Sunday, May 31, 2009

Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Artist: Phoenix
Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Date Released: May 26, 2009
Genre: alt-rock, indie-rock
Rating: 7.7

Review: Well-crafted, upbeat and danceable indie-rock. Fans of MGMT and Of Montreal will be at home with this album.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

St. Vincent: Actor

Artist: St. Vincent
Album: Actor
Date Released: May 5, 2009
Genre: alt-rock, singer-songwriter, indie-pop
Rating: 7.8

Nearly two years after her debut album, Marry Me, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) has released Actor, an effort she wrote entirely herself and co-produced with John Congleton of The Paper Chase. Clark plays guitar, bass and keys on the record, but brought in some extra help in the form of Hideaki Aomori (Sufjan Stevens) and Alex Sopp (Bjork).

"The Neighbors" sets in with an unpredictable tempo, and throughout the track synthesizers shimmer and build to create a breathing, shaking sound, feeding the album with a fresh and unique potential.

The slow dancing violin introduction of "Black Rainbow" is seductive and fresh, with a lovely accompanying synth looping throughout the track. The vocals from Clark resoundingly carry while remaining mellow and calm. Towards the end of the track the synth becomes heavier, with the violins raising dramatically, becoming higher and higher as the swift change in sound changes the dimension of the album.

Just under the minute mark, "Marrow" bolts into a stark and uplifting beat, which catches you off guard and naturally makes your whole body jive to the rhythm; it's an excellent example of music changing direction to make you listen. "Party" helps Clark to build on one of her strengths in the shape of her addictive vocals, as a smiling piano twinkles to add solid foundation to the song.

A sumptuous beginning to the final track "The Sequel" involves brass and woodwind instruments which diffuse into acoustic guitar and Clark’s now familiar voice.

Actor cements itself as entrancingly listenable. But for all its moments of joyous unpredictability there are too many average expanses within the tracks, often leading to glorious climaxes cut short. Despite this, however, the album as a whole is a fine piece of work which many will find both soothing and embracing.

Reviewed by Asa Masters.

Manic Street Preachers: Journal for Plague Lovers

Artist: Manic Street Preachers
Album: Journal for Plague Lovers
Date Released: May 12, 2009
Genre: indie rock, Britpop, alternative pop/rock
Rating: 8.1

Those looking for "The Holy Bible – The New Testament" are just going to have to keep looking well after the release of Welsh band Manic Street Preachers' ninth studio output.

Their new album Journal for Plague Lovers finally unleashes the lyrics left behind by ex-lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards who mysteriously disappeared in 1995 leaving band-mate Nicky Wire (bass and lyricist) a journal of lyrics that have now laid the foundations of this band's most personal album yet.

The album has been marked by some as the follow up to their critically acclaimed 1994 album The Holy Bible, but in fact, beyond Jenny Saville’s genius cover art, there’s little more in common--just great songs.

Richey Edwards is the life and soul of this album as it starts in typical Manics fashion with audio from a film, in this case The Machinist (where Christian Bale’s unstable character closely resembles Richey before his disappearance). It then kicks into the opening track "Peeled Apples" with its dynamic and edgy guitar and thumping bass-line while James-Dean Bradfield shouts lyrics such as "The Figure 8 inside out is infinity" -- an indication of Edwards's insane obsession that he could never figure out inside his head.

The album continues into serenity with "This Joke Sport Severed" before a break down of noise into an anthemic-like rise and a truly magical rock song; these guys always nail it when using an orchestra in a rock ballad.

Title track "Journal for Plague Lovers" tells us of the times Richey searched for a cure for his inner self when staying at clinics during the Manics's early career success. The album is full of troubled images, some of which can be heard on the tracks "She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach" and "Facing Page: Top Left." These are all Richey's words as he reflected on his troubled times.

Journal for Plague Lovers then takes a more juxtaposed upbeat approach with "Marlon JD" and its disco style beat similar to that of their single "The Love of Richard Nixon" from 2001's Lifeblood. The lyrics are coming from a man who had it all and threw it all away.

The Manics conclude with tracks sounding more like their stadium live act of old with "Pretension/Repulsion" and "Virginia State Epileptic Colony", the later of which has a chorus that I’m sure will be ringing around all our ears at this years' festival outings as the band chant out the word ‘PIGGY’. The album finishes with "Williams Last Words", perhaps suicidal in nature, though the band disagrees, with Nicky Wire making a rare appearance as lead vocalist.

Journal for Plague Lovers is a great tribute to a friend who clearly changed the lives of the remaining three Manics. And with it they have once again captivated their growing fan base with a new angle of music to add to their discography.

Reviewed by Alex Diffley.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Isis: Wavering Radiant

Artist: Isis
Album: Wavering Radiant
Date Released: April 21, 2009
Genre: post-metal, alternative metal
Rating: 8.8

Along with Neurosis, California's Isis have firmly established themselves as giants of the post-metal genre. With such albums under their belts as Oceanic (2002) and In the Absence of Truth (2006), Isis is a band that could easily settle and regress into producing formulaic records while striving for greater commercial appeal. But as Wavering Radiant indicates, these guys have no interest in taking the easy route to a comfortable career.

True to the spirit of the post-metal genre, Isis continues to experiment with song structure, tone and the complex interplay between melody and instrumentation; the strength and beauty of each track on Wavering Radiant is teasingly revealed with great care and subtlety.

Indeed, "care" and "subtlety" are not words that are traditionally associated with heavy music -- but that's what makes the post-metal genre so interesting and inherently listenable. All the metal cliches are stripped away in favor of a minimalistic and subdued approach, but never at the expense of heaviness and aggression. Likewise, Wavering Radiant's inspirational touches color the tracks in a non-obvious way; its songs merely hint at the influences of such bands as Animals era Pink Floyd, post-metal brothers Neurosis and Jesu, Aereogramme, and Tool (whose Adam Jones makes a guest appearance).

The album's mood is typically bleak, but the punchy melodies and shimmering production provide a dynamism that lifts the album beyond the usual grey tones. Aaaron Turner's vocals have never sounded more severe and ferocious, and the interplay between the drums, bass and rhythm guitars are a stunning stand-out.

Wavering Radiant is an album that re-invents itself with each passing listen. It will appeal to metal die-hards as much as it will to those with proggish and post-rock sensibilities. Truly one of the best albums of 2009.

Reviewed by George Dvorsky.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Horrors: Primary Colours

Artist: The Horrors
Album: Primary Colours
Date Released: May 5, 2009
Genre: shoegaze, indie rock
Rating: 8.3

Monday, May 18, 2009

Handsome Furs: Face Control

Artist: Handsome Furs
Album: Face Control
Date Released: March 10, 2009
Genre: indie rock
Rating: 8.2

Canada’s Handsome Furs released their second full-length on Sub Pop records this past March. Face Control boasts twelve thumping post-everything anthems. Their distinctive scratchy style persists throughout the record with each track urging the anticipation of the next.

Take the trend-setting "All We Want Baby, Is Everything" which rings out with a fantastic array of minimalist instrumentation; its juicy guitar tones and thudding electronic percussion cuts seamlessly throughout the track. This song introduces a new angle to indie-pop execution -- and at times it sounds akin to the airy characteristics of a few superb U2 songs.

The Handsome Furs' creative consistency bleeds into the proceeding track, "I'm confused," which enters with a soaring drone until the 16 second mark when it blossoms into an addictive groove that melts into a forceful guitar phrasing reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand.

Face Control doesn't have a single dull moment, but I personally feel the album reaches its heights within its second half. The eeriness of snippet track "White City" kicks this off well as it progresses into the bounciness of the following track, "Nyet Spasiba."

The album is brought to a close by a pair of explosive tracks: "Thy Will Be Done" serves as one of Face Control's best, its highs and lows emphasize passions within the album while also serving as a vocal performance peak. Fans of Wolf Parade and Swan Lake will immediately recognize the characteristic vocal style of Dan Boeckner.

The destructive entrance from final track "Radio Kaliningrad" breaks out with a wall of sound until tasteful tunefulness begins to leak from its grip. The song takes off into a mixed bag of noise and melody backed by groovy guitar work displaying some mighty and fantastic riffs. It's a catastrophic yet musically powerful ending.

Face Control is simply a great piece of work, one that's as fierce as its artwork.

Reviewed by Leigh Padley.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Artist: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Album: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Date Released: February 3, 2009
Genre: indie pop, noise pop, shoegaze
Rating: 8.0

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are the latest shoegaze offering from New York City. This four piece have had critics eating out the palm of their indie-pop hands since the release of this debut self-titled record. With an extensive list of upcoming shows, it's clear to see that this hard-working band is looking to deliver their purist soft-rock far and wide.

This work sounds like the sun peeking through the clouds; the interplay of light and dark is apparent throughout. A creative consistency is held from start to finish, but the listen still allows for tracks like “Young adult friction” and “Come Saturday” to pioneer the pack. This in a easy going work that creates a small degree of playful addiction. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart provide a captivating and relaxing experience served with just the right amount of hearty attitude.

This record may not be big nor clever, but this band's broad approach has created a relatively familiar sounding record that has a modernistic touch. It's a bold musical expression that's similar to artists such as Belle and Sebastian, My Bloody Valentine and The Smiths in terms of execution.

A sure and steady record, it must be respected as an artistic whole. This debut is capable of glowing during any season, it is certain to deliver under any circumstance and it is sure to satisfy in any situation. The sun may be peeking through the clouds, but this is an album that will be appreciated all year round.

Reviewed by Leigh Padley.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Duncan Sheik: Whisper House

Artist: Duncan Sheik
Album: Whisper House
Date Released: January 27, 2009
Genre: adult alternative, singer-songwriter,
Initial rating: 7.5

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Patrick Watson: Wooden Arms

Artist: Patrick Watson
Album: Wooden Arms
Date Released: May 5, 2009
Genre: indie pop, contemporary singer-songwriter, chamber pop
Rating: 7.6

Review: Canadian singer and pianist Patrick Watson weaves together post-rock experimentalism with a vocal style that intersects between Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley. The tracks are strong and command attention. One of the year's most unique musical achievements.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Patrick Watson: Beijing [video]

To be reviewed on this site shortly. Higher quality version here.

DM Stith: Heavy Ghost

Artist: DM Stith
Album: Heavy Ghost
Date Released: March 10, 2009
Genre: indie-rock
Rating: 8.1

Heavy Ghost is the debut album from American singer/songwriter David Stith. Hailing from Buffalo, NY, Stith released his first record this year after being surrounded by music his whole life and has previously devoted his time to writing and drawing.

A bold piano sets the record into motion and from the first minute of the opening track, "Isaac’s Song," the record’s unique personality immediately takes hold. The track builds and subsides, with multiple sounds all crashing into each other -- and although it sounds like too much is happening at once, it carries off and leaves you with a tingling tongue, all in anticipation of what’s to come.

Stith’s vocals shimmer and echo all through Heavy Ghost, and it never strays too far from Thom York-ish qualities. The fourth track, “Pigs,” demonstrates his vocal capacity, while muffled acoustic strings dance around his words. The final minute of the track ends with an eerie drone, conjuring images of ghosts and spirits, as the sound swims all over your skin.

The start to "Spirit Parade" is brilliant, with what sounds like a typewriter tapping away, which leads into a soup of instruments swashing together to create an addictive and provocative sound.

Perhaps the highlight of Heavy Ghost comes with the gorgeous and unexpected intro to "Fire of birds", as fluttering violins capture the ear as they lead into perfect acoustic plucking, before swiftly rejoining the song at a leisurely, mellow pace. The song builds to the catchiest lyrical moment of the whole album, with the words, "we danced like we were on fire".

"Morning Glory Cloud" slides in with a sense of poignancy and purpose, as Stith sings “I have to breathe, I have to breathe, I had a dream and know its gone", as once again his vocals harmonize the song and expand it into a more rounded creation. "Braid Of Voices" is the closest this album comes to a dramatic climax, but it rises to exactly the right level before a small yet noteworthy change in tempo ends the song.

The album ends with the very loud and unsettling "Wig", which surges into infiltrating noise halfway through the song, and stays with you long after the album has finished; the listener is now more suitably aware of DM Stith at this point in the album.

Stith has had the chance to release a record into the world and its feels like he hasn’t wasted a single second. His vocal performance is fantastic and ever present, and the abundance of piano through the record only advances it further as it provides a refreshing break from the consistent presence of synthesizers in many new releases.

Heavy Ghost is intricate and intimate, textured and layered with a multitude of instruments and sounds, and although there isn’t a definable climax with any track, this album feels like it’s supposed to be a work of delicacy and subtlety, and takes quite a few listens until the full tapestry unfurls to reveal its shining bones.

Reviewed by Asa Masters.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Papercuts: You Can Have What You Want

Artist: Papercuts
Album: You Can Have What You Want
Date Released: April 14, 2009
Genre: indie pop
Rating: 7.4

The wondrous music of Papercuts is brought to us by the talents of Jason Robert Quever. You Can Have What You Want is the fourth album released by Papercuts since first appearing in 2000 (Rejoicing songs).

The album starts off with the detailed soundscapes of "Once We Walked in the Sunlight". This opening track is modest and somewhat withdrawn -- a suitable indication of what to come.

The floating organ drones and sharp beats of the second track, "Dictators Lament" help the album settle in; a tasteful effort, the listener can't help but be drawn-in at this point.

Fifth track "Jet Plane" opens with pleasant soft guitars, leading the listener into the coming airy vocals. Though "Jet Plane"’ is a relatively melodic track, it doesn’t quite have the lasting power to make it particularly memorable.

As You Can Have What You Want plays through, I find it fails to bring itself up a level. It seems content with either barely altering or attempting to complement the listener's mood; I found it a little too subdued.

This is a good Papercuts record, but its highlights mainly lie within particular phrases or in some of the slightly discordant melodies. The lack of adventure in this record almost make the opening 20 seconds of each track seem like the best parts.

The title track off this record is one of two songs that clock under 3 minutes long. It's a decent song, but I can't seem to find a better term to describe it other than 'nice.'

Overall this music is soft, rich and soothing. Even though the album is abundant in anti-climaxes and lacking in excitement, there is a certain charm hidden amongst the lifeless presence and the up-in-the-air progressions. You Can Have What You Want is not a very bold recording, but it plays as if it was never intended to be. Easy on the ear and gentle with the heart.

Reviewed by Leigh Padley.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

New reviews posted: Royksopp, Metric, Camera Obscura, Dan Deacon

We've posted some new reviews:

Röyksopp: Junior

Artist: Röyksopp
Album: Junior
Date Released: March 24, 2009
Genre: downbeat, euro-dance, alternative Dance, club/dance
Rating: 7.9


Junior is the third album by Norwegian duo Royksopp, which follows 2005’s The Understanding. It features collaborations with Swedish singer Robyn, as well as the talented Lykke Li, who released her fantastic debut album Youth Novels last year.

The record sets its intentions out early with the first track "Happy Up Here", a glossy, strolling pop song, which consists mainly of a simple yet catchy keyboard tone and lyrics such as “you know I'll always be here” and "I feel like I’m part of the book of love", with its theme being of unwavering love despite time and actions trying to interfere.

Second track "The Girl And The Robot" featuring Robyn opens strong, but the introduction of the singer immediately anchors the track, as the melody from the beginning recedes and her vocals and lyrics become the meat of the song; dry and unoriginal the track quickly becomes boring, as the kicking beat at the start fails to come back into play.

"This Must Be It" relieves the feeling of anticipation for Junior, as it breathes charisma and personality with the excellent chorus and supporting lyrics, and although the tempo of the song evolves little as in previous tracks, the melody and catchy vocals enhance the record greatly.

"Miss It So Much" sees Lykke Li take up the vocal duties. Within the first ten seconds her subtle, luscious voice layers your eardrums with warm textured honey, and with this you really listen to lyrics such as “my mechanical heart, how it keeps us apart”, and with the beauty of the sound, the meaning becomes inscribed within the listener.

The gentle and melodic "You Don’t Have A Clue" stands out as one of the highlights, with the instruments and vocals melting into each other much more effectively than at any other point in the album. "Silver Cruiser" is a sailing, dreamy track, which succeeds in seducing with a tasty bass and flowing instrumentation.

Junior contains moments of joyous pop, however these are all too sparse. Although entirely listenable and enjoyable, this record presents few original instances and mostly fails to create anything in which to expand on previous ideas. When compared with new releases in synth pop, such as the new Yeah Yeah Yeah’s record, Junior simply can’t match the grade.

Reviewed by Asa Masters.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career

Artist: Camera Obscura
Album: My Maudlin Career
Date Released: April 21, 2009
Genre: indie pop
Rating: 8.3

My Maudlin Career is the fourth full-length studio album from Glasgow’s Camera Obscura, a 4AD records release. Confronted by the delightful artwork, I couldn’t wait to give this record a spin.

Kicking straight in with latest single “French navy”, My Maudlin Career's intricate sing-along melodies and smooth flow immediately sets a high standard -- and an indication of good things to come. “French Navy” is not a groundbreaking single by any means, but it holds a presence that many similar bands lack in comparison.

“You Told A Lie” is undoubtedly the album's standout track; its cuteness and swaying rhythms capture the subtle spirit of Camera Obscura. Its bold message indicates that this band is setting their standards a touch higher. Its opening lyrics are sung beautifully by Tracyanne Campbell:

If you were a season you would be in bloom
I wish I had good reason to see you soon
No need to convince me that you’re a catch

With the sound of “You Told A Lie” found somewhere between The Coral and Electric Light Orchestra, this track is full of heart and real substance, a perfect reflection of the aura that surrounds My Maudlin Career.

Towards the end of the album, the terrific “Forests And Sands” is an immediate attention grabber with its rattling percussion and loveable lyrics. Its high-pitched streams of melody shower over the song as the listener becomes increasingly aware of the glistening production put to use on this album. This track takes the listener to places reminiscent of the work on Interpol’s Our Love To Admire.

On the surface, one would imagine that this album's charm lies solely within the power of its many terrific indie-gems, but this record plays as an artistic whole, carrying the listener through a memorable journey of 1960's Spector-pop/shoegaze crossover.

My Maudlin Career flows like a soundtrack, a carefully crafted collection of gleaming songs sometimes delivered with a slight wistful edge. A perfect album to remind you of a sunny holiday or the impact of a new friend. Such a pleasant listen.

Reviewed by Leigh Padley.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Metric: Fantasies

Artist: Metric
Album: Fantasies
Date Released: April 14, 2009
Genre: indie-rock, indie-pop, pop
Rating: 8.7

My initial reaction to Fantasies, Metric's fourth full length, was a resounding, "Wha?" It was definitely not what I expected from a band known for its edgy and even subversive post-punkish sensibilities. But as my surprise transitioned into acceptance, and as I properly digested the album, I now realize that Metric has put together an absolutely outstanding pop album.

This is a new Metric -- a band that has consciously chosen to dive headfirst into the pop arena. The album is upbeat, glossy and bubbly. A friend of mine referred to it as cotton candy -- and it's exactly that. Metric will undeniably lose some followers with this release, but they're guaranteed to gain 10 new fans for every one lost.

Despite the shift I'm still a Metric fan. I have a particular soft spot for a well crafted pop song, and Fantasies is full of them. Fantasies explodes out of the gates with three wham-bams: "Help I'm Alive", "Sick Muse" and "Satellite Mind." All three are drenched with an abundance of hooks and lyrical zingers.

Fantasies, despite its major scale tone, is often a contradiction in terms. The dark and self-reflective lyrics often work against the upbeat vibe as a sort of irony -- or as a way for the band to forcibly shatter the shackles of despair. On "Satellite Mind," vocalist Emily Hanes, who continues to have one of the sexiest voices in rock, declares, "I'm not suicidal, I just can't get out of bed." And on "Give Me Sympathy" she sings,
I can feel it in my bones
Gimme sympathy
After all of this is gone
Who'd you rather be?
The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?
Oh, seriously
You're gonna make mistakes, you're young
Come on, baby, play me a song
Like, "Here Comes the Sun"
Fantasies also features some excellent sound design; each track contains bits of ear candy that offer the album an added dynamism. I particularly enjoyed the Boards of Canada-esque lo-fi synth pads that colour "Twilight Galaxy."

Need a pick-me-up this summer? Look no further than Fantasies.

Reviewed by George Dvorsky.

Dan Deacon: Bromst

Artist: Dan Deacon
Album: Bromst
Date Released: March 24, 2009
Genre: electronica
Rating: 8.4

There seems to be a higher standard set for electronic music, simply by virtue of the fact that the stumbling block of actually playing an instrument is gone. The computer's virtuosity in triggering notes and sequences offers electronic artists a distinct advantage when constructing tracks. On Bromst, Dan Deacon exploits this advantage to the fullest and instead directs his efforts to creating dense layers of sound and working with an array of unique samples.

The album starts off slowly, gradually bringing the listener into Deacon's bizarre sonic world. The second and third tracks, “Red F" and “Paddling Ghost,” sound like a strange mix of indie-electric pop and garage-rock -- but it works well on many other levels. “Paddling Ghost” would be a standard lo-fi rock tune if it wasn't for the electronic flourishes, such as chipmunk-esque voices and the backing beat. He is able to balance very up-tempo backing drums with slower melody and vocal sections giving the songs a very distinct character. The actual construct of the songs is very rock oriented; Deacon just happens to use samples of voices, bells and various other sounds to play the role of the traditional driving guitar.

As Bromst progresses, Deacon starts sliding towards a more experimental feel, foregoing samples of traditional instruments like guitar and piano by using more vocal layering and mallet percussion to get the desired effects. “Wet Wings” consists exclusively of layered vocal tracks, but this is the only real let-down. It feels like Deacon could have done more with the idea rather then just build upon the vocals. In the last two songs he goes all out with his bag of tricks and creates some of the strongest tracks on the album. “Baltihorse” uses gorgeous xylophones and bells to create a rich sound that I am sure can only be topped by hearing it live.

With Bromst, Dan Deacon has created a much fuller soundscape than heard on his previous efforts. And the songs sound very much oriented to fall in step with his live shows. When listening to Bromst, it's very easy to imagine a room full of people dancing like mad to its schizoid beats, blips and clicks. Deacon has struck a great balance between catchy beats and his use of more experimental sounds; he gets them to work well together to make some fantastic music.

Standout tracks: “Paddling Ghost,” “Snookered,” and “Baltihorse”.

Reviewed by Ryan Konop.