Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972 album cover Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972


Since his 2001 debut, Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again, Tim Hecker has consistently produced quality ambient albums broadening compositional paradigms, while still remaining fairly accessible. This holds true with his sixth album, Ravedeath, 1972.

Structurally, the album is comprised of Hecker’s usual mix of multi-part pieces and standalone tracks. Sonically, however, the music takes a turn into darker territory. Tracks are often haunting or disturbing.

It’s no surprise when one considers the basis of the material: samples of a live recording of a church pipe organ in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Hecker’s permutation of the sound carries its aura, but there’s an underlying tranquility in spite of the gloom. And much like what Icelandic greats Sigur Rós did on ( ), he is able to take the cold, dark and heavy and create something downright gorgeous.

Opener “The Piano Drop,” likely alluding to the album art in which a group of students are dropping a piano off the roof of a building, suggests that this album is an antithesis to Fennesz’s warm, bright masterpiece Endless Summer. Distortion and glitches flood the sound space with a murky dissonance that wouldn’t be out of place on a witch house record, if Hecker ever dropped a beat. The occasional high and low jabs he throws in have great effect on the listener (especially on a nice pair of headphones).

Following that comes the three-part “In the Fog.” Easily one of the finest moments in his career, the piece showcases Hecker’s strengths at manipulating sound, while maintaining its organic qualities. Organ chords are distinguishable, but staying true to the title are veiled by a thick fog. The piece moves slowly, but the dynamics are huge. The mood shifts constantly with sounds suddenly entering or being cut out  and swells of sound toppling over each other throughout its 16 minute duration, until it ends with a quiet hum.

Beneath darkness and distortion on the two-part “Hatred of Music” lies an absolutely gorgeous piano. It’s not playing anything in particular, but the listener will undoubtedly find solace in it when it appears just as the violent drones are about to devour them.

“Analog Paralysis, 1978” and “Studio Suicide, 1980” suggest a sequence of events along with the album title. These two tracks provide a period of respite from the rumbles and screeches leading into the finale “In the Air.” Its three parts provide a perfect summation of the album. Hecker teases with piano chopped just enough to leave a trace of melody, swirling distortion, little clicking sounds (perhaps from an old projector) and what sounds like faint voices support the equally faint notes of piano that bring the album to an end.

Hecker’s use of space on this record is to be commended. At times dense, at times sparse, there is never a sound misplaced. Quiet drones are used as deftly as background music in the best films. It is a credit to his craftsmanship.

No one knows what the title’s supposed to mean, not even Hecker, but it does lend a lot to the imagination. The music is no different. Certainly a sensory experience of IMAX proportions, Ravedeath, 1972 threatens to take the title of Hecker’s best work from 2006’s Harmony in Ultraviolet. This is not for the impatient, but those who can sit through 52 minutes of pure ambience will likely find many thrills, as it is simply an excellent record.

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 tracklist

  1. “The Piano Drop”
  2. “In the Fog I”
  3. “In the Fog II”
  4. “In the Fog III”
  5. “No Drums”
  6. “Hatred of Music I”
  7. “Hatred of Music II”
  8. “Analog Paralysis, 1978”
  9. “Studio Suicide”
  10. “In the Air I”
  11. “In the Air II”
  12. “In the Air III”
Thomas Giles – Pulse


Tommy Giles Rogers has a long way to go when not with his band Between the Buried and Me. His solo debut Pulse is a dark and gloomy hodgepodge of well produced, but painfully adolescent tracks that wish too much to be epic and over the top, only to succeed at the latter making for a gloomy, scattered debut.  While Pulse attempts to re-introduce listeners to a rock star, it only provides a musician who still has a lot to learn about simply being himself.

The problem here is not the musicianship, but rather the overabundance of ideas clustered on the record.

Whether Rogers is delivering a guttural growl over a post-industrial wall of guitars, humbly strumming a well delivered acoustic track or laying down overly dramatic rock, there’s no connection between any of it. What is evident, however, is Rogers’ has talent. He wrote and performed the record himself after all. Yet the lack of connection among the record’s many facets hold him back.

What’s missing is an ability to take the stadium sized sound and make it relatable on a non-stadium level, which Rogers has done before, despite it being the biggest challenge of his style. On the surface, these ideas show bravado and fearlessness, but the reality is a shallow record that tries to hard, leaving it up to grandiose guitars and production overkill.

This causes the songs to become predictable, starting with a slow anticipating introduction, followed by dramatic mall goth riffs that crawl along. What’s curious about these parts is that they aren’t as awkward when separated from one another, but only become so in the context they are given. On “Sleep Shake” and “Hamilton Anxiety Scale” this format makes for split songs, ones that cheaply linked parts that could make for interesting songs on their own. The latter ends up developing each part separately and shoots to bring them together for an ending that sparks Rogers’ inner Jared Leto.

Others are plain curious, like the post apocalyptic “Reject Falicon” that replicates a countdown over and over and over with bleak piano and drum samples. Rogers tries to shock with the industrial “Catch and Release,” but it only raises one eyebrow. Voice changer and dulled megaphone screams cheapen the track, further deducting the few creativity points it had.

What’s frustrating is that Rogers does know how to write a quality track, as heard on the record’s most promising moment “Reverb Island.” It builds into its heavier moments, a dancehall version of Muse, instead of jumping into them. Those heavier parts fit in with the rest of the track and it works well. “Armchair Travel” is another example of quality, bringing in a needed level of honesty with pleasant acoustic guitars.

If he translated this kind of thoughtful intimacy to all his styles, Rogers’ solo work would make an about face toward the intriguing. These tracks show the sharp contrast between the few instances that are worth a return and the other tracks that stick out like a sore thumb in comparison.

There are many sides to Rogers. One can pick up an acoustic guitar and strum out a decent tune, such the album’s most honest “Scared.” Another screams in an attempt at shock and awe for the over the top “Medic.” Rogers makes it obvious that he has a wide variety of writing abilities outside what he’s recognized for, and this should be a positive thing. The problem is that the result is underdeveloped and filled with overused moves, creating the sense that these songs have been written before, just not by him.

Thomas Giles – Pulse tracklist

  1. “Sleep Shake”
  2. “Reverb Island”
  3. “Mr. Bird”
  4. “Catch & Release”
  5. “Hamilton Anxiety Scale”
  6. “Scared”
  7. “Reject Falicon”
  8. “Medic”
  9. “Suspend the Death Watch”
  10. “Armchair Travel”
  11. “Hypoxia”
Isolée - Well Spent Youth album cover Isolée – Well Spent Youth


Under the moniker Isolée, German house artist Rajko Müller’s third album, Well Spent Youth, compiles ten lengthy essays of ambient electronic music. This is music for headphones, and for the most part it’s hard to imagine that anyone except for zombies could move to this on a dance floor. However, characterizing this release as chillwave is a disservice, as Isolée crafts a pulsating rhythm bed throughout and builds a framework of glitchy techno ambiance on top of it.

It’s a dense jungle of vamping melodic and discordant herky-jerky, off-kilter bass drum anchored beats, and the best way to explore it is to embrace it with eyes closed, as the waves wash across the ears. Still, after repeated listens it does become a little headache inducing.  It’s hard to know what the goal is here, and the hooks are buried so low in the mind-melting mish-mash, that they are almost indiscernible.

Listening to Well Spent Youth is like standing at the helm of an icebreaker with an infinite horizon of glaciers ahead—it’s beautiful to see from a distance, but difficult to navigate through.

The cuts themselves are from the same cloth, so they tend to blend together into one tapestry of bubbling clockwork electropop. “One Box” and “Celeste” might form the perfect soundtrack to snowmelt, with their syncopated synthetic water drop rhythms. Jingle bells and vibes flesh out the delivery on “Journey’s End,” feedback and echoed breathing distinguishes “Going Nowhere” (a title befitting the lack of direction and resolution on the track), and on “Transmission” Isolée mines an inverted Stereolab rhythm and introduces some rare vocals, albeit filtered through electronic treatments.

Fans of Müller’s last release, 2005’s We Are Monsters may be disappointed, since this is  a return to the low-key approach of his 2000 debut, Rest. However, even though Well Spent Youth is another collection of techno-minimalism, it’s worth a few spins to find out if one can be fully immersed. Also, the trip to that state of mind might be rewarding, even if it’s difficult at times.

Isolée – Well Spent Youth tracklist

  1. “Paloma Triste”
  2. “Thirteen Times an Hour”
  3. “Taktell”
  4. “Journey’s End”
  5. “Going Nowhere”
  6. “One Box”
  7. “Celeste”
  8. “Trop Près De Toi (97′ Interlude)”
  9. “Hold On”
  10. “Transmission”
  11. “In Our Country”
Sonic Youth LP - Simon Werner a Disparu album cover Sonic Youth – Simon Werner a Disparu


Only a handful of bands and artists, such as Beastie Boys and R.E.M., can say they’ve been relevant for 30 years. Sonic Youth is one of them. But for some reason (perhaps, to keep their hipster cred) they’ve recently scored the French film “Simon Werner a Disparu,” which in English is titled “Lights Out.”

What initially sounds like a collection of instrumental warm-up songs from their masterpiece Daydream Nation, the soundtrack attempts to give listeners an inside look into what the characters in the film are like.

The film’s plot, which sounds like a bad episode of “Law and Order,” revolves around a group of teens in suburban Paris who start to go missing after discovering a dead body in the forest.

The ominous guitars along with the overused echo and reverb effects were brilliant in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but at this point it’s hard to find anything new about Simon Werner. So much for being an “original” soundtrack.

A lack of vocals from lead singer and guitarist Thurston Moore don’t do the soundtrack any favors either. On previous albums, when the feedback proved to be too much to handle at times, Moore was there to save the day with his calm, smooth and comforting voice.

However, the band wasn’t trying to make another concept album. They were trying to score a film, and they succeeded in doing so. The group approached Simon Werner with a different mindset than they have in previous efforts. This music wasn’t for them, it was for a film.

This collection of songs can’t be compared to most of the group’s earlier work, but it does give an idea of what these crazy teens in suburbia are like. The opening track, “Theme de Jeremie,” is full of the same, intense two-chord progression before abruptly merging into a mellow, surf rock-style guitar solo. From the sound of it, Jeremie is a weird guy.

But the songs all have the same, or at least similar, structure and sound. This isn’t a step back for Sonic Youth, but it’s by no means progress.

Simon Werner is Sonic Youth’s version of a mid-life crisis. It’s a desperate attempt to maintain the weird charm that’s kept fans loyal for three decades.

The band carved a niche for themselves as the gods of noise rock. But writing their third original film score is a sign of two things: boredom and a lack of creativity. The band has already written soundtracks for the films “Made In The USA” and “SubUrbia.” They’re relying on a script to stimulate them.There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by another piece of art, but Sonic Youth didn’t make this music because they wanted to, the band made it because it fit the mood of the film.

After 30 years of shaping the alt-rock landscape, it’s only fair to give the band a free pass on an album. But at the same time, when a band is capable of making music that defined a genre, they should be held to a higher standard. They’ve contributed too much to the progression of alternative rock to lower themselves to plateau making soundtracks.

Sonic Youth – Simon Werner a Disparu tracklist

  1. “Thème de Jérémie”
  2. “Alice et Simon”
  3. “Les Anges au piano”
  4. “Chez Yves (Alice et Clara)”
  5. “Jean-Baptiste à la fenêtre”
  6. “Thème de Laetitia”
  7. “Escapades”
  8. “La Cabane au Zodiac”
  9. “Dans les bois / M. Rabier”
  10. “Jean-Baptiste et Laetitia”
  11. “Thème de Simon”
  12. “Au Café”
  13. “Thème d’Alice (CD Bonus Track)”
Destroyer Kaputt Album Cover Destroyer – Kaputt


Whenever Dan Bejar takes off he always lands in a radically different place. Kaputt is a rich fusion of soft rock, lite-jazz and ’80s pop. At first listen, it may not sound so appealing, but this case is an exception, treading the fine line between genre-imitation and original auteurism.

A seasoned soul in the music business, Bejar has refined and perfected his enfant terrible persona, his smugness and gauche have gone off their respective charts.

With albums, there’s always the question of process. Some artists will say a work speaks for itself, presenting it without disclaimer or statement, while others will try to prove that every decision in the album was theirs (every aspect controlled, no step unaccounted for). In any case, process proves that what is achieved is deliberate. Intentionality is a sign of mastery and impossible to fake.

With Kaputt Bejar seems to already be an old soul that is matured, rested and has nothing to prove. Even when Destroyer is improvising, it feels deliberate. The album is conceptual in its seamless fusion of so many genres and the tinge of poetic, vulgar lyricism. The concept, though subtle,  is rigorously adhered to and eventually realized by the listener.

Kaputt is pleasantly anachronistic, without ever sounding like a pastiche. Bejar seems to have cherry-picked the elements he wanted from every era of music for the past 30 years, and the result just happens to be Kaputt. There’s the smooth jazzy swing of “Chinatown,” the New Wave drive of “Savage Night at The Opera” and even hints of funk on “Blue Eyes.”

It’s an album chock full of references to itself and others (band Suicide, the White Album and even old jazz standards), “It don’t mean a thing, it don’t mean a thing/ it’s never got that swing,” is a lyric from “Bay of Pigs,” the incredible finale of the album. The track is the most progressive and reminiscent of prior Destroyer. If it sounds familiar, the song was released on EP in 2009.

“It all sounds like a dream to me,” Bejar sings on the title track and with good reason. He constantly blurs the horizon between fantasy and actuality, wishing and achieving.

It is dreamlike, but also wistful and melancholic with lines like, “Step out of your toga and straight into the fog/You are a Prince on the ocean.” Kaputt never loses its spontaneity, no sooner do one settles into a disco groove than it turns you them on their head, never breaking its unfiltered honesty.

One of the most experimental tracks of the album, “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker,” is also one of the standouts. Kara Walker herself, whose work deals with race in America, lends her words. Walker wrote out note cards with key phrases, leaving Bejar to read them off the cuff in the studio. The song starts with faraway synth and shimmering, nylon-stringed guitar, eventually punching it’s way through with shocking spitfire lyrics, “Harmless little negress/ You’ve got to say yes another excess,” and winding down with dueling saxophone and trumpet solos.

Swirling trumpets explore the space of “Blue Eyes,” a reverb drenched saxophone improvises the ending to “Kaputt”; constant noir lite-jazz elements accentuate the album. That same saxophone, as though continuing a story, begins “Downtown,” evoking empty skyscrapers in the nineteen-eighties. If there’s one thing the album unequivocally achieves it’s atmosphere. “I wrote a song for America,” the Canadian sings (on “Song for America”), “they told me it was clever,” the kind of graceless self-evaluation that is typical of his lyricism.

Through the entire effort, Bejar reclines decadently, content to lounge back and spout off; the grooving is ceaseless, the smoothness never lost. He’s relaxed, but there’s rarely a moment that slips by accidentally.It’s hard to get sick of Kaputt, since it’s incredibly ambitious and bittersweet, but also dazzling.

Destroyer – Kaputt tracklist

  1. “Chinatown”
  2. “Blue Eyes”
  3. “Savage Night at the Opera”
  4. “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker”
  5. “Poor in Love
  6. “Kaputt”
  7. “Downtown”
  8. “Song for America”
  9. “Bay of Pigs”
The Dears - Degeneration Street album artwork The Dears – Degeneration Street


Despite an inconsistent lineup and change in record labels, Canadian indie rockers The Dears have returned in 2011 with their newest effort, Degeneration Street. Unfortunately, the band’s return is met with a resounding more-of-the-same. Failing to advance or improve upon their sound, the album has a distinct lack of vision and is a decidedly aimless effort.

The album begins with “Omega Dog,” a superb opening track that ebbs and flows between darkly melodic tones and sweepingly orchestral sensibilities. Principal members and husband-and-wife duo Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak undoubtedly meant for the song to establish the overarching aesthetic of the album. Unfortunately for them, the tracks that follow “Omega Dog” fail to achieve its quality.

What results is an album that continually grasps at straws. There’s a strong sense of uncertainty that permeates Degeneration Street that stems from its erratic instrumentation and conflicting moods.

And while it’s unfair to fault The Dears for being ambitious, they’ve never been a band capable of achieving the kind of wide palate they seem to be shooting for.

Perhaps it’s their constantly fluctuating membership or Lightburn’s incessant and increasingly annoying Morrissey impersonation. Regardless, Degeneration Street feels less like a cohesive piece of work and more like a collection of tracks from a band long broken up.

However, while the tracks feel conflicting in sequence, some of the songs work nicely as stand-alone efforts. “Lamentation” is an easygoing, jazzy tune and one of the few that benefits from the band’s penchant for reciprocal rhythms, while “Stick w/ Me Kid” is a capriciously danceable number that manages to attain the gloominess the band strains to achieve. Still, other songs remain unsalvageable. The album’s worst tracks (“5 Chords,” “Easy Suffering”) play like a bad collection of Arcade Fire b-sides.

Yet these moments of unimaginativeness bolster the more successful elements of Degeneration Street. For an album that relies so heavily on its broadly scoped compositions, there are moments on Degeneration Street that yearn for simplicity. Thankfully, moments of solace can be found. Perhaps the album’s most listenable track, “Blood,” is a genuine radio jam, fitted with chunky guitar sounds and an infectious tonality. “Tiny Man” is another example of a song finding its way from beneath Lightburn and Yanchak’s heavy-handedness.

Ultimately, though, Degeneration Street remains too conceptual for its own good. Clocking in at a bloated 60 minutes, enduring the album can easily be described as a chore. Lightburn and Yanchak would have been wise—in the wake of a constantly rotating band of supporting players—to pare down the grandiosity and shoot for an album far more centralized.

Artists can often lose their footing when they confuse ambition for aimlessness, and The Dears fall victim to their own meandering.

The Dears have always been susceptible to meandrous rumination. In previous efforts, such their 2007 album Missles, the band seemed on the verge of falling prey to their own precarious sensibilities. This album proves to be the tipping point. Degeneration Street is the work of a band sans focus and devoid of discipline.

Degeneration Street Tracklisting:

  1. Omega Dog
  2. 5 Chords
  3. Blood
  4. Thrones
  5. 5. Lamentation
  6. Torches
  7. Galactic Tides
  8. Yesteryear
  9. Stick w/ me Kid
  10. Tiny Man
  11. Easy Suffering
  12. Unsung
  13. 1854
  14. Degeneration Street
Nobunny - First Blood Album cover Nobunny – First Blood


There is a reason punk is dead. Some of the blame can be laid on Saturday morning cartoon acts like Nobunny. This chucklehead has a circus-like air about his music that is chillingly reminiscent of the shit Green Day and the Offspring put out in the earlier part of the last decade.

His recent contribution to garage punk, a 24-and-a-half minute walk through obscurity called First Blood, borders on the realms of barely tolerable and something good to have as part of a playlist on in the background during a midnight cram session. Parading around stage in a bunny mask with a number of other props ranging from panties to ball gags doesn’t sound much like wholesome family entertainment. But the idea that some perverse Animaniac is landing gigs and wowing music fans is something to be said.

Though entertaining, Nobunny’s attempt at garage music falls short of anything that would be considered good punk.

This album is a short, staccato-stepping myriad of fun songs that could piss off the hardest punkers or get the right people in the right frame of mind out of their seats and ripping a venue apart in a tireless rage.

Let’s take a step back and figure out what’s being said. First Blood has all the makings of an album worth listening to. The songs are all catchy; the lyrics are edgy, fun, in your face and occasionally outright fucking weird. “(Do The) Fuck Yourself” is friggin’ wild! Its punchiness and joviality wrap together like a candy cane that’s been half sucked by a toothless, dirt bag kid and put back on the tree for others to discover on Christmas morning.

Nobunny takes the time to put that doo-wop sound into his music that the punk world really hasn’t seen in strong numbers since the Ramones left the scene.  Songs like “Ain’t it a Shame” and “Pretty Little Trouble” really drive the point home with the pumped guitar and “ooohs and aaahs” the ’50s made popular.

“Blow Dumb” and “Pretty Please Me” have that circus appeal mentioned earlier. And with the cute whistling in the background, “Pretty Please Me” could easily find itself on Mr. Rogers’ iPod.

If there is anything to take away from this album, it’s that each song in its own right needs to be out there, needs to have public attention and needs to get some playtime. After all, those who don’t get out socially become the next Jack the Ripper or H.H. Holmes (Google the last one, he was one fucked up dude).

This album was about as cool to listen to as hearing a Pearl Jam cover of “Last Kiss” played over and over again on the radio for a decade straight. But there are a lot of worse collections out there (anything by Milli Vanilli for example). All things considered, Nobunny can cut the swears, trim the content to be more kid-friendly, move up to the Pacific Northwest and write children’s books with Sir Mix-A-Lot and PUSA front-man Chris Ballew and still find the same success.

The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts album cover The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts


The Go! Team’s 2004 debut Thunder, Lightning, Strike, featured a mix of ’60’s bubblegum pop, ’70’s TV theme music, ’80’s hip-hop and ’90’s lo-fi/alternative rock. It was of both novelty and quality. Songs found their place on quirky indie films and commercials sponsored by the NFL.

The unusual mix of sounds proved difficult to evolve on the band’s 2007 follow up Proof of Youth. The Go! Team beefed up production and even got Chuck D to guest on a track, but the writing was simply not as strong. Now four years later The Go! Team is ready to try again with Rolling Blackouts.

First track “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.” explodes with a horn section belting out a riff that seems lifted from a metal album, but with some extra flourishes underneath Dominique’s rapping. The band isn’t  messing around. The two-minute track stands as a short and to-the-point strike that bodes well for the rest of the album. Follow-up “Secretary Song,” featuring Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, at times resembles a possible Gwen Stefani track discarded for being a little too idiosyncratic.

It’s full of life and it’s clear The Go! Team has found a way to make an artistic step forward.

Things get even better with “Apollo Throwdown.” Featuring some hand-claps and chanting over some classic Go! Team ’70s vibe  with subtle chillwave undertone, this track may be able to stand alongside “Huddle Formation” as the group’s top tune.

Considering the strength of the beginning, it’s no surprise things start to slack afterward. “Ready to Go Steady” and “Bust-Out Brigade” both walk the same lines as material on the band’s debut. “Buy Nothing Day” has the potential to be one of 2011’s biggest—albeit fuzziest—pop anthems, but it’s followed by a lackluster instrumental that kills most of the regained momentum.

“Voice Yr Choice” shows the band utilizing the tones and styling of modern rap amidst distorted bass and horns. It indicates potential, but unfortunately fails to deliver. The track is easily forgotten by the start of the next number. The remaining tracks, excepting the pop punch of the title track,  rehash previous ideas while attempting to throw in a few new ones, like the short harp appearance on “Yosemite Theme.” The closer “Back Like 8 Track,” however, does show that The Go! Team can still generate a great song using the old formula.

There’s no reason this album wouldn’t be great to have on at a party, but as an artistic statement or critical listening material, it’s inconsistent. The problem with such a novel mix is it’s hard to advance without dropping a lot of the trademarks.

Yet,  nobody can legitimize jump rope chants like these guys, let alone make it sound natural. The sound is the band’s own and they do it well. The Go Team! has found a way to successfully step forward on Rolling Blackouts, with the  strength of dense arrangements, standout melodies (when they appear) and well-chosen collaborations. Earning themselves another shot with Rolling Blackouts, they better take less time to get the next album done.

The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts tracklist

  1. T.O.R.N.A.D.O.
  2. Secretary Song
  3. Apollo Throwdown
  4. Ready to Go Steady
  5. Bust-Out Brigade
  6. Buy Nothing Day
  7. Super Triangle
  8. Voice Yr Choice
  9. Yosemite Theme
  10. The Running Range
  11. Lazy Poltergeist
  12. Rolling Blackouts
  13. Back Like 8 Track
Five o'clock - Heroes LP different times album cover Five O’Clock Heroes – Different Times


Influences make the band. Every band has them, and, no matter how original said bands music may appear to be, you can always hear those influences peaking out. Be it in a guitar solo, or a melody, there needs to be a balance between said muses and the original ideas that make the band stand out as an individual. Simply said, if one can listen to a band and instantly call it something else, the music loses credo.

Five O’Clock Heroes have had a tough time over the decade working on this balance. Now on its third record, Different Times updates the sound for this band following closely to the era of music they’ve emulated all along. This is a band that has made a career being centered in all of the new wave variations, and this new album is just another version of that. And when laid against the band’s previous albums, it follows right in step along the same path the new wave genre did from the punk inspired beginnings to the heavily produced pop it became.

The rawness of past albums has been laid to rest in exchange for pop that sticks to the clichés. By picking up the production and adding the accents of effects and keyboards they end up sounding like a cover band on many of the tacks. This makes Different Times come across as harmless and offers no real risk as the change in sound recalls bands like The Clash and Gang of Four almost exactly. The easy reggae come ska on “Boys Not Girls” shows this point as Antony Ellis gives us his best Joe Strummer taking the melody right out of Strummers pocket.

This shows the band hasn’t so much as run out of ideas, as they’ve just misplaced them. Misplaced them in the vibrating drums on “Diplomat,” and the overthought vocals. The focus on retro synths throughout the record that don’t add anything and only make it predictable.

Not all is copy-and-pasted new wave, however. It’s fleeting, but tracks like “City of Lights” and “Postcard” positively show a band working on how to stand out. The later gives a slowed down take that’s honest and with a little keyboard becomes one of their best to date.

The ability to craft a worthy hook has been a strong feature for the band all along. In the end, they’re decent at what they do, writing appealing, slightly danceable rock.

While the influences were always apparent with this band, with Different Times they’ve become the only thing that can be heard. Because of this, a level of authenticity is lost and it feels like a plea to be noticed instead of a band making music for the sake of making music. The band is certainly looking to expand their appeal, but in doing so they need to stay true to themselves. While this album may miss that point, there’s still plenty of room to grow from here.

James Blake - Self Titled album cover James Blake – James Blake


Upon releasing his first EP last year, The Bells Sketch, James Blake was considered an upcoming talent. By the release of his third, Klavierwerke, he became the future of electronic music. Melding various elements of dubstep and ambient, among other things, Blake crafted three wholly unique EPs.

Later, Blake dropped a cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love.” Through this we finally got to hear his untreated voice. Somehow Blake’s voice manages to emulate the frailty and hollowness of the vocals sampled by the likes of Burial while sounding and being very real. The music featured deep, deep bass, a languorous structure with a very minimalistic production and a dark, desolate atmosphere. It was almost like he was falling apart and coming to peace simultaneously as the song progressed. It buries itself deep inside the brain of any listener and it’s hard for them not to carry its weight afterward.

Despite the strength of the EPs, they were just a teaser for this LP. Blake utilizes characteristics from each and expands on them a lot. The obvious evolution here is the pronounced vocal work. He takes influence from unlikely subjects Joni Mitchell, Antony Hegarty and Justin Vernon.

In fact, this album bears more resemblance to Bon Iver than anything in contemporary electronic music.

That’s not to discredit the heaps of innovation on this record. Blake brings to electronic music what Bon Iver brought to folk rock: A soulful croon, melodic shapes drawn from soul and pop, perfectly sparse production, and even more proof auto-tune can be used as a legitimate artistic tool. There’s a frequent avant-pop approach similar to what How to Dress Well did on last year’s Love Remains: An expressive, distinguishable but sometimes unsettling melody with a sort of formless accompaniment. Songs sometimes end with no closure, but that’s part of the magic.

Throughout the record, Blake uses his own voice instead of R&B samples as on the CMYK EP. This adds not only a much more human effect, but gives him more room to contort the vocals in ways that previously recorded samples cannot. Enter “Unluck,” the albums opening track. Blake brings in a claustrophobic beat further exhibiting his mastery of dead space. He begins to croon an indecipherable lyric a little off the beat, full of soul but sort of mumbled. Then he pitch-shifts and auto-tunes it, adds spikes of synths and then lets these parts ebb and flow for a couple minutes and then it stops. It’s bizarre, but enrapturing.

“The Wilhelm Scream” is likely the most uniquely beautiful thing to be released this year. Coming after “Unluck,” Blake gives the listener a chance to regroup (even though it hasn’t even been four minutes yet) as he slowly develops the layers underneath his repeated lines: ” All that I know is that I’m falling, falling, falling, falling/Might as well fall in.” With the waves of sound cascading on them, the listener soon realizes this is exactly how they feel. From here on Blake has everyone hooked.

With each twisted vocal, each dissonant mash of instruments and each unexpected turn or stop, there comes a pure voice, a lull and ultimately a resonance.

And to reiterate: The bass gets really deep and heavy. It could level a building. Anyone with those ridiculous subwoofers in their cars could not play this album, because it would obliterate the car. But unlike the music that often comes through those woofers, Blake drops the bass sporadically. Sometimes it’s even hidden in the background. It’s always for taste, and when it drops, it’s all the more powerful for it.

Short interludes “Give Me My Month” and “Why Don’t You Call Me” give Blake a chance to showcase his classically trained piano work. “Measurements” closes the album like a macabre gospel choir. The song just kind of ends.There’s no indicator that the song is going to end, no audio cue, no crescendo or decrescendo, nothing. The music just stops. But Blake prepared listeners for this. It will leave them feeling like Jim Carrey in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” They might never have a satisfying ending, but they’ll keep trying, because the feeling they get listening to this is just that strong.

James Blake’s full-length is awaited by many with bated breath. Those who are expecting the cornerstone of dubstep are likely to be disappointed. But they would only be doing themselves disservice. This is the most sincere work to come out of dubstep this side of Burial’s Untrue. Even Burial knew he nailed it with that album and hasn’t bothered to follow it up. No, this record transcends genre.  James Blake is uncompromisingly creative and emotive. And this is just the beginning.

James Blake Tracklist:

  1. Unluck
  2. The Wilhelm Scream
  3. I Never Learnt to Share
  4. Lindisfarne I
  5. Lindisfarne II
  6. Limit to Your Love
  7. Give Me My Month
  8. To Care (Like You)
  9. Why Don’t You Call Me
  10. I Mind
  11. Measurements
Ponderosa – Moonlight Revival


While there’s nothing as obviously derivative as the theme to the TV series “Ponderosa” on Moonlight Revival, this Atlanta quartet are covering some well-traveled trails.  It’s a good thing it’s an enjoyable listen for the most part, despite occasionally venturing into “guilty pleasure” territory and being unoriginal.

Given the album title, it’s no surprise they owe a debt to Creedence Clearwater Revival, but that’s only the jumping off point for Ponderosa’s tour of its  roots-rock and classic rock progenitors.

And although some of these songs sound like B-sides or outtakes from Ponderosa’s forefathers, they’re not topping the hit singles of the band’s influences, which is a shame, because they’re clearly trying hard and the album sounds like they’ve hired a well-paid production team to polish the record to a Nickelback-like sheen. That team includes producer Joe Chiccarelli, who has previously produced The White Stripes and My Morning Jacket, and it was mixed by Russ Fowler, who has worked with John Mayer and Stone Temple Pilots, so it’s no surprise that this is not a lo-fi production.

The songs themselves hit a few high points here and there, but seldom equate to more than the sum of their parts. A highlight is the gospel redemption anthem of “Hold On You,” which crafts a sonic temple from a Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque blistering blues rock instrumentation and features the best Paul Rodgers-style vocals since Eddie Vedder launched Bad Company II (aka Pearl Jam).However, when they journey down the “Old Gin Road,” it sounds like Rodgers’ earlier band Free doing “Hold On You” again, but at a quicker riff-rock pace. It comes off like AC/DC without the grit (and a tad less testosterone), or George Thorogood without the snakeskin jacket. They even hit an a capella Doobie Brothers moment near the end, but it doesn’t have the same soul sensibility.

“Penniless” and “Pistolier” are the tracks that owe the greatest debt to the shambling banjo-driven country of The Grateful Dead (though the latter features some Fab Four-style harmonies), whereas “Pretty People” begins by inverting the monumental Keith Richards riff from the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash,” and ends by ripping their “Gimme Shelter,” but the end product sounds like the best Black Crowes single that’s never been heard (complete with horns and honky-tonk piano).

“Revolution” could be a new hit that Alejandro Escovedo’s just given to Bruce Springsteen, while the lead cut “Broken Heart” could be a country ballad Tom Petty and Roy Orbison collaborated on during sessions for The Traveling Wilburys. Petty seems to be “The Devil On My Shoulder” again in the next song, at least vocally, but the instrumentation explores a space between Black Sabbath and ’60s obscurity The Creation; it’s a welcome (and dark) change in atmosphere that ventures closer to today’s psych-rock revivalists up and coming from the indie rock underground, including the spacey trance-like bit at the end. The next cut “Girl I’ve Ever Seen” is a letdown—it sounds like a Led Zeppelin outtake circa Physical Graffiti that should have stayed on the cutting room floor.

In fact, “You are easily/The most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen” provides a good example of the tired clichés Ponderosa are providing throughout these eleven tracks, and with song titles like “Broken Heart,” “Pretty People” and “Revolution,” it’s no big surprise that they are not winning many points in the creative and original lyrics category either.

In the end it’s impossible to pin down Ponderosa without providing a catalogue of their influences, for that seems to be all that they are at this point. Moonlight Revival is an entertaining release, at least.

Listening to it is like looking through an aural scrapbook of ’70s guitar rock: It’s enlightening to see which musical snapshots end up on which pages.

Hopefully on the band’s next record they’ll spend less time mimicking their roots in order to emulate that great lost classic rock record, and provide something truly new and revolutionary.

Moonlight Revival Tracklisting

    1. Old Gin Road
    2. I Don’t Mind3. Pistolier

    4. Hold On You

    5. Little Runaway

    6.  Pretty People

    7. Girl I’ve Ever Seen

    8. Revolution

    9. Broken Heart

    10. Penniless

    11, Devil On My Shoulder

Deerhoof LP Deerhoof vs Evil album Cover Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil


Despite a 13-year career, Deerhoof never seems to have stuck as a strong presence in underground music. This is not to say they do not have a following. Their 10-record repertoire has garnered more attention with each release, and they turned heads in 2007 with their critically championed release Friend Opportunity. It seems, however, Deerhoof suffers from commitment issues.

They seem to hop from genre to genre not only between each separate album but within the albums themselves. Their 11th album Deerhoof vs. Evil is no exception to this repeating non-pattern. This could be the band’s stumbling block preventing them from creating the cult-like following one would expect of a seasoned independent band.

Their refusal to stick with a style and sometimes even a single time signature on a song makes them hard to pin down for fans accustomed to this kind of homogenous guarantee.

However, it is this same sporadic, purposeful flout of the norm that brands Deerhoof as conventionally yet distinctly unconventional. Deerhoof vs. Evil lacks the accessibility to create a widespread breakthrough. It is too jumpy and fleeting to win over the affections of holdout fans, but it holds onto their flighty musical ideas just long enough to be one of their most solid albums in years.

Perhaps the most impressive thing Deerhoof vs. Evil has to offer is the ease with which it combines two enunciated genres. Electronic twerps and tweaks are stirred in amongst largely classic rock-influenced guitar styling. While they never really seem to fit, they are not necessarily misplaced either. “The Merry Barracks” and “I Did Crimes for You” encompass what a “typical” Deerhoof song represents—the freedom a single moment can have. Hand claps, heavy bass digs and electronic ramblings are layered over straightforward power pop. This bizarre combination is aided in its oddity by lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s shrill— sometimes grating—vocals. But despite its flighty nature the songs are still listenable for those who can enter the experience with an open mind. Not all of the songs are quite as anxious.

True to character, each of the more cohesive songs is of an entirely different genre. But these demonstrate Deerhoof’s ability to focus their energies on one style.

“No One Asked to Dance” features a flittering Spanish guitar and disproves critics of Matsuzaki’s typical screech with sweeter, softer vocals. They also show a more stripped version of their usual antics on “Must Fight Current,” which is also free of electronic meddling. Each song reveals a new layer of Deerhoof, a tactic which is only diminished by the melodramatic closer “Almost Everyone, Almost Always.” This is the only song that ever seems forced throughout Deerhoof vs. Evil.

Normally the usage of “sporadic” and “impatient” as a description for a record would indicate a downfall, but Deerhoof has managed to make these traits part of their package. They manage to spit in the face of convention but leave the pretentious nature that comes along with that kind of defiance behind. And along the way the band shows a tamer side and capabilities that they purposefully set aside for the sake of randomness. Deerhoof vs. Evil is a perfect representation of true quirkiness functioning at its highest capacity.

Deerhoof  – Deerhoof vs. Evil tracklist

  1. “Qui Dorm, Només Somia”
  2. “Behold a Marvel In the Darkness”
  3. “The Merry Barracks”
  4. “No One Asked To Dance”
  5. “Let’s Dance the Jet”
  6. “Super Duper Rescue Heads!”
  7. “Must Fight Current”
  8. “Secret Mobilization”
  9. “Hey I Can”
  10. “C’moon”
  11. “I Did Crimes for You”
  12. “Almost Everyone, Almost Always”