Middle Brother – Middle Brother


It’s been a while since a band claimed, with any sort of evidence, to play straight rock, no chaser. It’s been an even longer while since that same band has sung well in three-part harmonies. Middle Brother is the ragtag formation of souls John J. McCauley III of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit. Formerly MG&V (a hat they threw on for their first show at SXSW) the super group’s country twang recalls the earliest influences of the genre.

For those unfamiliar with Middle Brother, “Daydreaming” is the perfect introduction. The first few lines where McCauley sings, “Early in the morning, too hung over to go back to sleep/Every sound is amplified, every light so dizzying/Listen for a while to the neighbors having sex, Wishin’ I could lay my achin’ head upon your breast,” gives one a good idea of what to expect.

Middle Brother is vulgar, but pretty, heartfelt, but honest and often downright funny.

Slow rocker “Blue Eyes,” is a song about a girl, “The only one who can make me crawl/She’s too sweet to force me.” The numbers range from bleary-eyed folk to high-stepping honky tonk. “Someday” brings straight doo-wop backed by a female chorus. Suffice to say Middle Brother tackles a lot in twelve tracks, without ever getting ahead of itself. It seems to go by the old Keith Richards adage, “Modern music is too much rock, not enough roll.” Aspiring hit and single, “Me Me Me,” with its pounding piano and open highway guitars carves out its right to the title.

The band’s palette consists chiefly of rhythm guitars and raspy vocal harmonies, the canvas occasionally slashed by Telecaster truckin’. At times it’s reminiscent of the Beatles doing rockabilly tunes like “One After 909” or “Act Naturally,” maybe even more so than originals like Buck Owens and Don Rich, which is a bold statement, but then there are even the saucy “Oo”s and “Ah”s. They roll harder than any another band with multiple part harmonies, especially Fleet Foxes, and are quite a bit rougher around the edges.

There are such poignant, isolated moments such as “Theatre,” a full-fledged nihilistic railing, where by the end Vasquez screams, “This life won’t tell you nothin’ but lies,” over and over.

Middle Brother touches on a myriad of emotions with their self-titled debut and perhaps even more remarkably, does it well—roaming over each number, fleshing it out to its battered soul.

Flexing its versatility, the band splits up lead vocal duties almost equally. Each voice adds another shade to the album, Taylor is the quiet, terse one of the bunch, and even he says “I wanna sing with more ‘Blood and Guts’/Instead I’m singing to you.” Each of the melodies on the album hooks you with its own distinctive rending. Catch them live and the effect is just about the same.

Middle Brother is timeless, the kind of entertainment that makes your parents say, “They don’t they make stuff like this anymore.” It’s a sad album, but its sadness is lightweight, moreover it’s an impressive debut from a band that’s achieved a lot with very little, who are unafraid to explore each facet their sound. It’s easy to believe the trio formed out of raw passion. As it’s said on the titular track, “I’m gonna learn to fly an airplane, I’m gonna make my country proud/I’m gonna send this song to Nashville and sell my soul to a whole new crowd.” Middle Brother proves they need not rebel for our attention.

Middle Brother – Middle Brother tracklist:

  1. “Daydreaming”
  2. “Blue Eyes”
  3. “Thanks for Nothing”
  4. “Middle Brother”
  5. “Theater”
  6. “Portland”
  7. “Wilderness”
  8. “Me Me Me”
  9. “Someday”
  10. “Blood and Guts”
  11. “Mom and Dad”
  12. “Million Dollar Bill”
Wye Oak – Civilian


Listeners should be prepared to go slack-jawed upon learning this record was recorded by two people, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, since it sounds like at least a four to five piece, if not a whole flippin’ orchestra.

On their third record for North Carolina’s Merge label, Civilian, post-Radiohead indie blues duo Wye Oak offer ten slices of melodic and interwoven math-pop that varies between balls-to-the-wall rock and subtle moody post-Pinback underpinnings.

This is atmospheric folk-rock for those who cut their indie rock teeth in the ’90s, and their compositions grow slowly via crescendos or come out of the gate like a Mack truck.

This is not music composed and recorded in a vacuum; there’s no question these two hounds are hot on the trail of Fleet Foxes and have some radio in their heads, but the way they synthesize these varied influences is compelling and enjoyable. Listening to Civilian is like revisiting the delicate fragility and emotionally bare folk musicians going back to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young but with some minor Rolling Stones chords threatening in the distance, or it could be the balladry of Beck or Joan Baez.

According to lyricist/vocalist/guitarist Wasner, the songs “are, as a whole, about aloneness (the positive kind), loneliness (the horrible kind), moving on, and letting go (of people, places and things),” and that’s definitely the sense one gets when listening to this release. Indeed, her lovely but somber alto adorns the grinding and at times chaotic instrumentation in a layer of bittersweet honey.

The minor guitar interlacing of “Dogs’ Eyes” produces something so sublime it sounds like Patti Smith singing with Merge labelmates Polvo, and just when one thinks enough layers of intricacy have been introduced, they bring in piano accents and then some ponderous riffage a la Black Sabbath.

“Plains” begins by recalling the angular vamps of Helium, but the vocals are a tad more soothing and gently flowing akin to Nebraskans Azure Ray. Again, it builds up into a Sonic Youth-like frenzy with subtle oohs. After the post-rock wrenching conclusion of “The Alter,” “Holy Holy” continues the sonic pschizophrenia by leaning on the tremolo bar like My Bloody Valentine, but Wasner’s vocals sound more like Carol van Dyk from Bettie Serveert than the My Bloody Valentines’ Bilinda Butcher.

Drummer/keyboardist Stack plays some welcome tambourine accents, rollicking, marching drums and simmering organ parts on the ambitious title track, and delivers some wonderful syncopation and pulsing keys to propel the soaring “Hot As Day” to new heights (there’s even some of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” echoed at the end.

While there’s not a bad song here, “We Were Wealth” is also a highlight; although it bubbles under subtly for almost three minutes, its build-up and shimmering sonic denouement are truly a pivotal point.

In addition to the other antecedents, there’s also similarities to fellow Baltimore duo Beach House, but Wye Oak tend to use the dream pop milieu as an accent and a reference, as opposed to producing gauzy layers, which envelop and echo every part. Ironically the concluding track, “Doubt” has the most similar approach vocally to Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, but is musically dissimilar in every other respect. It’s a barebones acoustic closer and provides the most nakedly emotional moment on Civilian.

The final cut is successful because it leaves the listener wanting more, and the same can be said for the album as a whole. When the largest quibble with a record is that it’s over so soon, one can’t help but believe Wye Oak have succeeded in creating a classic collection of post-modern folk rock with Civilian.

Wye Oak – Civilian tracklist:

  1. “Two Small Deaths”
  2. “The Alter”
  3. “Holy Holy”
  4. “Dogs Eyes”
  5. “Civilian”
  6. “Fish”
  7. “Plains”
  8. “Hot as Day”
  9. “We Were Wealth”
  10. “Doubt”
The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing


It’s difficult to say why, but it’s certainly true: Canadian indie bands are better than the American variety. This trend gracefully continues with The Rural Alberta Advantage’s latest album, Departing.

The minimalistic three-piece from Toronto know its limits better than most bands hope to. They use basic chord progressions, light pianos and heartfelt vocals to forge a connection with the listener that’s pure. They don’t try to distract with over-the-top guitar solos or convoluted verses. They’re stripped down, basic and, most importantly, fucking great.

The Rural Alberta Advantage is a brilliantly balanced band. The members play to each other’s strengths without trying to outdo anyone.

Lead singer Nils Edenloff’s croons heartfelt and thought-provoking lyrical prose throughout Departing. Because of his imperfect and whiny voice, the flaws he sees in himself and his surroundings are more clearly highlighted throughout the album. Longing to be remembered and full of sadness at losing someone, Edenloff conveys a powerfully clear message.

Amidst quiet drums and a gentle keyboard on “North Star” he sings “When we hit the city limits, don’t forget me for a minute tonight.” The lyrics aren’t revolutionary in any way. But they’re real and relatable.

Amy Cole provides the backing vocals and keyboard on the album, which clearly exhibit the simplistic approach and attitude The Rural Alberta Advantage had when making the album.

The keyboard, along with the rest of the instruments, hold to a very basic time signature, which again drives home the point that the band wants the listener to focus on the lyrical dimensions. At the same time, the instruments are hardly forgettable. While the keys may not be the focus of the songs, they serve as a backbone and a constant support system.

Cole’s wailing vocals—possibly unintentionally—add a different side to the story Edenloff is trying to tell. Her gender is a serious advantage because of the added dimension and different perspective she brings. While he plays the lonely guy in the song she tells a different story with the same words: the story of the girl who feels the same way he does.

Paul Banwatt, the drummer, is the most talented member of the band. In between his tender penchant for basic high-hat-snare-bass combinations, he peppers complex fills that, while elaborate, don’t distract from the song’s basic premise.

It’s thoroughly impressive how the change in instrumental tone has such a profound impact on the feel and mood of the songs on Departing. “Tornado ’87” is an endlessly dark song that never stops digging deeper into Edenloff’s psyche, even if the lyrics don’t change. What starts as a folksy acoustic ballad evolves into a cryptic and introspective ode that shows Edenloff for what he really is, a remorseful and flawed individual: “I let you go, I let you go/I let you know that I hold you/Black sky comes to take you from me.”

The message across the album is steady, the vocals fit the sound of the band perfectly, and the instruments almost flawlessly characterize the feelings portrayed. Departing is the kind of album any band should be beaming with pride about.

The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing tracklist:

  1. “Two Lovers”
  2. “The Breakup”
  3. “Under the Knife”
  4. “Muscle Relaxants”
  5. “North Star”
  6. “Stamp”
  7. “Tornado ’87”
  8. “Barnes’ Yard”
  9. “Coldest Days”
  10. “Good Night”
Six Organs of Admittance - Asleep on the Floodplain album cover Six Organs of Admittance – Asleep on the Floodplain


The prolific Ben Chasny,  Six Organs of Admittance’s, latest, Asleep on the Floodplain, picks up where School of the Flower left off in 2005. His recent releases have taken the Six Organs of Admittance sound to new places: The Sun Awakens introduced a tribal element and Luminous Night introduced brighter and more diverse instrumentation than he’s known for.

Asleep on the Floodplain marks a return to Chasny’s droned-out Americana, where he had more explore.

Opening with a solo piece for guitar,  “Above a Desert That I Have Never Seen” begins with a steady drone and some tricky Middle-Eastern-flavored guitar work before a main theme is introduced. Chasny’s fingerpicking skills allow him to hold down the rhythm and chord changes while also developing melodic figures. The piece meanders in the second half, but listeners who are content to chill out with some mood-setting music will find this suitable.

“Light of the Light” and “Hold But Let Go” remind listeners of Chasny’s best songwriting. He plays a beautiful guitar and sings in his trademark lackadaisical, reverberated vocal. On these tracks, Chasny is like that friend who can pick up a guitar and play new and beautiful things endlessly.

It sounds like he went camping with the listener and when everyone went to bed, he stayed out, looking around, gazing at the stars and playing these songs before dousing the fire.

“Brilliant Blue Sea Betwen Us” starts with harmonium and some shimmering strums. The drone in the background is subtle, but beating at a rapid rate. Acoustic guitar comes in with some simple, seemingly improvised lines which compliment the mood perfectly. The track recalls recent Six Organs of Admittance, but it blends in very well with its surroundings.

Chasny works well in free time on “River of My Youth,” the other highlight of the record. Slide guitar peers in and out and tremolo-picked chords flutter while he sings a verse in a deep voice as if he were reciting a mantra.

“S/Word and Leviathan” is the standard long piece on a Six Organs record. Chasny repeats a triplet of the same notes over and over for upwards of 12 minutes while introducing layers and random sounds (including his own voice). The piece gains intensity at the end with Chasny singing a verse and bringing in some electric guitar. It’s done well, but for enjoyment purposes, it goes on a bit too long.

Few have created such intricate and compelling acoustic guitar work since Nick Drake, but Chasny’s approach to writing is far more abstract.

And though Chasny can at times evoke the same level of emotion with his singing or playing, he often takes a detour. In some cases, the detour is a magical, vivid one, in others, it can be pleasant but not captivating. Asleep on the Floodplain provides the same balance of songwriting and mood setting that School of the Flower did with a few new tricks. It’s only odd that it was released six years and three albums after.

Six Organs of Admitance – Asleep on the Floodplain tracklist:

  1. “Above a Desert That I Have Never Seen”
  2. “Light of the Light”
  3. “Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us”
  4. “Saint of Fisherman”
  5. “Hold But Let Go”
  6. “River of My Youth”
  7. “Poppies”
  8. “S/Word and Leviathan”
  9. “A New Name on an Old Cement Bridge”
  10. “Dawn, Running Home”


Saigon Greatest Story Never Told Album Cover Saigon – The Greatest Story Never Told


Saigon is a great example of an occasionally clever rapper (take a peak at the chorus of “Enemies”) who spouts about the things he lives (the rest of “Enemies”). He’s lived a large part of the things that he raps about. Sure, he’s probably never murdered someone, but the fact that he vacillates between self-titled “murder rap” and “Jesus Walks”-isms would’ve seemed logical. But now? Now Saigon’s long-anticipated debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told, seems like a gelatinous smattering of meaningless verses piqued by perhaps the greatest work Just Blaze has ever done.

This is not meant to ask Saigon to assume a character and stick to it completely. That only works for talented character actor/rappers: Kanye plays Hedonist, Andre 3000 plays turn of the 19th century minstrel, and Jay-Z won’t stop insisting that he’s still a gangster.

Saigon isn’t in that stratosphere and will never be. But TGSNT could’ve resembled something like T.I.’s Trap Muzik, a boisterous popular introduction to a powerful force in rap. Instead, Saigon alternates between the persona he knows his compatriots want him to assume (a caricature level thug rapper) and the reality of his situation (a socially conscious 32-year-old that just wants to talk about the slums). When he sticks to the latter, Saigon can be inadvertently brilliant, somewhat akin to Wale (“Clap,” the joyous and ebullient socially conscious bouncer, is a high watermark).

But, more often than not, he falls back into doing what those want him to do. Ironically enough, the times he falls back into stereotype alternate between earnestness and “fuck you” swagger. “Better Way” is a sad acknowledgment that Saigon has gotten where he is now by assuming a character. He may not be that character, and he certainly tries his hardest not to be. But when push comes to shove and the hits have to get made and a character has to be built, Saigon does what the greats don’t—he folds.

Look no further than the ludicrous “What the Lovers Do” for confirmation. The entire song feels like Saigon is trying to say something different about the sometimes painfully misogynistic romantic practices of most rappers. Then, when the target of his affections refuses his most “heartfelt” advance, he leaves because she won’t back that ass up. Whether Saigon wanted to write this, or whether it was a sort of pressured effort to assume an identity is irrelevant; it pulls the curtain away from Saigon’s altruistic character, and his Robin Hood voice never recovers.

For what it’s worth, Saigon absolutely rips Jay-Z to pieces on “C’mon Baby,” providing yet another confirmation that Jay-Z should probably bow out of the rap game. But even if Saigon were sticking to a specific frame of reference, Just Blaze is still stealing his show. In the annals of underrated beatmen, listeners probably wouldn’t include Just Blaze. But, after TGSNT, he deserves to be in the conversation.

Producing the first 10 tracks of the album, Blaze handles the reins of Saigon’s most important record with confidence and gusto. Powerfully choral, Blaze employs live percussion, guitars and an undercurrent of bass that never overpowers enough to weigh into the subwoofers too much. Part of the reason TGSNT seems so long is that Blaze lets others take over the last half of the record, and the energy he brought to it never returns. Blaze’s beats from a chapel-style approach to Saigon’s record makes a convincing case that the man who really screwed his shot up is Saigon himself.

It should be mentioned that the “Bring Me Down, Pt. 2” beat treads the finest line between excellence and abject shit. The chorus rips off Eminem’s new “rap-rock” fetish, while also providing a classic hip-hop backdrop.

Saigon certainly seems like he has a lot to say, but for a man who has been running the mixtape circuit for almost six years now, he should know that just because he stepped up to the LP game doesn’t mean he has to compromise his core statements for generic piss-ant clichés. He’s better than that and he knows it. Blaze probably knows it, too, or he would not have tried so hard to bring The Greatest Story Never Told to where it—unfortunately—must fall.

Saigon – The Greatest Story Never Told tracklist:

  1. “Station Identification (Intro)”
  2. “The Invita Saigon”
  3. “Come on Baby”
  4. “War”
  5. “Enemies”
  6. “Friends”
  7. “The Greatest story Never Told”
  8. “Clap”
  9. “Preacher”
  10. “It’s Alright”
  11. “Believe It”
  12. “Give It to Me”
  13. “What the Lovers Do”
  14. “Better Way”
  15. “Oh Yeah (Our Babies)”
  16. “Bring Me Down”
Danielson Best Of Gloucester County Album Cover Danielson – The Best of Gloucester County


Danielson is a difficult band to describe. You could call them indie/gospel/pop as performed for a child’s birthday party and be pretty close, but that still wouldn’t quite encapsulate it.

Fronted by the sometimes-screechy-sometimes-smooth falsetto-voiced Daniel Smith and comprising a revolving troupe of no less than 10 others (occasionally including indie-folk legend Sufjan Stevens), Danielson is a band that dabbles in pop experimentation with a childlike enthusiasm for discovery. A childlike enthusiasm that, on the latest release, The Best of Gloucester County, is unfortunately hit-or-miss.

When the sound works, it works well. The first track, “Complimentary Dismemberment Insurance,” starts the album off strong with catchy acoustic guitar riffs and an effective use of emotional tone and volume shifts. “We are being led to places we don’t know but surely do know,” sings Smith during a surprisingly introspective pause that eventually erupts back into the jerky, joyous chorus.

Though there are sometimes clear chorus and verse patterns, Danielson is not the sort of band to get bogged down by traditional song structure, and on several tracks that plays in very exciting ways.

When this band wants to try something new, it can make music that is fluid and formless, but still beautiful.

It’s too bad that a number of songs on the album are too simple to mesh with the elaborate and experimental tracks that work so well. The worst offender is “People’s Partay.” The piano-driven verses sounds at worst like a jingle from a particularly cheesy local commercial, or at best like music written for a children’s album. It is also frustratingly simple lyrically, with none of the personal introspection, or spiritual symbolism that is such a driving force for most of the other tracks; it leaves the song feeling comparatively emotionally shallow. It does, however, match the upbeat mood that is dominant throughout the rest of the album.

This album is very similar to Danielson’s last LP, Ships. Where Ships was widely considered the band’s masterpiece, The Best of Gloucester County will likely be remembered as an unsuccessful follow-up. Many of the ideas that were revolutionary or exciting when first used in Ships are brought out again in this album, but much of the magic is gone.

It is okay to release an album that fine-tunes a sound rather than reinvents it, but this band’s appeal is so grounded in the discovery of the new and the weird that a repeat performance doesn’t pack much punch.

Though some of the initial appeal is gone, Danielson’s  The Best of Gloucester County is not a wasted effort, nor a bad album. It is an album that, while fun and lighthearted, has a few moments that are too simple to be exciting and possesses a sound altogether too similar to Danielson’s earlier works.

Danielson The Best of Gloucester County Tracklist:

  1. “Complimentary Dismemberment Insurance”
  2. “This Day Is a Loaf”
  3. “Grow Up”
  4. “Lil Norge”
  5. “But I Don’t Wanna Sing About Guitars”
  6. “People’s Partay”
  7. “Olympic Portions”
  8. “You Sleep Good Now”
  9. “Hovering Above That Hill”
  10. “Denominator Bluise”
  11. “Hosanna In the Forest”
Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding


In the years leading to the group’s inevitable disbandment, Oasis had become a mere caricature of itself. Never able to replicate the mid-’90s heyday, brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher seemed content to let their petty bickering take precedent over music. In 2009, when the band finally called it quits, it came with little surprise and minimal outcry.

But from the ashes of Oasis rose Beady Eye, a band that features most of the former outfit’s core membership.

Gem Archer, Andy Bell and Liam Gallagher have reprised their roles sans-Noel to release an album as dull and uninspired as if it were just another Oasis album. The decision to call it Different Gear, Still Speeding clearly suggests they were perfectly content to do so.

The album opens with “Four Letter Word,” a hard-rocking tune that seeks to establish what the listener can expect from the rest of the album. The track’s insipid guitar riffage and mundane melodicism is enough to elicit audible groans, but Gallagher’s typically puerile lyrics take the cake.

Seemingly ready to shed all the negativity that surrounded Oasis’ downfall, he separates himself from the naysayers by stating, “Sleepwalk away your life if that serves you well.” Woefully unaware of his clownishness for the past 10 years, this opening salvo is met with the kind of irony that’s not so much funny at it is pitiful.

He goes on to suggest, “It’s about time that your mind took a holiday/You’re all grown up, don’t you ever wanna play?”

Not with you, Liam. Not with you.

Like “Four Letter Word,” the rest of Different Gear, Still Speeding is a raucous barrage of hard rock guitars and Mick Jagger impersonations. Tracks that sometimes border on the mod sounds of the British invasion (like the tastelessly obvious “Beatles and Stones”) are instead cheap imitations of the style.

Rather than create a unique or genuine sound, Oasis 2.0 seem even more satisfied to pass off carbon copies of other styles as its own.

On “Bring The Light,” the band subverts a Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano break to unsavory results, while “The Beat Goes On” is the kind of track a Wings cover band might love to play. The ballad “Wigwam” might be the album’s worst, with its maudlin keyboard sounds and distended six-minute running time.

In sequence, it’s hard to tell one song from the next. Each track has a uniformed sound, but Different Gear, Still Speeding is far from a focused piece of work. It’s easy to see where the album is going, calling attention to the laziness of the songwriting. Not a single track stands out and the album as a whole is ultimately forgettable.

Perhaps, the most exasperating aspect of Different Gear, Still Speeding is how matter-of-fact it is. There’s no attempt at reinvention on the behalf Gallagher, Archer and Bell. In virtually every aspect, this is just the newest Oasis record. And while it may be a logical addition to their work-at-large, Liam and Co. do little to justify their previous band’s break-up.

Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding tracklist:

  1. “Four Letter Word”
  2. “Millionaire”
  3. “The Roller”
  4. “Beatles and Stones”
  5. “Wind Up Dream”
  6. “Bring the Light”
  7. “For Anyone”
  8. “Killing for a Dream”
  9. “Standing on the Edge of the Noise”
  10. “Wigwam”
  11. “Three Ring Circus”
  12. “The Beat Goes On”
  13. “The Morning Son”
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes


There must be something in the water in Sweden, or perhaps their grammar schools are offering “Pop Appreciation” because it seems the pop royalty of our generation is consistently imported from the Nordic country. Lykke Li, 24, is the latest addition to these ranks.

After 2008’s Youth Novels hit the U.S. and was met with warm reception both in the indie music scene and with the likes of Twilight producers and Kanye West, it appeared that Li was poised for full mainstream inception.

She seemed to be losing her steam as her collaborations and appearances slowed after 2009. But just when the four-year gap seemed to fade her presence, Li has returned with a vengeance and brand new album ready to croon and kick her way into listeners hearts.

Wounded Rhymes, as suggested by the name, has a load to bear. The album is crammed with song after song of heartbreak and the loss of innocence. Lyrically the songs are raw examinations of a woman evolving, often confused by surroundings and unsure of her next move. This is contrasted by confident and straightforward musical backing that equivocates somewhere between bombastic floor stompers and unshakably haunting, stripped down confessions.

No matter what route she decides to take from song to song, Li does it with a valiance that she seemed to lack in her debut.

Wounded Rhymes makes frequently bold shifts between its tracks, the kind that can veil an artist behind a shield of pageantry and ultimately lose them within their own creation. Li’s presence, however, never falters as she morphs from dance floor temptress to barstool chanteuse and back again.

“Youth Knows No Pain” is a vibrant kickstart to Wounded Rhymes, at once offering a joyous return to the Lykke Li experience and making listeners wonder if this is a different artist altogether. Emphatic percussion and reeling organ lines are a much different soundscape than the sparse bass and piano key plunks heard on Youth Novels.

Li, however, is unfettered by the change, and she delivers it with an urgent immediacy that forces listeners to pay attention from the start. This energy is carried into the cheeky and playful “I Follow Rivers,” but even this coquettish track is a different brand of playful than Li’s previously reluctant, seductive style.  Any lingering notion of her coyness is quickly lifted with the undisguised sexual overtones in the album’s first single “Get Some.”

This aplomb is carried through to the barebones singer-songwriter ballads. Perhaps the most compelling track, “I Know Places,” is a haunting invitation that features nothing but Li’s pipes and a guitar. While far less subdued, “Jerome” and “Sadness is a Blessing” manage to make an impression without the dance beats.

Li has previously said she is influenced by Bob Dylan’s ever-evolving sound. Like Dylan, she has made a successful shift into a vastly different style and seems to have settled into herself a bit more. It is impossible to say if Li will have the same kind of constant evolution Dylan did, but she is assured and present in herself at the moment, which is an essential element of artistry.

Li took chances that paid off, producing an album with a clear voice that seems to be taunting listeners with the question: “What am I going to do next?”

Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes tracklist:

  1. “Youth Knows No Pain”
  2. “I Follow Rivers”
  3. “Love Out of Lust”
  4. “Unrequited Love”
  5. “Get Some”
  6. “Rich Kids Blues”
  7. “Sadness Is A Blessing”
  8. “I Know Places”
  9. “Jerome”
  10. “Silent My Song”
The Streets – Computers and Blues


Listeners can’t deny Original Pirate Material. That wide-eyed kid—the Brum smitten with the curse of spittin’—Mike Skinner’s debut effort has since been elevated to classic status; its garage sounds tore apart the existing sound, influencing just about every young Brit with a microphone and a laptop that came after.

Skinner became godfather of the new scene, a household name in the UK and, after the follow-up success of A Grand Don’t Come for Free, took to launching other 679 artists; The Mitchell Brothers, Kano and most recently Professor Green. For the last time, he’s back, vowing to “go out without a blink.”

Computers and Blues is the artist doing his best phoenix, emerging optimistically from the ashes of The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living and Everything is Borrowed for a long-awaited curtain call.

With his latest and last, Skinner, who once professed, “a few eighths and a Playstation’s my vocation” has returned to prime form; it has shades of the breakbeat sampling, the honest self-evaluation and live instrumentation of his previous albums, making for one hell of a farewell letter. After a decade of mostly good memories, he lets us believe it’s not us, it’s him.

Mikey is the diamond of wit, it doesn’t come sharper. Lines like “I see Alice in Wonderland/I see malice in Sunderland” (Without Thinking) or “I’m pretty good at puzzles but puzzled by people” (Puzzled By People) remind you of the geeky youngster that dared to push things forward, only this joint comes dripping in swagger. Donning rocknrolla shades, guest Robert Harvey (The Music) wails over hammering guitars, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Skinner wanted the album to carry deep dance sounds of Berlin, but it never quite shakes its twenty-something, chip-shop Englishness.

There is perhaps no MC more blessed with the voice of the everyman; brazen, banal and often contemplative with dub beats, deft, dark lyricism and unparalleled cut-ups, Skinner waxes secular with street smart sensibility.

His flow verges on spoken-word, rhythmically there’s nothing he can’t fit. The subplot of the artist’s heartbreak, his disillusionment with the music scene, “I am just a child who got a few years older,” makes Computers and Blues all the more glum, all the more pointed.

The work builds anticipation like a symphony. By the time the now familiar single “Trust Me” drops—the fanfare of horns digitized and broken—listeners are dying to see how it all ends. The curtains open on the final act. I’m packing up my desk/Put it into boxes/Knock out the lights/Lock the locks and leave.”

It’s not a classic but when there are two, it’s hard to outlive your own legacy. Kudos to the band for never looking back despite the catcalls piling up. On the breakup song, “We Can Never Be Friends,” Skinner concedes, “This is us fizzling, but with added little pangs/We’ve reached the end, you’ll never see me again.” With Computers and Blues he proves undeniably, despite falling off—he’s still and forever will be The Streets. Has it come to this?

Goodbye Mike.

The Streets – Computers and Blues tracklist:

  1. “Outside Inside”
  2. “Going Through Hell”
  3. “Roof of Your Car”
  4. “Puzzled by People”
  5. “Without Thinking”
  6. “Blip on a Screen”
  7. “Those That Don’t Know”
  8. “Soldiers”
  9. “We Can Never Be Friends”
  10. “Abc”
  11. “OMG”
  12. “Trying to Kill Me”
  13. “Trust Me”
  14. “Lock the Locks”
Red City Radio - The Dangers of Standing Still album cover Red City Radio – The Dangers of Standing Still


Oklahoma City’s Red City Radio has a lot of things working against them, like being from Oklahoma City.

The band’s We Are the Sons and Daughters of Woody Guthrie EP was first released in 2009 and was a fairly standard affair given the sound many new bands were striving. While Woody Guthrie had its flaws, it showed promise that many others lacked, as evinced by the band’s ability to not just ape genre pioneers like Jawbreaker and Dillinger Four, but to use them as a jumping off point. On the band’s first full-length release The Dangers of Standing Still, Red City Radio proves that the high points on their EP weren’t flukes.

Over the course of the album’s 35 minutes, Red City Radio finds a way to bridge the gap between the technical musicianship of Hot Water Music with the pop hooks of bands such as the Descendents.

It’s a fitting comparison given that Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton recorded the band’s EP and full-length, giving the songs striking clarity while avoiding overproduction.

Those familiar with Red City Radio’s prior work won’t be shocked with The Dangers of Standing Still, as it never deviates from the pop-hardcore approach for which the band is becoming known. This is not to say that the album falls into Ramones territory – 12 tracks that all sound identical – but there isn’t much diversity here either. At times, it’s hard to remember what song is actually playing due to the band’s constant use of whoa’s and complementary vocal harmonies between guitarists/vocalists Garrett Dale and Paul Pendley.

What keeps Red City Radio’s album from feeling too similar throughout is the skilled rhythm section. Jonathon Knight’s bass playing adds a groove under Dale and Pendley’s interlocking guitar work that is both subtle and lively, but it is drummer Dallas Tidwell who is the true stand-out. Tidwell’s drumming avoids many of the pitfalls often found in pop-punk. His work on the kick drum is intricate, but it is his ability to slide into off-time fills that keep the songs engaging from start to finish.

The Dangers of Standing Still is, at its core, a love letter to Oklahoma.

Red City Radio’s unabashed love for their home comes through on several of the album’s songs and it’s always charming. One of the album’s stand-outs is “Spinning in Circles Is a Gateway Drug,” a song that perfectly sums up the record’s central thesis. When Dale sings – in a vocal style akin to Bender from Futurama – “To the city that I hold dearly/But everyone talks shit about” it is utterly genuine before simply stating, “I’m gunna stay and make something out of this town.”

The Dangers of Standing Still is far from perfect. It can easily blend together due to the lack of diversity, but it never stops being enjoyable. It’s a great record to put on and sing-along to in the company of friends, but it’s hard to say how much staying power it will have.

Red City Radio – The Dangers of Standing Still tracklist:

  1. “An Introduction of Sorts”
  2. “The Benefits of Motion”
  3. “Two for Flinching”
  4. “Spinning in Circles Is a Gateway Drug”
  5. “Too Much Whiskey Not Enough Blankets”
  6. “50th & Western”
  7. “I’m Well, You’re Poison”
  8. “Captioned for the Hearing Impaired”
  9. “This Day Has Seen Better Bars”
  10. “Drinking Ourselves into the Future”
  11. “Talk Me to Sleep”
  12. “Nathaniel Martinez”
Faust Something Dirty Album Cover Faust – Something Dirty


It’s hard to review Faust, because the album form means nothing to Something Dirty, the experimental pioneers’ latest effort. To call it an album is to call a mixtape the same. But an album implies more, doesn’t it? It implies a cohesive whole, something that manages to convey a theme through its similar and disparate moments.

While Faust certainly got the title of the “album” right, Something Dirty has less to do with sitting down and absorbing music than marveling at the craftsmanship and effort that such a collection of songs takes to put together. In this way, Something Dirty is actually remarkably egotistical, as it forces its listeners to absorb sounds that they aren’t used to and process them as a reflection of Faust’s true brilliance and dedication to their craft.

But, in a way, Faust’s egotistical turn, the turn that led them to create such a scattershot album, is one of Something Dirty’s biggest strengths.

Because they are mostly instrumental, Faust can be grouped with some of the more important post-rock bands of the last decade with its frantic sonic shifting. The opening track greatly resembles Mogwai, while the second could be a more steel-plated Sigur Ros. When listening to Something Dirty, one gets the feeling that they’re listening to a grab bag, almost a odds ‘n’ sods collection of Faust’s ideas that never quite made it past the cutting room table.

Just so, the record reveals itself to be a “pick a few, leave the rest” treasure trove, providing instant gratification to those fans who love Faust’s shorter bursts, the turns toward French spoken word poetry, or even the attempts to make melody out of brutal guitar slices. Because Faust helped invent Krautrock, it’s also fun to know how backwardly referential Something Dirty sounds–Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born was birthed from Jeff Tweedy listening a bit too closely to songs like this.

So Something Dirty is less about itself as a whole and more about what it means to others and what individual tracks mean to listeners.

From the chopped and screwed Explosions in the Sky remix on the title track, there are points at which Faust seem almost ready to burst into the room with an anthem, defying even the band’s own formula. Of course that moment never comes, and whatever anthem is to be gleaned from Something Dirty can be found in the repeated, mumbled phrases under a tunnel of reverb as the album closes.There are non-starter tracks, most of which come from the more finely diced second half (a prime example is “Whet,” which seems like a failed experiment gone too far, if Faust are capable of such a thing).

“Invisible Mending” flirts with actual harmony, melody and hook, but ends up detracting from the album in its distracting popiness. It would be a highlight on any other album, but here the comfortable interplay between vocals and bass seems ugly. When living in the world of Faust, pretty is a machete and ugly is a glass of scotch in a lounge bar. Ultimately, each successive song detracts more from its previous one, leading to a fairly unsatisfactory and empty experience when all is said and done. After “La Sole Doree,” it’s hard to imagine the platform Krautrock pulse that was “Tell the Bitch to Go Home.” “Dampfauslass 1” and “Dampfauslass 2” asked to be viewed together, yet when actually done, neither seems particularly noteworthy because they are both so disparate.

In the end, Something Dirty is, unsurprisingly, a cold experience that leaves a listener as such. It’s a wonder to behold in its more technical achievements—the ways Faust get some of the sounds they do would make Jonny Greenwood go slack-jawed. But technical achievements mean little to music nowadays. Clapton is a technical genius, but people figured out long ago that he’s actually quite boring to listen to once you have the shtick down. Faust are the same way. Once you know that you’re going to hear weird things that don’t fit together, Something Dirty feels just as it should.

Listeners are desensitized to the world of Faust, which is why a song like “Save the Last One” is so refreshing. Sounding like an outtake from Abbey Road, it reminds the listener that there is life outside the maze of mystical instruments inSomething Dirty; and more than likely, that world is a lot more rewarding than a collection of songs served artificially, brutally cold.

Faust –Something Dirty tracklist

  1. “Tell the Bitch to Go Home”
  2. “Herbststimmung”
  3. “Thoughts of the Dead”
  4. “Lost the Signal”
  5. “Je Bouffe”
  6. “Whet”
  7. “Invisible Mending”
  8. “Dampfauslass I”
  9. “Dampfauslass II”
  10. “Pythagoras”
  11. “Save the Last One”
  12. “La Sole Dorée”
Bright Eyes The People's Key Album Cover Bright Eyes – The People’s Key


Chew on this for a second: Conor Oberst is 31. The boy wonder, the next Bob Dylan, the cathartic voice of youth, is 10 years older than all the members of the Smith Westerns and doubly as old as Justin Bieber. He has wandered through multiple bands, cover stories in magazines and an almost total erasure of the impish warble that defined his halcyon days. And now he’s come back to the Bright Eyes well, somewhat humbled by the lack of praise his own name earned him in the harsh musical sunlight.

To call The People’s Key a return to form for Oberst, Nate Walcott and Mike Mogis, is to do a disservice to the idea that Oberst is constantly trying to reinvent the Americana medium to his own ends.

This time, Oberst reveals that he always been a wannabe mystic. Cassadaga was all about Conor grounding himself into the most extreme socialist, mystical gypsy clan possible in the United States. What resulted was a record that, while effortlessly and masterfully produced and performed by Mogis and Walcott, came off as preachy in places and overly syrupy in others. It was still an improvement on Oberst’s days of stitching emo and Americana together, but not by much.

In a sad turn, The People’s Key is even more on its own soapbox—for the first time, Oberst creates a set of songs with what he feels his intended voice to be: philosopher.

The one thing that has kept Oberst’s narrative voice interesting is he sees the world in a much more colorful, ultra-sensory way than we do; here, we get bloated from head to toe with his warped ramblings. Oh, and there’s a bullshit philosopher introducing half the songs that eventually convey more of a joke than a serious introspection on what exactly love means in a cosmic sense. He seems purposeless and ironic until his final words, as he attempts to summarize his drug-addled ramblings.

After the end of palette-cleansing closer “One For You, One For Me,” Oberst interjects his own word, “mercy,” in order to get across the more important point of the spoken-word nonsense. Oberst thinks of himself as supremely intelligent; that he’ll assemble the pieces of what narrator is saying and sum it up better. It’s Oberst at his most pretentious, and it’s almost hard to hear.

The saddest part of listening to Oberst’s nonsensical ramblings about “triple spirals,” music sung in “the people’s key,” and the educational babble “beginner’s mind” is that Mogis and Walcott have never sounded better. They’ve tightened up their sound, incorporated synths into the mix of their strongest songs (“Halle Selassie,” “Shell Games”) and come back to Bright Eyes with an intuitive knowledge of how to incorporate pop into Americana.

It’s too bad Oberst is out on his American walkabout—The People’s Key could be an amazing pop album if it wasn’t so focused on creating a religion.

The moments when Oberst gets personal and romantic (the bridge of “Halle Selassie” when he says “I was swimming with you”) are reminders that Oberst did create a personal record like I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning before, and could do it again if he wasn’t so choked on his own power.

The point about Oberst’s age comes into play on his most important song—the close-as-barroom elegy for a friend who had committed suicide “Ladder Song.” Oberst sets down his spiritual guides (“let Judah hang and Buddha sit”) and writes a wounded song perfectly reflected by haunting piano.

At 31, Conor Oberst has almost had a full career of personas—promising, ultra-earnest youngster, Americana savior, misguided electro-experimenter, mystic faux-prophet—but at his core, he still sings as if he’s a 20-year-old neophyte. At his best, Oberst embraces his youthful spirit, like on “Ladder Song.” And perhaps listeners should take some of the blame for The People’s Key’s myriad failings—they related Conor to Bob Dylan, then left him out in the cold to think about whether they still meant it or not when something better came around.

Maybe listeners turned Conor Oberst into a preaching mystic who thinks he’s more transcendent than he is. If that’s even remotely the case, The People’s Key is our albatross, not his.

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key tracklist

  1. “Firewall”
  2. “Shell Games”
  3. “Jejune Stars”
  4. “Approximate Sunlight”
  5. “Haile Selassie”
  6. “A Machine Spiritual (In the People’s Key)”
  7. “Triple Spiral”
  8. “Beginner’s Mind”
  9. “Ladder Song”
  10. “One for You, One for Me”