Saturday, January 31, 2009

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez: Old Money

Artist: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
Album: Old Money
Date Released: January 27, 2009
Genre: experimental rock, neo-psychedelia, indie rock, instrumental rock, space rock
Rating: 7.6

Review: The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez continues to churn out albums with disturbing proficiency -- but this one's a doosey. Old Money is a guitar lover's dream come true, especially in today's age where bombastic rock-outs and virtuosic playing are (curiously) taboo. Some might consider Rodriguez-Lopez to be a bit indulgent here, but Old Money is too good and too much fun to ignore; let the malcontents miss out on this one -- it'll be their loss.

Like the last Mars Volta album, The Bedlam in Goliath, this CD blazes forward with unrelenting intensity. Rarely do listeners have a chance to catch their breath, all while being treated to a diverse sonic palate. The ten instrumental tracks on Old Money bring together a number of influences, from 70's era Zappa and psychedelia right through to Latin music and prog-rock.

The riffs are fantastic and never overdone; the arrangements are constructed with careful precision (including crazy time signature changes, saxophone and spacey synth zone-outs), but at no time does Old Money sound over-produced. The sound is raw, fresh and frenetic --and all performed with admirable skill.

Old Money
is exactly what an instrumental guitar-rock album should sound like.

A.C. Newman: Get Guilty

Artist: A.C. Newman
Album: Get Guilty
Date Released: January 20, 2009
Genre: indie-pop, indie-rock
Rating: 7.0

Review: Though he is the driving force behind the New Pornographers, Carl Newman's latest solo effort, Get Guilty, reveals that the NP's are more than the sum of its parts; without his trusty collaborators, namely Daniel Bejar and Neko Case, Newman's characteristic sound and arrangements go from great to merely good.

Unlike Neko and Bejar, whose solo efforts are a radical departure from the NP's, Newman is content to put out an album that is startlingly uninspired. Get Guilty is nothing more than the New Pornographers Lite. There's very little here that one wouldn't find on a NP album, including eye-rollingly Nekoesque back-up vocals (provided by Kori Gardner of Mates of State and Nicole Atkins). A.C. Newman is clearly comfortable working within the bounds of his trusty formula, much to the frustration of those fans hoping to hear something a bit different.

But what prevents this album from being a outright disappointment is Newman's ability to craft likeable songs. "The Heartbreak Rides" and "Submarines of Stockholm" are great tracks and they are true stand-outs. Taken as a whole, however, Get Guilty lacks punchiness and it's predictability makes Get Guilty only so-so.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sneak preview: Black Moth Super Rainbow

The new Black Moth Super Rainbow CD, which was produced by Dave Fridmann (a la Flaming Lips fame), is slated for release on May 26. Here's a a teaser MP3 of new song snippets.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Animal Collective: "My Girls" (video)

This is such a beautiful video.

Warren Ellis on the new Animal Collective album

Blogger and sci-fi writer Warren Ellis offers this review of Merriweather Post Pavilion:
The new Animal Collective album isn’t a bad album, by any means. What it is, is relentlessly bright. It sounds like a rain of silver dollars clattering down on a magnesium countertop for an hour. It stays in that upper register for so long that it is, to me, the aural equivalent of eating something with so much sugar in it that my teeth start to hurt. It’s diificult to listen to the thing all the way through because I find myself wanting to buy shades for my ears, just to get rid of the fucking glare and hear what else is going on. If I could slice off all that toppiness, I imagine I’d find a very good Animal Collective album — certainly an interesting one, a biographical step on from Panda Bear’s solo work, moving from the euphoria of finding joy in your twenties to three childhood friends feeling slightly adrift in the onset of real adulthood. It’s a collection of ideas for a Great Album, but the execution and production isn’t quite there yet. Animal Collective fans thought MERRIWEATHER would be a game-changer. I think it’ll be the next one, once they’ve got the distance to look back with clarity on what will be ten years in music.
Ellis is a very grumpy man.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Andrew Bird: Noble Beast

Artist: Andrew Bird
Album: Noble Beast
Date Released: January 12, 2009
Genre: adult alternative, pop, rock
Rating: 7.9

Review: Now very deep into his career, Andrew Bird's fifth studio albums features all his vintage trademarks: stellar song writing and lyrics, virtuoso whistling, and plenty of violin; Noble Beast features some of his best violin playing and arranging to date. But it's the influences that Andrew Bird brings to Noble Beast that make it such an interesting and listenable album.

Take the second track, "Masterswarm" as an example. The intro is pure Nick Drake, but it quickly shifts to a groove that sounds like a cross between Calexico and Enrico Morricone. Add to that Bird's violin and you get a track that sounds like something put together by Spanish Gypsies.

On "Nomenclature" Bird channels Thom Yorke -- a strange choice given the country-folk feel of the track. But not surprisingly, it works. And as usual, the fantastic melodies shine through.

Bird's lyrics remain some of the best in the business; a prime example can be found on "Effigy":

If you come to find me affable
And build a replica for me
Would the idea to you be laughable
Of a pale facsimile

So will you come to burn an effigy
It should keep the flies away
And when you long to burn this effigy
It should be of the hours that slip away
Slip away

Despite the obvious influences, Noble Beast is still an Andrew Bird album through and through. Fans will not be disappointed.

Track highlights: "Oh No," "Not a Robot But a Ghost," "Tenuousness."

Bon Iver: Blood Bank [EP]

Artist: Bon Iver
Album: Blood Bank [EP]
Date Released: January 12, 2009
Genre: indie, alternative, singer/songwriter
Rating: 7.1

Review: It was probably a good idea for Bon Iver to release an EP after their wildly successful debut, For Emma Forever Ago. It's time for the band to take stock and plan for a sophomore release that will undoubtedly be met with unfair expectations; Blood Bank gives Justin Vernon the chance to try a few things out as he plans for #2.

The title track is pleasant and pretty, but its production is weak and sounds like something that should have been left on the cutting room floor. "Beach Baby" is very For Emma-esque and features a beautiful pedal steel outro -- but it's painfully short. Blood Bank starts to get interesting with "Babys" as the band brings in some percussive piano, followed by Vernon's laid back harmonizing; there's no urgency here as the band makes some great use of open space. "Woods" is easily the most experimental of the 4 tracks; Vernon channels all the vocals through a voice processor giving the song a soulful quality that's otherwise absent on the album.

If Blood Bank offers any indication as to what Bon Iver is up to, it's that they're not going to depart too radically from their initial sound. Given that so many artists 'crank up the band' after a mellow and gentle introduction, this will be a welcome and refreshing thing.

Antony and the Johnsons: The Crying Light

Artist: Antony and the Johnsons
Album: The Crying Light
Date Released: January 29, 2009
Genre: pop, rock
Rating: 8.3

Review: Among my most anticipated releases of the year, The Crying Light marks the third release from New York's Antony and the Johnsons. The Crying Light features the unmistakable vocal talents of Antony Hegarty, who last year appeared with the frenetically upbeat Hercules and Love Affair.

Going into the album I was expecting more vocal greatness -- and Antony delivers. But what I didn't expect was the gorgeous production, tastefully minimalistic arrangements and stellar song writing. Indeed, while I was eager to hear where Hegarty was going to take his singing abilities, I did not expect the song writing to be so good. Tracks like "Epilepsy is Dancing," "The Crying Light" and "One Dove" shine above their previous efforts as carefully constructed and mature pieces. The end result is their strongest album to date -- and with Hegarty emerging as a very capable composer.

The Crying Light is gentle, tender and delicate. It's colored by emotions that are telegraphed through Hegarty's inimitable vocal talents and through thoughtful lyrics. Themes that run through the album include loss, change and self-reflection. "Another World" in particular is a track that can be read as a lamentation for the current environmental crisis, or as the thoughts of a person facing their own death:

Still have to many dreams
Never seen the light
I need another world
A place where I can go
I'm gonna miss the sea
I'm gonna miss the snow
I'm gonna miss the bees
I miss the things that grow
I'm gonna miss the trees
I'm gonna miss the sun
I miss the animals
I'm gonna miss you all

A beautiful and engaging album, The Crying Light marks the highpoint of Antony and the Johnsons' musical career.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Artist: Animal Collective
Album: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Date Released: January 12, 2009
Genre: experimental, rock, indie rock
Rating: 9.2

Review: In what is arguably their best release to date, Animal Collective has issued the most user-friendly album of their brilliant 7 year career. Previous releases, like Here Comes the Indian (2003) and Strawberry Jam (2007) have been gorgeous and intricate, but the experimental nature of their work has often made for challenging (if not difficult) listening -- they've never really appealed to mainstream sensibilities, nor have they really tried. But with Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective has released their first "pop album" and are now poised to take their career to a different level.

Merriweather Post Pavilion is a showcase for the band and their talents. The album features all the Animal Collective trademarks: sophisticated sound design, modal minimalism, sweeping expanses, fantastic melodies and provocative lyrics. Animal Collective, the duo of Avey Tare (aka David Porter) and Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox), has produced tracks that are laden with electronic pulses and swells, all while dressed with Brian Willsonesque harmonies and a deep acoustic space. And lest their fans fear that they've gone commercial, their song arrangements are still highly unconventional and groundbreaking.

What makes Merriweather Post Pavilion particularly remarkable is how inherently listenable it is and how it reinvents itself with each listen.

The album also features remarkable cover art in which the green leaf-like objects appear to sway and flow. Indeed, like the album cover, Animal Collective remain one of the most unique and talented bands in the world.

Track highlights: "My Girls," "Bluish," and "Brother Sport."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Neko Case recorded her upcoming album in a freakin' barn

Okay, my anticipation of Middle Cyclone has just gone up a rather huge notch. Release date: March 3, 2009.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Upcoming releases: January 6

These albums are slated for release on Tuesday January 6, 2008:
  • Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion [Domino] [vinyl release]
  • Beausoleil: Alligator Purse [Yep Roc]
  • Destroy Destroy Destroy: Battle Sluts [Metal Blade]
  • The Ecclesia: Birdsong Over the Interior Castle [Arena Rock]
  • Glasvegas: Glasvegas [Columbia] [U.S. release, out now in the UK]
  • The Gourds: Haymaker! [Yep Roc]
  • High on Fire: Live From the Relapse Contamination Festival [Relapse]
  • Jessie Kilguss: Nocturnal Drifter [self-released]
  • King Khan & BBQ Show: "Animal Party" 7" [Fat Possum]
  • Pumajaw: Curiosity Box [Fire] [U.S. release, out now in UK]
  • Soporus: 24,110 [Burnt Toast Vinyl]
  • Various Artists: Desolation House [Relapse]
  • West Indian Girl: 4th on the Floor - West Indian Girl Remixes Vol. 2 [Smash Hit Music Co.]
  • Woe of Tyrants: Kingdom of Might [Metal Blade]