Album-art-for-Daytona-by-Daytona Daytona – Daytona

★★★½☆

The weather is getting colder, but that doesn’t mean your music has to. The jangly, warm indie-rock trio Daytona’s self-titled LP will keep you company through these chilly times.

The band hails from North Carolina and presently resides in Brooklyn, but makes good use of rampant tribal drum beats and rich harmonies that take listeners away to a warm beach in the height of summer.

It snags inspiration from across the board to make a delightful release teeming with creativity. The band members all come from other groups to form a stellar lineup of experienced musicians. Hunter Simpson of Wild Yaks, Jose Boyer of Harlem, and Chris Lauderdale of the Siberians came together for this album, ultimately embodying a sound entirely alien to their other projects.

Daytona excels at amping listeners up and freeing their minds of worry; it creates an atmosphere to get lost in, in which one can escape the dreary things that bog down the mind.

It’s strange to hear such a light album come from musicians who have habitually released fuzzy, disgruntled garage rock jams, but Daytona pulls it off better than most. When comparing Daytona to last year’s debut release, the Storm So Long EP, it’s clear the band has abandoned its past.

The new direction these musicians have taken is somewhat unexplored, combining harmonies à la Fleet Foxes with instrumentals that mimic the youthfulness of Naive Thieves.

From the start of “The Road,” the first track and the single for the record, the trio already has you dancing along. The jolly, vivacious guitar is joined by an equally lively bass line and sporadic drum beat to set the stage for the chorus of odd vocals that heighten the cheerful vibe.

This feeling of exuberance is carried throughout the release, especially on songs like “Honey Honey,” “Old Friend,” and “Metropolitan.” All of these are particularly jovial in nature, and the latter two have singable, crooning choirs that make it impossible to refrain from dancing and belting out along with the lighthearted tracks.

Then there are songs like “Maria,” which plays around with interesting time signatures and otherwise unused sound effects to add a fun, quirky element to the music. It transitions seamlessly from the group’s typical fast, uplifting verses to the slow chorus and acoustic-driven bridge near the end, showing off the members’ versatility as songwriters.

“Ought To Be Law,” is a quick, supple tune that shows Daytona’s reach on the album. The soft, acoustic song still has the warmth of the others, but is a refreshing and mellow break from the overt bullishness of the rest. The drastic change is more than welcome, helping to keep the album in bloom.

Daytona comes to a close on another catchy song, “Oregon.” Though it is more toned down than most of the preceding tracklist, it fits the band’s roster well. Daytona still makes good use of the characteristically erratic guitar it uses throughout, as well as the pretty harmonies. It’s a fitting end to a great album.

Daytona successfully created a world of its own, throwing listeners right into the beautiful scene for the entirety of its 40-minute debut album. The warm, summery tunes make one yearn for more summer days and more Daytona.

Daytona - Daytona tracklist:

  1. “The Road”
  2. “New Foundation”
  3. “Honey Honey”
  4. “Lighthouse”
  5. “Ought To Be Law”
  6. “Maria”
  7. “Old Friend”
  8. “Metropolitan”
  9. “Raincoat”
  10. “Oregon”
Album-art-for-Roam-by-Audiences Audiences – Roam

★★★½☆

Upon listening to the opening of Audiences’ new album Roam, the first thought that might come through your head is that there are too many Kings of Leons in this world. It’s a true statement, sure, but take another listen—it doesn’t apply to this band and its first full-length.

Roam is a collection of passionate, lonely, and heartfelt tracks that lace through weepy distorted guitars, heavy drums, and raspy singing from frontman Billy Jesus. And while the group has established itself throughout Chicagoland, with Roam it has an appealing product for a wider audience.

Roam is a perfectly fitting title—it does a lot to imply the sentiment of the album and in many ways his it right on the head.

There is a certain wandering, airy, roadside cantina, elemental vibe to the whole work.

Yet the group’s execution and philosophy toward its own music is far from wandering; the album flows smoothly with direction and purpose, and feels both complete and on course.

As stated, Audiences’ own melodic and stylistic ebb and flow is impressive. Just the right amount of each member’s talent is placed together, where musical highlights are placed effectively, none ever overpowering where they needn’t be. “Fifty” shows the musical ability of the group with a concise and attention-grabbing rhythmic sequence and a simple yet recognizable melodic chorus.

The album’s featured track “Get Like This” is quietly jarring, summoning  aura of perhaps Boy era U2, not so precisely in sound, but definitely in spirit. At its strongest, Roam’s post-rock sentiments shine through in a very Explosions in the Sky-like manner, like with the musical shift and breakdown in the middle of album highlight “Drunk Man.”

Audiences, though, flirts a little too closely to rock’s most weathered stylistic choices, including a little too much liberty with guitar flanger and reverbed, out-on-the-dusty-road solos. “Refraction” sounds like the theme song to a Miami Vice spinoff that takes place in Tucson; it’s one of the few completely disposable moments on the album. Otherwise, Audiences has created a solid, thorough collection of tracks.

Sure, there are moments when Roam may be a bit cheesy, or a bit cliché in the pseudo-vagabond way, but if you take that in with a clear heart, then Roam is actually a well-structured, sincerely delivered album.

This more conventional nod toward post-rock has largely been left out of the indie spotlight for some years now (forgive the writer for not paying attention to Mechanical Bull), but it still breathes fresh air through the headphones when a work like Roam comes through. There is definite potential for a band like Audiences and a spot there that can be filled. Audiences, in forsaking its album’s title, know exactly what it’s doing, and its brand of alternative and post-rock is headed straight to bigger things.

Audiences – Roam tracklist:

  1. “Intro”
  2. “Get Like This”
  3. “Roam”
  4. “We Wanted More”
  5. “Fifty”
  6. “Show of Hands”
  7. “Missouri”
  8. “Drunk Man”
  9. “1000 Nights”
  10. “Refraction”
  11. “Devil’s Son”
Album-art-for-Harlem-River-by-Kevin-Morby Kevin Morby – Harlem River

★★★½☆

Kevin Morby’s debut solo album Harlem River is slower and more mellow than his group efforts, which include Woods and The Babies. Harlem River is Morby’s melancholy love affair with New York City.

The album only includes eight songs; each is a different tale about the five years Morby lived in New York. Harlem River pays homage to the first place where he made a home for himself; he moved there at 18. There is pain in the lyrics, and an honesty that resembles a diary, and the tone shifts from earnest to depressed.

The first two tracks, “Miles, Miles, Miles” and “Wild Side (Oh The Places You’ll Go),” embody Morby’s eagerness and naiveté upon moving to the city, with a faint resemblance to a late ‘70s/early ‘80s Lou Reed. On the first, Morby sings about his travels over a bluesy guitar and organ, but the music has its funky and ballad-like moments, as well. “Wild Side” is carefree, but captures the negative aspects of the freedom. Morby sings, ”Why’d you let me walk on that wild side/With my head in the air full of some child’s pride?”

After the initial excitement, the title track “Harlem River” slinks along somberly, flowing like its namesake, drifting along for over eight minutes.

The song, which follows Morby’s depressed state, is the centerpiece of the album. While it moseys along, he morbidly sings, “Harlem River, swallow me/Put your arms around my neck/And Harlem River, I can’t breathe/They’ve got the lights down now/Harlem River, give me wings/Put my head up in the clouds.”

Harlem River is full of sorrowful and poetic lyricism. Morby had a friend die while he was living in New York, and the final track on Harlem River feels most closely related to the experience. The guitar twangs in the background while Morby sings about passing cemeteries and his heightened awareness of death.

Much of the album sounds lonely. The lyrics are desolate, and the instrumentation fits the depressive nature of the tracks. The drums and bass aren’t heavy or bumping, and Morby’s meloncholic guitar does most of the talking. Occasionally, there is an inkling of bluegrass, which makes for interesting tracks.

The instrumentation feels like a constant echo of Morby’s New York memories, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. The sounds slip away, while the emotion stays. Sonically, Harlem River is somewhat forgettable.

Harlem River is gentile, tragic, and sentimental—the instrumentation is second to Morby’s intriguing storytelling. While there are few literal details to each narrative, each track evokes a cinematic image, and one easily slips into Morby’s psyche through his imagery. This project is narrowly focused on New York, yet the stories could apply to nearly anyone, anywhere.

Kevin Morby had stories to tell and emotions to get off his chest. His voice is honest, and Harlem River is like his diary. The narrative is imaginative, and the instrumentation doesn’t overpower, but neither leaves a strong impression—the music washes over you and moves along, just like the album’s namesake.

Kevin Morby – Harlem River tracklist:

  1. “Miles, Miles, Miles”
  2. “Wild Side (Oh The Places You’ll Go)”
  3. “Harlem River”
  4. “If You Leave and If You Marry”
  5. “Slow Train”
  6. “Reign”
  7. “Sucker in the Void (The Lone Mile)”
  8. “The Dead They Don’t Come Back”
Album-art-for-Where-Do-You-Want-by-Brilliant-Beast Brilliant Beast – Where Do You Want

★★★★☆

Sometimes you hear a band for the first time and they just sound so familiar, like you’ve already spent countless hours and as many beers watching them play in a dark club.

After a few listens to Brilliant Beast’s energetic and extremely enjoyable EP, Where Do You Want, there was an urge to stand by the stage and watch the band, tallboy in hand. The Minneapolis foursome plays the kind of tuneful power-pop that’s been a mainstay on college radio since, well, the heyday of Hüsker Dü. (Let’s get it out of the way.)

Between smartly employed waves of distortion, ripping punk chords, and shifting male-female lead vocals, there’s a little something in each song that’ll stoke the serotonin levels like side one of Electr-O-Pura.

It doesn’t take long for this addictive little record—at seven songs, more like a mini-LP—to set in.

Revved by a clang of guitar feedback and all-hands-in chorus, “A Child on Fire” gets plaintive about rock ‘n roll. Jordan Porter sings of the needle-drop on the record and being doused by sparks, hands held high. He shares lead vocal and guitar duties with his sister, Hannah, whose lithe, cerulean tone plays yang to his New Wave-y yin, which is more of an Elvis Costello yip.

The band loosens up with “Harrow,” a surf-rider carried by bassist Mark Kartarnik and drummer Eric Whalen. The record’s frequent changes in pace and style help keep it fresh with each listen, and make a 27-minute record feel substantial, like a meal of tapas.

Jordan and Hannah’s songs are pretty evenly split, unlike, say, the usual Ira-to-Georgia ratio on a Yo La Tengo record. Hannah’s lithe vocals on “Nepotism Shakes” add warmth to a moody, meandering lead guitar. While the title might refer to the bloodline sharing her vocal monitor, Hannah sings about coming of age and finding independence.

On the frisky “Pickup Lines” she tries, with some difficulty, to get someone’s attention. (“There’s nothing worse than being put aside/tripping over my pickup lines.”) On “Crushdum,” Jordan takes a moment over Whalen’s infectious double-beat rhythm to talk sense into someone with their head in the clouds. Bashful first love has its place in the power-pop canon, and it’s in ample supply here.

It’s hard to believe the pedal-heavy guitar and crisp pop-punk is a new direction for Brilliant Beast, whose two previous EPs, Neighbors (2011), and Beastiary (2010), showed a folkier pop sound. Credit Old Blackberry Way—the small, Minneapolis studio where Hüsker Dü and the Replacements laid tracks to tape, and which was recently revitalized by engineer Neil Weir—for a little heyday inspiration. An added layer of feedback, like a wool coat against the Minnesota cold, suits the band well.

Brilliant Beast – Where Do You Want tracklist:

  1. “A Child on Fire”
  2. “Harrow”
  3. “Nepotism Shakes”
  4. “Crushdum”
  5. “Pickup Lines”
  6. “Dead Man”
  7. “Someone Else Did”
Cover-art-for-The-Wars-at-Home-by-Carbon-Tigers Carbon Tigers – The Wars at Home

★★★★☆

Carbon Tigers is back on top of things with its self-released third EP, The Wars at Home. The Chicago-based indie rock group has toned down just a bit from its previous releases, crafting a more mellow quintet of songs this go-’round.

The group went for a more direct approach on this EP, making more widely-accessible music that will appeal to a new demographic of fans. The songs are less disorderly and experimental, for the most part, but still have the same thrilling impact as debut EP The Burrows and home-recorded The Dover Sessions, Vol. I: What I Say & What I Mean.

It feels as though Carbon Tigers gave some time to progress and grow in a different direction before releasing new material, just as it has in the past. All three of its releases can be seen as distinct eras of the band that show its continual progress and development.

The Wars at Home showcases excellent songwriting and musicianship, while still mastering mainstream appeal.

This set of songs ranges from calm and beautiful, to poppy and uplifting, to powerful and full of turmoil, giving listeners access to a slew of varying genres.

The EP takes you on an interesting trip from start to end, combining pop and progressive rock elements to create an engaging work of art. “Everybody Else” sweetly welcomes listeners into the world Carbon Tigers cultivates with pretty guitars and the opening lyrics, “On the first day, all of this got started/got the last name of my father’s father.” This reference to birth is a fitting way to bring the listener in on the first track, not to mention how surreal and jovial the music is.

The next song is the title track, which does a good job of capturing the feeling of the album as a whole. While the band has gone in a more mainstream direction since its start, this does not affect its musical prowess or lead singer/guitarist Chris Wienke’s incredible vocals.

Both of these are the driving force behind the album, and what makes it great in the end. One of the best examples comes in the last minute and a half of “The Wars at Home,” with a stellar breakdown. It’s one of the catchiest, moments of the record, without sacrificing skill.

Carbon Tigers starts off on a good note with the next track, as well. A lone guitar layered with Wienke’s quivering voice is joined by the rest of the band, then segues into the oddly-timed chorus. The use of strange timing is one indicator of the band’s more alternative past, as is the excellent musicianship provided by Wienke, Nick Cudone on guitar, Aaron Sweatt on bass, and Daren Williams (of Company of Thieves) on drums. The song features killer guitar and bass solos, great drums, and impressive vocals.

“Queen” is another hint at the group’s past work, donning a more experimental, spacey sound.

The entire track has a droning, eerie guitar behind it, adding to the depth of the composition. The highlight of this song is definitely the jittery breakdown and epic guitar solo toward the end. “Queen” acts as a good transition between the softer first half and heavier last half of the EP.

Ending on “The Harvest,” a powerful, unexpected exclamation point to the predominantly relaxed EP, The Wars at Home closes on a heavy instrumental jam. This song will come as a surprise given the preceding tracklist, but somehow feels like a fitting end.

The Wars at Home is easily one of the best EPs this year. The only thing wrong with it is that it has to end so soon. Hopefully before too long, the band will release its first full-length, because thus far it’s released nothing but perfect music.

Carbon Tigers – The Wars at Home tracklisting:

  1. “Everybody Else”
  2. “The Wars at Home”
  3. “Ishmael”
  4. “Queen”
  5. “The Harvest”
Cover-art-for-The-Marshall-Mathers-LP-2-by-Eminem Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP II

★★★½☆

The original The Marshall Mathers LP is widely regarded as one of the best albums in hip hop history, and is easily among Eminem’s best work. Now, with the release of The Marshall Mathers LP II, one might logically determine that Eminem is striving to emulate his phenomenally successful third studio album.

And emulate he did, sort of. MMLP2 does everything within its power to replicate the original’s ferocity and chiding wit, but falls critically short where it truly counts: cultural substance and pop relevance.

So if that’s the case, what was it about the first LP that garnered so much acclaim?

The production was excellent, of course. The record was cohesive and fluid through all 18 tracks, raunchy sketches included.

Musically minimal, the record left plenty of breathing/shouting room that Marshall Mathers III (Em’s actual name) utilized to rap his way through a lifetime-spanning gallery of troubles and tribulations— including but not limited to drugs, poverty, fame, wealth, drugs, violence, misogyny, abuse, drugs, and his newfound bully pulpit that came with making it big, circa 2000. And, man, the guy could rhyme.

So it makes sense that The Marshall Mathers LP would be a piece to revere and revisit, particularly for the 41-year-old artist in question—who’s eight years past the release of his “greatest hits” compilation, Curtain Call: The Hits.

For a rapper as lauded as Eminem, expectations are apparent for such a record.

It’d be easy to write a sub-par studio album (see: his last two), slap a nostalgic title on the cover, tie it in somehow with the new Call of Duty video game, and see what happens come release day.

But he’s always been far more self-aware than that—it’s what makes him one of the greatest musical artists of all time, genre notwithstanding—and he’s historically been able to translate that shrewdness into music.

His self-awareness is brought to light on “Bad Guy,” the opening track on The Marshall Mathers LP II, on which Eminem takes the persona of Matthew Mitchell, the younger brother from “Stan,” an acclaimed single from the first LP.

“I’m the bad guy who makes fun of people that die, and hey, here’s a sequel to my Mathers LP just to get people to buy,” he raps, acting as Mitchell, who is in turn mocking his former idol.

With purposeful ambiguity, Eminem leaves much of the point-of-view up for listener interpretation, until the song’s content becomes morbidly clear: Stan’s younger brother intends to take vengeance, and Em’s story isn’t over yet.

Throughout the album, Eminem echoes dark sentiments similar to those found in The Marshall Mathers LP, but a few things are missing.

One thing that couldn’t be successfully recreated on MMLP2 is Eminem’s ability to stand as the target of an international media firefight and deflect any shots in his work.

His sophomore studio album, The Slim Shady LP, was filled with his soon-to-be-trademarked brand of debauchery, and propelled him into infamy faster than he was ready for.

In writing the responsorial record that The Marshall Mathers LP was, Eminem had so much ground he could cover—stories he hadn’t yet told, messages he wanted to send, and, most importantly, rebuttals to deliver against the hypocritical culture that had both exalted and ostracized him. All this was done (and more) via his signature flow, masterful lyricism, and unmatched creativity.

That was a long time ago. Hip hop isn’t a fringe genre anymore, but recognized as a legitimate form of expression rather than something “the kids listen to.”

Sure, rappers can still be shocking today, but Eminem’s novelty wore off at some point in the 2000s, and it seemed as though he lost what had made his whole act so impressive.

MMLP2 just can’t quite pinpoint the notorious energy that once polarized the music world.

Most of the tracks are enjoyable enough, though redundancy seems to be a common theme in songs like “Rhyme or Reason,” “Brainless,” “Asshole,” and “Evil Twin,” to name a few— Eminem revisits dried-up subjects like his family, upbringing, and struggle with fame, but fails to make them interesting again.

Production-wise, MMLP2 continues the trend in his music of embracing a maximal, pop-based sound. There’s greater emphasis on hooks and choruses, both of which might prove distracting in certain places. The beats, overall, are creative, and more often than not they succeed as an organic foundation for Em’s rhymes. Not that the album is free of cringe-inducing material.

In the country rock-infused jam “So Far…,” Eminem reveals his apparent technophobia by discussing his frustration with new gadgets and his failure to understand Facebook— one gets the sense he might as well call the track “I’m Old.”

And in fact, that’s not such a bad idea elsewhere. The album doesn’t pack the same punch as its predecessor because, well, it’s been 13 years. Em’s still got one of the sharpest tongues in the rap game, but he’s nearly run out of things to talk about.

MMLP2 is good. It’s very good. But in comparing himself to something he was over a decade ago, Eminem cripples himself by allowing his differences to upstage any similarities.

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP II tracklist:

  1. “Bad Guy”
  2. “Parking Lot (Skit)”
  3. “Rhyme or Reason”
  4. “So Much Better”
  5. “Survival”
  6. “Legacy”
  7. “Asshole (feat. Skylar Grey)”
  8. “Berzerk”
  9. “Rap God”
  10. “Brainless”
  11. “Stronger Than I Was”
  12. “The Monster (feat. Rihanna)”
  13. “So Far…”
  14. “Love Game (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
  15. “Headlights (feat. Nate Ruess)”
  16. “Evil Twin”
Album-art-for-Matangi-by-MIA M.I.A. – Matangi

★★★½☆

M.I.A. has carved a niche within electronic music, melding Eastern and Western elements together to create bhangra hip hop with hints of fidget house. Her fourth album Matangi has the digitized grit of her earlier albums, but doesn’t drop jaws in the same way.

This project is supposed to be M.I.A.’s spiritual album, drawing influence from her namesake, the goddess Matangi—M.I.A.’s birth name is Mathangi—who is the tantric goddess of music and learning in Hinduism.

This concept is present in the title, and more evident on the anti-YOLO track “YALA” (You Always Live Again) in which M.I.A. raps vaguely about reincarnation.

Whatever drove M.I.A. to create this album was lost in translation.

The lyrics are not as deep as one might hope, considering the inspiration, M.I.A.’s beliefs, and her previous work. The highly stylized production sometimes overwhelms the vocals, pushing M.I.A.’s lyricism even further into the background.

Since her first album Arular, M.I.A. has been rapping over a glitchy and bass-heavy hybrid. Every beat on Matangi is frenetic, noisy, and throbbing, but consistently grounded in the incorporation of bhangra sounds or samples. The production is entrancing.

Unfortunately, Matangi is also full of disappointments. “Exodus” and “Sexodus” both sample “Lonely Star” by The Weeknd. Neither song is particularly special, and they lose even more value with redundancy. Throughout the album, M.I.A.’S rapping lacks the ferocity and sting of her previous work.

The track “aTENTion” is lazy and shallow. The “tent” wordplay has a pretty killer beat, but a kindergarten-level concept—yes, M.I.A. successfully incorporated several words that end with “tent” into the lyrics, but is there any meaning behind it?

“The fullest extent of my intent is to let you know what is importent/My existents is militent cause my content bangs like it’s potent/Resistent to the pollutent, never hesitent, always consistent/I back it up, yeah I’m very blatent/Don’t try to copy this cause I patent,” M.I.A. raps.

She addressed this as her “spiritual” album, yet so much is lacking lyrically that it’s hard to take her motives seriously.

While Matangi is more positive and less aggressive than her previous work, M.I.A.’S rapping and songwriting feel thin, with the exception of a few tracks.

“Lights” is calmer, with a more minimal, mystical beat. M.I.A. gently raps, “Rainbows in my vision move into the rhythm/Electric shadows in my ear got me dancing spinnin’/Northern lights on my mind all the colors rhyme/Loving me all the time keep that on your timeline/I keep my distance even though I shine.”

Perhaps this would have been a better route to take when trying to engage with the concept on the rest of the album.

Contrasting the airiness of “Lights,” “Bring the Noize” attacks the current electronic/hip hop/pop formulas and forces them to work in unnatural ways.

This track is on fire. The beat creaks, vibrates, scratches, and pulsates, while M.I.A. spits, “I’m so tangy, people call me Mathangi/Goddess of word, bitches I’ma keep it banging/Truth is like a rotten tooth, you gotta spit it out!/Let the bottom two, let my wisdom work it out/Big on the underground, can’t knock me down/Vicki Leekx bitches, back by dope demand.” This is the strong M.I.A., who rarely shows on other songs from Matangi.

Matangi was expected to be released in December of 2012, but was delayed because label executives believed it was too upbeat. Finally, it arrived nearly a year later. If this is 2012 M.I.A., and the release is already dated, how will her work stack up in the future? The album loses some intrigue with this knowledge, even though the beats and production are on point.

The music that M.I.A. produces is always interesting and full of surprises, something Matangi never lacks; however, this album is missing the force of volumes like Arular or Kala.

The proclaimed spirituality of the album is too weak to hold up against the dominant production, and the concept lacks depth. Matangi succeeds because it is an M.I.A. project, but M.I.A. herself could have pushed it further.

M.I.A. - Matangi tracklist:

  1. “Karmageddon”
  2. “Matangi”
  3. “Only 1 U”
  4. “Warriors”
  5. “Come Walk With ME”
  6. “aTENTion”
  7. “Exodus (feat. The Weeknd)”
  8. “Bad Girls”
  9. “Boom Skit”
  10. “Double Bubble Trouble”
  11. “YALA”
  12. “Bring the Noize”
  13. “Lights”
  14. “Know It Ain’t Right”
  15. “Sexodus (feat. The Weeknd)”
Album-art-for-Effra-Parade-by-The-Melodic The Melodic – Effra Parade

★★½☆☆

The Melodic, best described as a group of world music appropriates from London, has released its debut full length, Effra Parade, out on Anti-. Delving into a world of folk, dub, and traditional Latin American themes, Effra Parade is a gentle lesson in textural sophistication and instrumental variety.

The album boasts almost 20 different instruments played, from orchestral oboes to folkish charangos. But while there is much to be said about the young group’s amicable and noteworthy abilities to command such a large arsenal of instrumentation and an unfamiliar genre, there lacks a sense of emotional depth and translation that is at the core of the folk-rooted album.

The easiest way to describe The Melodic is to imagine Beirut mastermind Zach Condon doing his best Stuart Murdoch impression.

If the soundtrack to any Wes Anderson movie took a semester abroad in Santiago, Effra Parade would be the result.

The Melodic’s own brand of world folk is best absorbed on standout track “On My Way,” which was released in the EP of the same name earlier this year. Pan flutes, folklorico guitars, and melodicas dance an intricate dance through the gentle rhythms and melodies that are laced through the track.

In contrast, the simple arrangement (compared to the rest of the album) of “Ode To Victor Jara” is probably the most powerful moment on Effra Parade, as the group pays homage to the great neo-folkloric artist and political activist of revolutionary Chile.

After that, though, the album blends together in a haze of picked guitars, oboes, and charangos, although “Watch the World Turn Blue” brings a refresing reggae undercurrent to the picture that is both unexpected and tasteful. Still, there isn’t much else that is too exciting on Effra Parade, and maybe this bias is due to the lack of sustained gentler music in today’s average aural palate. But for The Melodic, it’s still something that can’t be overlooked, because it can ultimately lead to the band itself being overlooked.

Perhaps what is wrong with a band like The Melodic in a post- Mumford and Sons world is simply that its (yes, oversimplified and under-appreciated) brand of anti-amped folk seems too tried.

This is not to say that it’s not a good group, or that its songs are not impressive in some technical aspects; there just isn’t enough of gravitas to the album to deem it more than average.

Perhaps this ineffectiveness is merely a symptom of The Melodic’s novice, but it’s a symptom that will stifle the band’s personal appeal, leaving it stuck as a niche novelty, until the soul of the music is more transparent. It’s a beautifully sounding album with an impressive display of musical talent and ambition, and with that last secret ingredient, The Melodic can really become as global as its genre-jumping implies.

The Melodic - Effra Parade tracklist:

  1. “Last Thing You Said – Intro”
  2. “On My Way”
  3. “Imperfect Time”
  4. “Plunge”
  5. “Honey Bee – Interlude”
  6. “Roots”
  7. “Runaway”
  8. “Ode to Victor Jara”
  9. “Willow – Interlude”
  10. “Come Outside”
  11. “Lost to You”
  12. “Dreams of Air”
  13. “Watch the World Turn Blue”
  14. “Piece Me Back Together”
  15. “Effra Parade – Outro”
Cover-art-for-Medusa-by-GEMS GEMS – Medusa

★★★★☆

Last month, Washington DC pop-synth duo GEMS released the ethereal single “Medusa,” and immediately drew comparisons to experimental groups Purity Ring and Goldfrapp.

The shadowy ballad—laced with dark, sophisticated bass lines and soulful vocals from Lindsay Pitts—positioned a near-perfect foreground for the debut EP of the same name. In a sweeping declaration, GEMS establishes its presence by delivering the five-track digital release with emotionally hinged lyrics and striking synth chords.

Opening with the streamlined and melodically pure “Ephemera”, Medusa lays the pathway for the ghostly vocals of Pitts. Amid clanging guitars and dreamy, glittery beats, she sings, “I can’t help but fall into you/It’s a brief world, falling through.” The soft depths of her voice transfixed against decadent bass lines offer a sophistication impressive for a debut release.

In “Sinking Stone,” Pitts plunges into lyrical depths marked by the sorrow of heartbreak, and her voice denotes an obsessive pain against melancholic, romantic rifts.

“I could never be the girl you knew before/But I’m still holding on/Would you ever trust me again, if what we had is gone?” she croons.

In the closing track, “Pegasus,” Pitts continues the agonizing lament of regret, and is this time accompanied by the deep, appending vocals of Clifford John. Together, they sing a soaring, emotionally gripped ballad over haunting keyboards and dreamy synths. “Can you set me free?” she pleads. “The darkness is swallowing me.”

It’s clear while listening to Medusa that keynotes of remorse and anguish from love lost are the main impetus for the EP.

The haunting presence of torment is evident in the ghostly vocal tones of Pitts, and this sense is further instilled in the dark, rich bass lines accompanying her. The capabilities of GEMS are endless—and are particularly wrought in the band’s abilitiy to produce a quality sound steeped in elegance. Medusa demonstrates the duo’s potential to unfurl from its station as a burgeoning indie act, and catapult it into a larger arena unmatched by any of its contemporaries.

GEMS – Medusa tracklist:

  1. “Ephemera”
  2. “Medusa”
  3. “Sinking Stone”
  4. “Pegasus”
Album-art-for-She's-Gone-by-Upset Upset – She’s Gone

★★½☆☆

Upset is the brainchild of some serious pop-punk women: Ali Koehler as the lead singer and guitarist, who formerly drummed for Best Coast and Vivian Girls; Jennifer Prince on lead guitar, who also used to play in Vivian Girls and contributes to La Sera; and ex-Hole drummer Patty Schemel, who needs no introduction.

Together they form the carefree, catchy, power-punk trio that just released its debut LP, She’s Gone.

The fact that all of the members have experience playing and writing this genre makes it easier for them to come together and perform as a unit from the get-go, but their disparities give them a little variation in their writing from time to time.

It’s fitting, given the lineup, that Upset went back in time and wrote a classic pop-punk album. Although this route was expected, one cannot help but be disappointed in the unoriginality of the outcome.

The album rarely strays from the stereotypical fast-paced, messy instruments and lyrics about petty problems, like adolescent jealousy toward other girls in “Queen Frosteen.”

Where She’s Gone doesn’t sound like a ripoff of the early 2000s, it sounds immature and lacks any real appeal aside from some catchy, overused chord progressions and melodies.

Upset is good at what it does. However, it has no sense of novelty. Go through any old punk album and you could pick out most—if not all—of the same riffs and drum lines used on She’s Gone. And while simplicity is an aspect of the genre, this album goes beyond that; it just feels mundane.

Most of the songs blend together, with speed as the only distinguishing factor (they’re either fast or very fast). The only exception to this is the beginning to “Tobacco,” which then explodes into the same repetitive setup as the other tracks and ends the same way it started, with Koehler and her guitar.

There are still a few songs worthy of a listen. “Phone Calls,” although it’s lacking in the lyrical department, has some killer guitar work. The use of feedback was absolutely stellar, and the entire song sounded like a solo for Jennifer Prince. She’s Gone would have been substantially improved if she had more room to shine, bringing more of this unique guitar work instead of the tiresome, three-chord songs.

“Oxfords and Wingtips,” the album’s single, was the other standout track. It has the same feel as “Phone Calls” and has much better lyrics, to boot, as well as Prince’s much-needed contribution on the guitar. Schemel also makes one of her most noticeable offerings in this song; she sits in the background on a majority of the album.

Then there are songs like “Don’t Lose Your Dinosaur,” which is a cheesy lament about not giving up what you really love to do. There are good ways to write about this (see: O.A.R.’s version of “Black Rock” on Live at Madison Square Garden) and bad ways. “Don’t Lose Your Dinosaur” is an example of the latter. Enjoyable Step Brothers reference aside, it sounds like it should be featured on a children’s TV show.

There’s so much missing from this release. If She’s Gone were to be described in one word, it would be juvenile.

Most of it sounds as if it were written by a pre-teen in her bedroom at her parent’s house, not by an experienced musician in her mid-twenties. The songs sound bland and hollow, but covered up by peppy singing and catchy, yet uninteresting instrumentals.

At the end of the day, it seems like the members of Upset should have stuck to their original bands, all of which sound more solid than this collaborative effort. Coming from a band with such potential, She’s Gone is simply disappointing.

Upset – She’s Gone tracklist:

  1. “Back to School”
  2. “She’s Gone”
  3. “Oxfords and Wingtips”
  4. “Queen Frosteen”
  5. “About Me”
  6. “Game Over”
  7. “Don’t Lose Your Dinosaur”
  8. “Never Wanna”
  9. “Let It Go”
  10. “Tobacco”
  11. “Phone Calls”
  12. “You and I”
Album-art-for-Vicious-by-His-Clancyness His Clancyness – Vicious

★★★☆☆

“I’m going to make it a true last goodbye,” Jonathan Clancy remarks on “Machines,” a zippy, fluid swan song that lands, funnily enough, in the middle of Vicious, his second full-length under the moniker His Clancyness.

It’s an indelible refrain, one of many on this record. If Vicious has a theme, it’s persistence—going out strong, winning someone back. Clancy is a solo artist in the machine age, which means he can make his own band with the touch of a button.

His self-produced debut, Always Mist, was released in 2010 on limited cassette and re-issued in 2012 by Secret Furry Hole as Always Mist: Revisited.

He’s Bowie on a budget—borrowing expansive elements of Hunky Dory like chilly atmospherics (“Hunting Men”) and sassy lead guitar (“Zenith Diamond”) and adding a punky, D.I.Y. attitude akin to Wavves’ Nathan Williams.

For Vicious, Clancy recruited a small band, perhaps realizing how his glam sound benefits from a few extra hands for heavy lifting. Even with extras, though, the record doesn’t stray far from the bedroom-pop vibe of Always Mist: Revisited.

Clancy’s is pretty much the only voice we hear, and unfortunately, it’s not a malleable one. Lyrically, Clancy is vulnerable, but tonally, he doesn’t waver much from a “whatever” attitude. He cannily creates an intimacy with the listener, while presenting a carefully filtered view of himself.

Like an Instagram photo—digitally aged and worn into a nice, enjoyable tableau—Vicious is pretty and soothing and vintage-sounding, with hints of ’70s Kraut and glam rock, and a little ’80s New Wave, too.

Standout “Slash the Night” is a breakup narrative with Clancy bent on emotional revenge: “I can slash your heart a third time,” and, “I could burn your heart a second time,” he says with warning, pouring the gasoline but hesitating with a match in his hand. Meanwhile, the synthesizers throb and a few minor chords keep vigil.

Hearing a few wispy chords is a nice diversion from the Teutonic lockstep of guitar and mechanical drum. And there are a few warm, quiet moments halfway through Vicious where Clancy lets loose and other voices are allowed in.

Airy as a light snowfall, “Hunting Men” imagines the singer out with his men, pushing for some escape and blowing off steam. “Slash the Night” and “Avenue” are more brooding, suggesting he hasn’t yet let go of the aches that sent him away in the first place. Clancy has a gift for small declarations like, “When I have no light, be my torch,” from “Crystal Clear.”

In the end, it’s not the repetition or warm chug of a synthesizer that set Vicious apart, though they’re signatures of Clancy’s sound. It’s the little moments of introspection that remind you there’s a man inside the machine.

His Clancyness – Vicious tracklist:

  1. “Safe Around the Edges”
  2. “Miss Out These Days”
  3. “Gold Diggers”
  4. “Hunting Men”
  5. “Slash the Night”
  6. “Run Wild”
  7. “Machines”
  8. “Avenue”
  9. “Crystal Clear”
  10. “Zenith Diamond”
  11. “Castle Sand Ambient”
  12. “Progress”
Album-art-for-Mug-Museum-by-Cate-Le-Bon Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum

★★★½☆

Initially, Mug Museum might be mistaken for a Nico or Marianne Faithfull record, but Welsh musician Cate Le Bon is a little funkier, with a more complex sound.

Her third album is mellow and engaging with a rock edge.

Each instrument isn’t doing anything terribly ridiculous, but because they occasionally are arranged like puzzle pieces that are forced to fit together, the sounds produced and arranged are a little peculiar. In other instances, everything sounds like it has a better fit. The keys tend to give each track a magical echo, while Le Bon’s vocals float over it all.

Several of the tracks begin as well-constructed entities, but by the end idle off into intentional disruption.

On “Cuckoo Through The Walls,” Le Bon begins with a slow, minimal sound, building her voice slightly as more instruments enter. Ultimately, the music becomes louder and less organized; then, when Le Bon sings, “At the drop of a hat,” the instrumentation shifts to a more delicate sound.

But “Cuckoo” isn’t the only song that takes several turns throughout its progression. “Wild” ends with a sudden shift into a wicked fast melody change that only lasts for a few seconds.

“Sisters” has a guitar-driven melody fitting for a quirky video game,  before picking up into a fuller, more explosive sound at the chorus. Le Bon sings in a single flat and feminine tone, lingering at one level that contrasts the instrumentation dancing around her voice.

The title track, “Mug Museum,” closes the album. It is a piano ballad of sorts, with samples of what could be rocking chair or piano pedal creaks, and random drones and saxophones throughout. The track sounds desolate as Le Bon Sings, “In my mug museum I go/Company from echoes in my walls/I forget the details but know the warmth.”

In contrast, much of the album sounds warmer and more upbeat. Most of it is groovy and bizarre, most notably on the first two tracks, “I Can’t Help You” and “Are You With Me Now.”

At times, this sound is one dimensional. Even with Le Bon’s suitably odd songwriting, the music isn’t always as deep or complicated as one might like.

Certain tracks are beautifully quirky, but others, such as “Mirror Me” and “Wild,” feel flat. The embellishments and intricacies often work, but without them, some tracks are uninteresting on a basic level.

“Duke” is one of the tracks where the offbeat vibe works best. Its lyrical content is the typical relationship spiel—“We landscaped our legacies,” Le Bon sings—but it has three separate rhythms that cycle throughout. The first is a simple, guitar-led rhythm that blends well with the melody Le Bon’s lyrics, which shifts simply into a lighter rhythm that matches her voice word-for-word, only to finish the cycle with a  high-energy chorus.

Mug Museum is indeed a sound album, and it is a little richer than Cate Le Bon’s previous releases. She has an offbeat, vintage style that listeners should take the time to explore.

Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum tracklist:

  1. “I Can’t Help You”
  2. “Are You With Me Now”
  3. “Duke”
  4. “No God”
  5. “I Think I Knew”
  6. “Wild”
  7. “Sisters”
  8. “Mirror Me”
  9. “Cuckoo Through The Walls”
  10. “Mug Museum”