Why? – Eskimo Snow
11/23/2009, 16:07
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Why? - Eskimo Snow

First off, it should be mentioned that the contents of Eskimo Snow are primarily b-sides from Alopecia. This album isn’t very hip-hoppy, as Yoni Wolf noted in an interview, making it easily their most accessible album to date. Eskimo Snow has a more pronounced sound compared to Alopecia. It sounds wide-open and expansive. It’s certainly not Why?’s best effort to date, but I’ll never complain about a Why? release.

Eskimo Snow contains a lot of songs that are piano-driven, adding to the openess of the album. There are also quite a few songs that feature acoustic guitars, meticulously picked and plucked to accent clever lyrics sang with endearing grace.

Why? still embraces their chameleon trademark sound, most notably on “Even the Good Wood Gone” where the refrain sounds like an exerpt from a Wilco album that Wolf was a session singer on.

The beginning of “Into the Shadows of My Embrace” sounds like some sort of 50’s song you’d find in a diner jukebox, then builds exponentially in pace and passion into a wonderfully constructed climax. There are some uncomfortably insightful and amusing lyrical snippets in this song.

To me, the gem of this album is “On Rose Walk, Insomniac”, it’s abrupt, but it supplies the most distant and ethereal moments on the entire album. I would have loved for it to go on for 4 or 5 minutes, but it’s a perfect injection of pace and pizazz in the mid-section of an album that celebrates the piano and guitar.

The most pensive track on Eskimo Snow is “Berkeley By Hearseback”. M. Ward would surely admire the beautiful guitarwork on this one. A wonderful refrain is welcomed with bells and accompanied by some “Oooooohs” by a female vocalist and layered with “Oooooohs” from Wolf and Co.

This album disappoints when compared to the majority of Why?’s prior releases, but should really be examined without pre-conception. Having said that, Why? continues to resonate with me in ways that are very personal, comforting, and reassuring. I find myself smiling and chuckling at some of Wolf’s lyrics because he has a way of exposing human behavior that is typically embarassing and turning it into something to be proud of.

Verdict: 8.0


The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
11/23/2009, 15:00
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The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

I had the great pleasure of hearing some of the material from this album live at Pitchfork Festival in Chicago over the summer, and I must say that I’m as impressed with it now as I was then. I didn’t want to hear “She Don’t Use Jelly” or “Do You Realize?” or any of the other songs that are synonymous with The Flaming Lips. I couldn’t care less about those songs, to be frank.

I was yearning for something I hadn’t heard before, something delicious that they’d just recently pieced together. Sadly, the only songs they played from the forthcoming (at the time) Embryonic were “Silver Trembling Hands” and “Convinced of the Hex”. Both of which were fantastic to hear live as they jammed the crowd into a frenzy, even though the crowd wasn’t familiar with the tunes.

This album may go down as my favorite album by this immortal group that has been around since I was a young lad. I’m a sucker for music that isn’t afraid of exploring its boundaries to find new styles, sounds, and to figure out if it can survive outside of it’s niche. Not that The Flaming Lips have any qualms about that, they pioneer music with reckless abandon, and that’s just what they’ve done on Embryonic.

I only have a few complaints about this album. Firstly, much of the audio is intentionally overmodulated, which is a bit distracting at first. However, I warmed up to it after a while. It’s certainly not a polished album like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The Flaming Lips seem to have approached Embryonic in congruency with Joy Division’s expertly crafted Unknown Pleasures. The album sounds raw, smashy, and noisy, but it also has its intimate moments of warmth and nostalgia. The lack of post-production polishing encourages a direct flow of emotion without much manipulation in between point A (the musicians) and point Z (the listener).

My second complaint is that some of the songs sound similar to the untrained ear, or until you’ve given it a half-dozen listens or so. The music on this album really starts to bloom and you’ll find that you hear new things everytime you listen to it. It’s quite a fine album. The Flaming Lips have exceeded my expectations by a few light years with Embryonic. My expectations were dashed after 2006’s At War with the Mystics.

This album isn’t doesn’t exactly flow together to form one coherant piece of music, but the order in which they’ve arranged the songs really keeps Embryonic interesting and helps it chug along at a nice pace.

I realize that I just reviewed this album without mentioning any songs, so that must be a sign that I dig it as a whole. There are just too many notable songs to break down. This album is really that good. So without further ado, grab a copy of this album as it’s sure to be mentioned repeatedly as a candidate for Album of the Year by many. I concur, it’s one of the finest of 2009.

Verdict: 9.3

Animal Collective – Fall Be Kind EP
11/19/2009, 15:21
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Animal Collective - Fall Be Kind EP

Animal Collective seem to endlessly tease and please their audience with albums, EPs, singles, videos, etc. It’s just what the attention deficit disorder generation needs, and they oblige.

They kick things off slowly with “Graze”, which takes a while to develop before we get what can only be described as Animal Collective channeling their inner Ian Anderson as a spastic flute is introduced with a rush of the high-hat and hand claps.

As expected, or at least I expected it, they’ve included a studio version of “What Would I Want Sky” on Fall Be Kind. After performing it live on the BBC, not long after Merriweather Post Pavilion made its way onto iPods and tantalized us all, it spread over the internet like an extatic plague. In this version, the Phil Lesh vocal sample from “Ubroken Chain” by the Grateful Dead isn’t as prominent. Instead of harmonizing directly with the sample, there are three vocal tracks that weave together in the mix. I have to say, I prefer the unpolished BBC version. It’s got a few less elements, but it just sounds cleaner and is more enjoyable to listen to.

Much of this EP is mellow and smooth. The third track in particular, “Bleeding”,  just sort of floats along until “On A Highway” takes over where “Bleeding” leaves off and starts off with a few pulses of sound and vocals to accompany. The percussive element of this track keeps in moving and grooves about nicely.

The last track has a crafted neo-tribal feel to it that makes you want to clap along with the hand claps included in the track. The vocal layering in this track is subtle and nuanced. Lovely stuff.

This is just the type of release that I expected from a group that, to the general public, exploded onto the scene out of nowhere with Merriweather Post Pavilion. I’m really glad that this EP is rather inaccessable to  the average listener who may have picked up the aforementioned LP. The bandwagoners will most certainly not understand this release, and hopefully they’ll jump off with the quickness.

Verdict: 8.7

No Age – Losing Feeling EP
11/17/2009, 18:57
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No Age - Losing Feeling EP

As far as duos go, I have to say that No Age is my personal favorite. Yes, The White Stripes are great, Japandroids are amazing, but something about No Age resonates with me. I feel like they have a warm and inviting sound while still maintaining that crunchiness that comes with a two-piece that we’ve come to expect. To me, they are able to stretch their style and bend it to their whim better than other duos. They teeter on experimental and usually impress me when they explore that path.

The opener and title track “Losing Feeling” is a frenetic and surf-worthy, far out tune that feels like a summer day in the sun. It’s frantic and flails about until it really picks up the pace near the middle of the song. This is exactly what No Age is all about. Just excellent.

The second track “Genie” meddles a bit, but is deliciously strummy. Thoughtful lyrics mixed with distortion, passion, and hope. A recipe that makes for another solid No Age track. The lead out of the track is subtle and effective, but it could stand to be a bit longer.

The third of the four songs is titled “Aim at the Airport”. It starts off with some sampled, reversed, and looped guitars, which is built upon for the remainder of the track by more layered, noodling guitar handy work. It’s an instrumental track, which No Age are no strangers to. There are typically a few instrumentals on their albums, which are usually a nice tone and a welcomed intermission from their frenzied songs.

The closing song starts off with some nice tones and then explodes into a barn-storming finisher. “You’re a Target” is emphatic, savvy, and not short of energy. It’s 3:22 in length, but it is over in a flash. No Age comes up trumps with this one.

2008’s Nouns was one of the finest albums of the year, in my opinion. This picks up right where Nouns left off and leaves me panting for their next LP. Sub Pop has struck a rich vein of sound with these guys. Always quality.

Verdict: 8.8

Atlas Sound – Logos
11/17/2009, 16:04
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Atlas Sound - Logos

Shoegazers, rejoice! Bradford Cox is back with his second attempt as a solo act. I rather enjoyed 2008’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel. Atlas Sound is more pensive and personal than Deerhunter. I’m a fan of both, but there are qualities about Atlas Sound that are sometimes lost in the more flooded sound that Deerhunter eminates.

The opening track, “The Light That Failed”, is reminiscent of something that may have found its way onto Animal Collective’s Water Curses EP. Cox has certainly taken note of the tricks and techniques of his highly regarded comrades from Baltimore. Especially with the vocal manipulations, courtesy of what I can only assume is a Korg Kaoss Pad, as well as the underwatery sounds that are slushed over top of the first track.

Oh, did I mention that Noah Lennox of Animal Collective makes an appearance on “Walkabout”? I heard this track a few months back and instantly loved it. Shoegaze doesn’t describe “Walkabout”. Logos really needs this track to inject some zest and exuberance into the harmoniously mellow opening leg of the album. The next few songs after it are more uptempo, and do well to follow “Walkabout”. They set the tempo and mood for what’s to follow.

Some of the tracks from this album have the same sort of distant sound that bands back in the late 60’s and early 70’s were so fond of. I’ll stop short of saying that Cox’s sound is psychedelic, because that doesn’t seem fair to him, given that the word has become such a superfluous adjective when describing music.

There are some wonderful moments near the end of “Criminals”, the fourth track, which could have went on for another 3 minutes to evolve into a nice jam, but abruptly ended almost as soon as it began. The first part of the song is nice, and builds up to the apex only to fall off the cliff on the other side. Had it been jammed out, it would have been something special.

Logos has its moments and is a nice step in the natural progression of Cox’s musical lineage.

Verdict: 8.4

Bear In Heaven – Beast Rest Forth Mouth
11/17/2009, 15:03
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Bear In Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth

I’ll preface this review by saying that I’ve not given a listen to either their EP or their other LP, so this is my first exposure to Bear In Heaven. From the beginning of the first song I was hooked. Yes, openers are traditionally the bait to capture your attention for the rest of the album, and “Beast In Peace” does just that with relative ease.

The synthesized textures on Beast Rest Forth Mouth are quite exquisite. Namely, the soundscapes and sequences on “You Do You”. The lyrics are uttered with a coolness that is accented by wonderfully programmed synths and accompanied by a beat that moves the song in a confident manner.

Listening to this album for the first time makes me wonder how this Brooklyn quartet managed to evade my keen ears until now. They seem to be quite adept at their craft, and I’d like to think I’ve got my ear to the ground when it comes to unearthing bands in their early stages. Clearly, I’ve failed here. But hey, better late than never, right? Meh, something along those lines.

This album is excellent for a gloomy fall day. It’s just spatial enough to fill the gaps left by the sky of grey and the scattered leaves on the ground. There are many notable tracks on this album, near the top has to be “Ultimate Satisfaction”. It’s a brilliantly crafted song with percussive elements that’ll surely put a grin on your face.

One thing that strikes me about this album is that they don’t seem to be forcing themselves to use some of the extracurricular instruments, sounds, etc. that are found on this album. Sometimes ensembles are hell-bent on sounding a certain way or using certain elements of this or that in their music, but Bear In Heaven meld their arsenal of sounds into a coherant piece of music that’ll have you shelling out some cash for their EP and LP, if you’re like me and haven’t already got them.

Verdict: 8.6

Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
11/16/2009, 17:27
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Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

First and foremost, this album goes in a different direction than its predecessor, 2008’s Street Horrrsing. That’s not entirely a bad thing, as Fuck Buttons are proving with Tarot Sport that they’re a duo that has the gusto and ambition to stick around on the scene for a while.

When musicians put out a freshman album that blows you away, more often than not you’re thinking to yourself: “self, they’ve gone and put every idea and concept in their minds into this record, how could they out-do themselves?”. Well, that’s what I was thinking as I repeatedly listened to Street Horrrsing. It was such a phenomenal album with such drasticly different dynamics from song to song that I was spellbound with each listen.

Now, as for Tarot Sport, which is filled with positive vibes and some great energy, I don’t hear as many of the little nuances and quirks that I loved about Street Horrrsing. This album is very loud. You’re immersed in layers and layers of sound, and some of the songs seem to go on for a bit too long. “Space Mountain” is a perfect example. It could have ended at 5 or 6 minutes, rather than nearly 9. It seems to meander aimlessly a bit too much.

One clear change with this album is that it seems that Fuck Buttons have embraced a more danceable sound, which I’m not sure I really wanted to hear coming from a duo that was doing something different and abstract without dabbling in an Autechre-esque realm. Don’t we have enough electronic music producers out there? Okay, I’ll answer my own question: yes.

That said, not all of the songs on Tarot Sport are danceable, and those tracks seem to be the gems of the record. “Rough Steez”, “The Lisbon Maru”, and “Phantom Limb” stick to the sound that we’re used to from the Bristol duo. Those three songs are quirky and bleepy and funky enough to satisfy my musical palette. I think what’s missing is the maniacal, distorted screaming and overall order by means of chaos that I dug about Street Horrrsing. This album just doesn’t fly off the hook like I hoped it would.

I’m not going to go off on some pretentious breakdown tangent of why each song is this or that. So I’ll end it like I’ll end most of my reviews…go pick up the record and spin it for yourself.

Verdict: 8.1