limited to their punk and post-punk forebears.

Wild Flag – Wild Flag tracklist:

  1. “Romance”
  2. “Something Came Over Me”
  3. “Boom”
  4. “Glass Tambourine”
  5. “Endless Talk”
  6. “Short Version”
  7. “Electric Band”
  8. “Future Crimes”
  9. “Racehorse”
  10. “Black Tiles”
Deer Tick - Divine Providence Deer Tick – Divine Providence

★★☆☆☆

For a band familiar with covers and proud of its rendition of time-honored rock ‘n’ roll, returning to its hometown of Providence, R.I., to record its aptly titled fourth full-length (Divine Providence) seems like a perfect fit: a group that honors the past of rock would, naturally, honor its own past.

Since forming in 2004, guitarist/lead vocalist John McCauley’s Deer Tick has undergone extensive forming and reforming, but the band members are currently—and perhaps once and for all—McCauley, Ian O’Neil (ex-Titus Andronicus guitarist), Chris Ryan (bass and vocals), Rob Crowell (keyboard, saxophone and vocals) and Dennis Ryan (drums and vocals).

Changing the members of the band doesn’t seem to lead to Deer Tick maintaining distinction album to album, however. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Sonically, Deer Tick seemed to stake its claim with its debut War Elephant in 2007 without much intent of seeking new ground.

Through the first half of Divine Providence, Deer Tick plays to the sensibilities of a ragtag bunch of rowdy drunks (i.e. themselves) in a crowded barroom looking for music they could stomp and shout along to. By the end of the album, the mood changes and the album would have the same belligerent bunch sitting with slumped shoulders, looking quietly and introspectively into their beers.

The first three tracks on the album, “The Bump,” “Funny Word” and “Let’s All Go to the Bar,” strike a rockabilly chord that does less to make the group seem like a Skoal-spitting bunch of sleeveless rockers and instead like an indie-punk band trying to channel a raucous, alt-country vibe, which still doesn’t quite encapsulate Deer Tick.

Tracks such as “Clownin’ Around,” the strongest track of the album, and “Chevy Express” quickly derail this attempt at a short description of the group, which isn’t saying the band has an overly unique sound. They stay far within the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll, but they do like to hit several of its sub-genres throughout this album: alt-country, indie rock, rockabilly, indie folk and garage rock.

In “Clownin’ Around,” the album changes gears for the first time. More noticeably, the vocal responsibilities change, but more importantly, so does the band’s tone. Deer Tick leaves behind the beer-soaked thudding and grit and gives way to an eerie, emptying song—it might even be about John Wayne Gacy—exemplifying the band’s (albeit limited) range.

The album is somewhat front-loaded with feel-good rock and leaves on a note of melancholy, but that’s not necessarily to the detriment of the album. The mix of tracks gives the album some balance. However, the dispositions are so far opposite each other expressively that the transition into these songs feels somewhat abrupt. As far as ingenuity or musical invention, this album lacks it completely. For Deer Tick fans, however, that’s probably a good thing.

Deer Tick – Divine Providence tracklist:

  1. “The Bump”
  2. “Funny Word”
  3. “Let’s All Go to the Bar”
  4. “Clownin’ Around”
  5. “Main Street”
  6. “Chevy Express”
  7. “Something to Brag About”
  8. “Walkin’ Out the Door”
  9. “Make Believe”
  10. “Now It’s Your Turn”
  11. “Electric”
  12. “Miss K.”
Mayer-Hawthorne-LP-How-Do-You-Do-cover Mayer Hawthorne – How Do You Do

★★★★½

If listeners were to see Mayer Hawthorne before hearing his music, there are solid odds they would instantly begin to judge him. Considering his almost prototypical hipster clothing choices and his nerdy, suburban white-boy appearance, one might stop to wonder what over-done, 1980s-influenced electronic music he was trying to force into your ears, but that would be falling into the age-old trap of judging a book by its cover.

Hawthorne is not a hipster. His style is classic because his music and tastes are the same way. He’s an emergent artist whose music is rooted in the sounds of Motown with a flavor that never feels outdated. In effect, he’s the most soulful white boy to croon on a track since Justin Timberlake was still making music.

His first album, A Strange Arrangement (2009), is a solid recording that is great in some spots and good in most others, but while listening to it, it feels like something is missing. There’s lyrical content and tempo change-ups throughout, but there are just not enough deviations from his bread-and-butter soul-ballad style. Hawthorne has fixed this lack of sonic variety with his recent release and major-label debut, How Do You Do.

“Get To Know You” and “You’re Not Ready” sound like lost Marvin Gaye songs. “Finally Falling” fits firmly within the blue-eyed soul genre of music made famous by artists such as Hall and Oates.

“The Walk” is only missing Ed Sullivan’s stage and at least three backup dancers to complete the illusion it creates of being a 1960s soul classic. “Dreaming” is a pop-soul tune that feels a lot like something Brian Wilson would have crafted back in his heyday with The Beach Boys. “Hooked” is so Motown that you begin to wonder if Berry Gordy approved the song himself. “Can’t Stop” features a perfect cameo from Snoop Dogg at his smoothest, with Hawthorne reaching into the low end of his vocal spectrum and a groove that makes it feel like Teddy Riley produced it. There’s obviously something here for everyone.

In finally realizing that not only does Hawthorne write and sing his own lyrics, but also produces these smooth-as-butter tracks, it becomes clear he’s a talent that is poised to set the music world on fire.

With the success of last year’s soulful The Lady Killer from Cee-Lo Green and a renewed public interest in vintage style and sound because of the recent passing of Amy Winehouse, there is an obvious market out there for this album. Whether you’ve got a broken heart in need of mending, are deeply in love with a new flame, or just want some more quality soul music in your life, then there’s nowhere else you should turn.

Mayer Hawthorne – How Do You Do tracklist:

  1. “Get to Know You”
  2. “A Long Time”
  3. “Can’t Stop”
  4. “Dreaming”
  5. “The Walk”
  6. “Finally Falling”
  7. “Hooked”
  8. “Stick Around”
  9. “The News”
  10. “You Called Me”
  11. “You’re Not Ready”
  12. “No Strings”
La Dispute - Wildlife La Dispute – Wildlife

★★★★☆

On 2008’s Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, La Dispute offered some fairly standard post-hardcore that felt more like the band paying homage to its influences than standing on its own two legs. Since then, the quintet has refined its sound and found ways to make vocalist Jordan Dreyer’s spoken-word vocal style gel with the rest of the band.

Dreyer doesn’t write lyrics, but instead tension-fueled short stories that he delivers with a shouted desperation. Developing characters and scenarios in mere seconds, Dreyer executes them in a manner that borders on cinematic. The stories bring the listener into the midst of each situation, allowing a close proximity to the situations that have been constructed.

Dreyer’s ability to execute these elaborate stories is one of the biggest reasons why Wildlife is more effective than any of La Dispute’s previous works.

This is not to say that Dreyer is the only reason why Wildlife is a more successful album. Guitarists Chad Sterenburg and Kevin Whittemore have integrated a nuanced style that allows for quiet moment to be moodier without meandering while writing pounding riffs that are executed with higher proficiency and purpose. On tracks such as “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues,” they create rhythms that complement Dreyer while subtly blending their unique parts into one another.

As Wildlife moves toward its second half, it keeps from stagnating thanks to drummer Brad Vander Lugt’s unique and inspired approach to each song. Rarely using similar patterns, he grooves with bassist Adam Vass, showing how necessary an adept rhythm section is to a post-hardcore band.

It is toward the albums end when Wildlife offers up its three strongest tracks: “King Park,” “Edward Benz, 27 Times” and “I See Everything.” This three-song section is the high point for the group’s career, both musically and lyrically. It’s fitting that these three tracks take up nearly a third of the album’s runtime, as it is simultaneously the most enjoyable section of the album and also the most unnerving. Each song deals with subject matter more weighty than the next—a drive-by shooting, a schizophrenic son attacking his father and a mother recounting her seven-year-old son’s battle with cancer. On these tracks, La Dispute proves that quality art isn’t always the easiest to digest. Each song would have been a suitable album closer because they leave listeners drained by the time each reaches their conclusion.

At nearly an hour in length, Wildlife is a behemoth of an album. La Dispute stepped up its game and is now challenging fans to take that step along with them. While the album fumbles a bit at its start, once it settles into its groove it never lets up. If the tracklist were pared down, it could have been a perfect album, but there is no shame in merely writing the most arduous record of the year.

La Dispute – Wildlife tracklist:

  1. “A Departure”
  2. “Harder Harmonies”
  3. “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues”
  4. “Edit Your Hometown”
  5. “A Letter”
  6. “Safer in the Forest/Love Songs for Poor Michigan”
  7. “The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit”
  8. “A Poem”
  9. “King Park”
  10. “Edward Benz, 27 Times”
  11. “I See Everything”
  12. “A Broken Jar”
  13. “All Our Bruised Bodies and the Whole Heart Shrinks”
  14. “You and I in Unison”
Justice - Audio Video Disco Justice – Audio, Video, Disco

★★★½☆

There are two recurring perils for successful bands releasing second albums. One: the band, gouged on the size of its success, sets about composing stadium-sized anthems for its new minions—honed for massive stages and epic live sets—without once realizing that these songs are vapid. Two: the band for whatever reason (sick of success, not wanting to be cornered in, tired of critics’ conclusions) goes so far away from what made it appealing in the first place that it loses its magic touch. Audio, Video, Disco is a study in both of these pitfalls; it is also a pastiche of a genre long dead (that starts with a ‘P’ and ends in “ock”), and to top it all off, when you get through it, not half bad.

Like Cross, it might take some time to bloom in memory and when it does, it won’t be nearly as pleasing a pattern or elaborate a design. In truth, it’s not clear whether Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé have made it to be memorable. Justice does not pretend. The band doesn’t don otherworldly stage outfits to garner attention, shave half their heads (these are all theoretical examples) or resort to a seizure-inducing laser/light show to sell themselves. Justice doesn’t seek to seriously prove their musicianship (hence the stack of inane Marshalls on their stage), only have an Ed Banger’s ball. One gets the sense listening to Justice that it’s coming straight from the gut, the goofy, tongue-in-cheek side of the duo that shines through in person.

After famously hailing Audio, Video, Disco a “daylight album” to the night of Cross, de Rosnay went on to confess he’s a “terrible musician” and that the band’s forthcoming album would contain stadium rock. Well, unlike other slithery interviews with cocky and evasive musicians, this one turned out to have its basis in fact. From the opening guitar climbs of “Horsepower,” the first inclination might be to laugh—out loud. And yet as surely as you’re laughing, it bursts through with harsh, grinding electro strings—building in much the same way “Genesis” did.

Prowling on, “Civilization” bears its standard with the same instrumentation, a few glamorous piano hits and digitized guitars adding to the effect. Audio, Video, Disco is hurt/helped by being workout music—it is the soundtrack to an Adidas commercial, also perfect “brisk walk” tempo, where the things in your life seem to be literally synced up with the beat. That said, the album is cohesive. Nothing protrudes but the noxious testosterone of the sung pieces. Heavily-phased “Kashmir” drums guide the sunshine spiritual “On ‘n’ On,” whereas the groove of “New Lands” is so shamelessly Phil Rudd/Angus Young that it’s a small wonder royalty checks aren’t being wired Down Under. Vocals on both are contributed by Morgan Phalen of Diamond Nights, a band not unfamiliar with late-1970s rock. But consider the elements: Audio, Video, Disco didn’t emerge from nothing.

Metal has always been a primary color in Justice’s palette. From their remix of Death From Above 1979’s “Blood on Our Hands” to their Metallica-sampling live “Finale” to the guitar solo on “Planisphere” (a Dior Homme commission making its first official appearance as a bonus track on the album) the thrash sneaks out like a dirty hobby, and it’s not surprising to see it permeate Audio, Video, Disco. There’s the rollicking palm-muted, “Canon” and the double-time breakdown on “New Lands.” Justice also habitually employ baroque runs, and as such, the album is the perfect accompaniment to your next jousting tournament.

So if Justice isn’t what we thought—a thunderous, irreverent and Bad opposite to Daft Punk, what is Ed Banger?

What began as a bunch of 18th arrondissement kids with a penchant for leather jackets, cigarettes and Michael Jackson now face soul-searching times. With his album Total, Sebastian seems to be doing Justice more justice than Justice. Busy P is too busy hyping his boys to release anything of note, Mr. Oizo’s last clip was the soundtrack to Rubber (with Justice), Uffie likewise has struggled to hit the charts since her collaboration on Cross, and in a shocking tragedy to music and the world, Mehdi was killed in a rooftop collapse.

With Cross in 2007, Justice stole electro and in turn, dance music. These days, Skrillex and Deadmau5 titillate audiences. Modern House fans would sooner turn up at a Tiësto show than explore its origins. This is why it seems like Audio, Video, Disco, rather than jolt the world to attention like Cross, is a concession on de Rosnay and Augé’s part—a refusal to play the game. Or at least play the game by its own rules.

It reeks more of the duo doing what they want to do, exploring sounds they like, holistically. And yeah, they might be sounds with a firm footing in the past but who’s to say the objective was invention?

Be advised, fans. Justice “Pandora” is now likely to include Yes, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Blue Öyster Cult, Rush and Black Sabbath.

Justice – Audio, Video, Disco tracklist:

  1. “Horsepower”
  2. “Civilization”
  3. “Ohio”
  4. “Canon (Primo)”
  5. “Canon”
  6. “On ‘n’ On”
  7. “Brainvision”
  8. “Parade”
  9. “New Lands”
  10. “Helix”
  11. “Audio, Video, Disco”
Mark McGuire - Get Lost Mark McGuire – Get Lost

★★☆☆☆

Mark McGuire has picked and plucked away at drone, ambient chords for quite a while now, both with his band Emeralds and in a separate solo project. Deplete of the synths and electronic elements that are so essential to Emeralds’ sound, McGuire’s solo output instead aligns itself with guitar records whose focus rests on live instrumentation and accompanied looping rather than lyrical diversity. His latest release, Get Lost, is no different, but we see McGuire dabbling with minor vocals and a more deliberate (although still heavy) use of drone effects.

Compared with 2010′s Living With Yourself, McGuire’s newest acquisition demonstrates a greater sense of intention behind his musical process. Rather than honing his skills with improvisation, McGuire uses reoccurring motifs in the form of bubbling loops and specific key plucking to create an accessible soundscape. Whether listeners are able to distinguish his exact intentions and ideas is strictly determined by the individual. However, McGuire provides his audience with a consistent framework to achieve such realizations. Not everybody takes the initiative to understand a musician’s greater meaning behind the music, thus Get Lost functions pleasantly as an album whose optimism is found in its beautifully arranged instrumentation.

Opening and title track “Get Lost” steals the spotlight on the six-song collection. Utilizing an immense filter on lightly strummed guitar chords, McGuire gradually dials up the volume and energy of the track until it reaches a hazy, albeit brief climax. However climatic the end of the song renders itself, it doesn’t necessarily fulfill its preceding buildup because of its fuzzy nature and short existence. “Another Dead End” begins rather slowly before proceeding into a three-chord progression, all the while emitting a sort of swirling atmosphere.

It’s pretty clear that McGuire is trying to deliberately construct and arrange his loops and layers, but he also attempts to tighten his output with his own voice. We first hear McGuire’s sensitive vocals on “Alma” and later in “Alma (Reprise)/Chances Are …” His singing bestows another layer of softness to his guitar strumming and further promotes the albums cohesive sound.

Closing the album is “Firefly Constellations,” an exaggerated 20-minute escapade into celestial soundscapes and gurgling drones. McGuire’s live chords are washed over with twinkling satellite drones that will either immerse your ears or have you begging for the mute switch. Like the preceding songs, the album’s closer trades suspenseful dynamics for a more consistent outpour, and this exchange doesn’t lend itself to any real intensity.

Despite his lush guitar arpeggios and diverse arrangement of layers and loops, McGuire’s recent effort seems slightly incomplete.

Almost every one of the collection’s six tracks toys with the possibility of a momentous acceleration, yet none fulfill such expectations. The individual tracks tend to leave listeners hanging in mid-space, wanting and anticipating more. Get Lost lacks an overall “wow factor,” something that would set McGuire’s minimal instrumentals apart from an oversaturated industry. It begs the question then, if McGuire is so well-associated with bubbling drone ascetics, where should he draw the line between tasteful arrangements and painful overuse? Consequently, Get Lost would benefit tenfold if McGuire dialed the drone down a bit and put the spotlight on his precise chord selection.

Mark McGuire – Get Lost tracklist:

  1. “Get Lost”
  2. “When You’re Somewhere (You Ought to Be There)”
  3. “Alma”
  4. “Another Dead End”
  5. “Alma (Reprise)/Chances Are …”
  6. “Firefly Constellations”
Youth Lagoon - The Year of the Hibernation album cover Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

★★★★☆

By the time you’ve listened through the intro track, “Posters,” you’ll have a pretty good grasp of what Youth Lagoon’s debut album, The Year of Hibernation, has to offer. Through the four minutes it takes the song to run its course, there’s a slow yet powerful build to an emotional climax, an excellent bass breakdown, a catchy drumbeat and an overwhelming sense of all-encompassing anxiety.

Youth Lagoon is the name multi-instrumentalist Trevor Powers uses while mixing piano and synths together to form surprisingly introspective and emotional chillwave music, and his first full-length album is an overwhelming success. Over the course of  The Year of Hibernation’s eight tracks, listeners are given a fresh and unique experience: catchy, structurally simple riffs float in, overdose on reverb, are given space to expand and echo, and yet still end up immediately understandable, accessible, and even occasionally danceable. It’s rare when an artist can take something simple and turn it into something elegant, but that’s exactly what Powers does with his synths and that’s why the album is so strong.

The synths make or break the songs, and as a result, instrumentation frequently overrides the vocals, which are often downplayed or kept quiet, and heavily filtered to sound hazy or watery. Focusing on the lush synthesizer or piano riffs definitely plays to the band’s strengths, but those interested in dissecting and absorbing the lyrics may have a difficult time deciphering exactly what Powers is singing.

Although the muddied vocals fit perfectly into the heavy reverb of the album, it’s still a little disappointing that the wording is so hard to make out because the lyrics really are well-written and tap into some powerful feelings—listeners just won’t notice unless they really dig for it. Luckily, the album’s sound alone provides a very concrete emotional context for us to connect to, so muffled vocals aren’t really a big hindrance. Still, it’s something to be prepared for when first listening to the record.

That constant appeal to emotional connection, surprisingly varied song structure and strong instrumentation make every track on the album worth multiple listens, but highlight tracks such as the aforementioned “Posters,” the catchy and drum-driven “Cannons,” and the upbeat and ever-changing “Daydream” will keep listeners returning to The Year of Hibernation for multiple takes.

If there is one song people have to hear though, it’s the album’s seventh track, “Montana,” which perfectly captures what makes all of the above great and then ramps it all up. It’s a slow build to an extremely satisfying expulsion of emotion that stays with the listener long after the album is over. It’s hard not to cheer along when the song hits the explosive climax. It’s almost a must-listen experience, and it really shows how great The Year of Hibernation can be.

It’s melodically simple, but lyrically dense; catchy, but heartbreaking and genuine, The Year of Hibernation marks Youth Lagoon as one of the best new acts in recent memory, and if there’s any real complaint to be made about the album, it’s that it’s over too quickly.

Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation Tracklist:

  1. “Posters”
  2. “Cannons”
  3. “Afternoon”
  4. “17″
  5. “July”
  6. “Daydream”
  7. “Montana”
  8. “The Hunt”
tim-hecker-dropped-pianos Tim Hecker – Dropped Pianos

★★★★☆

After already releasing one of the year’s most surprising and remarkable albums in Ravedeath, 1972, a dark and brooding piece of droney synth music that was as confounding as it was fascinating, Tim Hecker offers another batch of tunes in the form of Dropped Pianos. It’s an album that doesn’t so much reorient the sound but instead builds upon it, expanding the parameters previously set forth.

This “is not a new Tim Hecker album, but rather a peek behind the curtains into the working progress,” according to a news release for the album. Still, it plays like something of a sequel to the last one. They also share the same artwork, which depicts a group of MIT students hurling a piano off a building. The symbolism behind the image is somewhat on the nose—Hecker’s aim is to deconstruct the idea of the piano as both a concept and an instrument—but that doesn’t keep both albums from possessing a strong sense of cohesion.

Depicted as a series of sketches—each track is listed as “Sketch 1,” “Sketch 2,” and so on—Dropped Pianos is heavy on reverb and minor keys, creating sounds that feel like shadows, looming in the corners of Hecker’s aural compositions.

There are certainly moments when the release feels incomplete, where the “working process” comes through. Hecker often begins a song with a sense of drive before essentially dovetailing into a fog of wayward tones and textures. As such, the argument could be made that Dropped Pianos is a less focused effort than its predecessor. But there’s concision at play. Hecker may meander in spurts, but he avoids heading too far down the rabbit hole before reasserting his focus.

In fact, considering the pithiness of “Sketch 3,” “Sketch 6” and “Sketch 8”—each track clocks in at less than two minutes—it soon becomes evident that these deviations don’t come as a result of Hecker’s unfocused musings. Instead, they’re variations on a theme, proving himself to be a more malleable than he might present himself.

The moods evoked by Dropped Pianos aren’t exactly sunny. Many songs sound like they would fit splendidly in a neo-horror film, such as the ominously creepy “Sketch 5.” But it would be difficult (and unwise) to try and put concrete labels on any “sketch.” Dropped Pianos is absolutely devoid of structure and eschews pop-music comforts in ways that could leave some feeling cold.

For that reason, the album often feels daring and unhinged, despite its sense of calm and control. Balancing this incongruity likely wasn’t an easy thing to do, but such is the command of Hecker’s formal abilities. For a lot of reasons, Dropped Pianos should not work: on the surface it feels directionless, sedated and pretentious.

Bubbling beneath surface is a supreme vision. As he expands upon his ever-evolving sound, we’re beginning to learn more about Hecker’s interests as an artist as opposed to his interests as merely a musician. As a result, Dropped Pianos feels more personal than Ravedeath, which had a larger scope in terms of its listenability. Perhaps the moments Hecker culled for this album are the ones he couldn’t quite place into the last one. Regardless of their impetus, the songs amount to an album that is rightfully described as an experience.

Tim Hecker – Dropped Pianos tracklist:

  1. “Sketch 1″
  2. “Sketch 2″
  3. “Sketch 3″
  4. “Sketch 4″
  5. “Sketch 5″
  6. “Sketch 6″
  7. “Sketch 7″
  8. “Sketch 8″
  9. “Sketch 9″
Crooked-Fingers-LP-Breaks-in-the-Armor-cover Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor

★★★½☆

Eric Bachmann, a former member of the disbanded yet recently revived Archers of Loaf, has crafted his sixth LP for all those broken hearts, hopeless romantics, and guilt-ridden. The album is a beautiful life lesson to be heard through his significant vocals and minimal instrumentation, and although his previous Forfeit/Fortune may have over saturated the idea of self-realization, Bachmann’s latest offering under the moniker Crooked Fingers, yields a sense of necessary brokenness to achieve its greater meaning.

Recorded with The Pixies’ live sound engineer Matt Yelton, Breaks’ unpolished sound contributes to its overall essence as an album riddled with lyrical beauty, regret and melancholy. Thus, its homemade quality doesn’t compromise the album as a whole, but instead, it paints a more natural picture for listeners and further showcases the artists’ sincerity to his music. The fuzzy beginning of “The Hatchet” is a perfect example of Bachmann’s organic recording and producing methods. Bachmann’s sophisticated and rich vocals also play an integral role as they earnestly reflect on the singer’s past experiences and potential future, touching on personal topics that are widely familiar.

In the opening track “Typhoon,” Bachmann establishes a feeling of exhausted remorse, which remains a reoccurring theme throughout the 11-track collection. He softly laments “forgotten lows” and past grievances that seem to haunt his troubled consciousness, like ghosts beneath a full moon. Not only does Bachmann directly spell out his emotional turmoil, but tracks like “Bad Blood” and “Heavy Hours” also insist that listeners share in his disconnected grief. Certainly there are life lessons that can only be learned through heartache, and Bachmann’s latest offering taps into these painful realizations with an ice pick.

Breaks’ elegance rests largely on Bachmann’s devout songwriting and performance rather than his instrumentation.

“The Hatchet” lies at the lowest end of the spectrum with stripped acoustics, simple chord selection and minimal vocals, while “The Counterfeiter” tips the scale, adding spirited rhythms and tasteful arrangements. An ongoing, perilous refrain in “Black Candles” imparts massive dread, but lighthearted piano beautifies the background instrumentals.

Overall, the massive weight embedded in the folk melodies crafted by Crooked Fingers occasionally anchor this latest offering to an ominous soundscape, one that may be difficult for listeners to dig themselves out of. Although Bachmann has courageously proven his ability to write and compose beautiful music, Breaks is not the sort of album one should listen to for positive motivation. In fact, the heavy heartbreak and overall feeling of remorse Bachmann displays in his latest album is one for those who need some good, depressing tunes to intensify a sulk session.

Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor tracklist:

  1. “Typhoon”
  2. “Bad Blood”
  3. “The Hatchet”
  4. “The Counterfeiter”
  5. “Heavy Hours”
  6. “Black Candles”
  7. “Went to the City”
  8. “Your Apocalypse”
  9. “War Horses”
  10. “She Tows the Line”
  11. “Our New Favorite”
Coldplay-Mylo-Xyloto Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

★★★½☆

All things considered, Coldplay has done a pretty good job at not crippling under the enormous pressure of fame and expectation after A Rush of Blood to the Head in 2002. While it didn’t throw caution to the wind like Radiohead did, the quartet’s subsequent releases stayed true to form. X&Y may have been riddled with cheesy lyrics and a lack of musical progression, but Viva la Vida saw the members turn to producer extraordinaire Brian Eno for guidance. While that album didn’t have an entirely clear direction, it did sound like Coldplay was becoming less concerned with mainstream conventions, a trend which continues on the band’s fifth LP, Mylo Xyloto.

A supposed concept album about two characters, conveniently named Mylo and Xyloto—it’s “a love story with a happy ending”—this latest release sounds like the members of Coldplay are doing whatever they want.

The sonic approach to this album stands in stark contrast with their others. It’s very bright and peppy, even occasionally borrowing from recent trends such as chillwave (perhaps inadvertently). While they still keep in mind the stadiums they will be performing at with numbers such as “Paradise,” Chris Martin and Co. seem to be appealing to the indie crowd more than ever.

This is apparent from opening song “Hurts Like Heaven,” which in many regards could have been found on the myriad summery, indie-pop albums to surface during the past year or two if it weren’t for the unmistakable voice of Martin. To that end, the use of piano and Jon Buckland’s guitar nuances (when he’s not ripping off The Edge) help maintain Coldplay’s identity as well throughout the album, piercing through the dense production. Martin implements some vocal effects and slightly off-kilter harmonies which give the track a little extra character, and things are off to a surprisingly good start.

After the aforementioned “Paradise,” “Charlie Brown” utilizes pitch-shifted vocals akin to those on Delorean’s singles from last year to great effect before Martin’s prized falsetto takes over. This dynamic anthem proves to be the best track on the album.

Unfortunately, after “Charlie Brown,” the momentum starts to give way and the bursting creativity lessens several degrees from the dull “Us Against the World” through to the end of the album.

Lead single “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” sits in the middle before a pair of mildly interesting, acoustic-based tracks. (Side note: How is it that songs titled “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea” and “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” have been on major albums released not only in the same year, but one week apart?) “Major Minus” has Radiohead circa Hail to the Thief stamped right on it, but in spite of that and because of that, its bass groove is pretty undeniable. “U.F.O.” is a short tune with some downright pretty fingerpicked guitar work and Martin’s most soulful, soft croon on the album.

A rather bizarre twist follows in “Princess of China”: Rihanna appears. To be fair, with the style shift seen on Mylo, she doesn’t sound terribly out of place, even if it is a bit of a head-scratcher. This will definitely be one of the most, if not the most, disputed choices on the album. It doesn’t sound like Coldplay is using Rihanna to make a big hit, but it’s definitely got that sort of potential. Take it or leave it.

After that, everything else seems tame. “Up With the Birds” is another unconvincing closer like “Death and All His Friends” was, and by this point, the excitement the listener may have gotten from the strong start will be greatly diminished.

The band is trying to push things forward—and they do to a certain extent—but there is little depth to dig into after a couple plays through.

In the end, Mylo Xyloto gives the haters another reason to hate and the fans a fresh set of songs to enjoy for the next few years. Coldplay is, at this point, critically immune, as most listeners will approach this with their opinions already formed. They’re never going to make an album as honest as Parachutes or as strong as Rush, but they’re taking their time and they aren’t just playing it safe—even though they definitely could.

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto tracklist:

  1. “Mylo Xyloto”
  2. “Hurts Like Heaven”
  3. “Paradise”
  4. “Charlie Brown”
  5. “Us Against the World”
  6. “M.M.I.X.”
  7. “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall”
  8. “Major Minus”
  9. “U.F.O.”
  10. “Princess of China”
  11. “Up in Flames”
  12. “A Hopeful Transmission”
  13. “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart”
  14. “Up with the Birds”