Friday, July 17, 2009

Nadja & A Storm of Light: Primitive North [Split]

Artist: Nadja & A Storm of Light
Album: Primitive North [Split]
Date Released: March 3, 2009
Genre: post-metal, post-rock, doom metal, sludge metal
Rating: 7.4

Review: Primitive North is a split CD from Toronto's Nadja and Brooklyn's A Storm of Light (featuring members of Red Sparowes, Tombs, Unsane and Satanized). Each band contributes by remixing and interweaving elements from both, creating apocalyptic waves of doomy fuzzes and drones. Primitive North is intensely heavy and agonizingly slow -- not for the feint of heart.

The Dead Weather: Horehound

Artist: The Dead Weather
Album: Horehound
Date Released: July 14, 2009
Genre: alt-pop, alt-rock, garage rock revival, blues rock
Rating: 7.8

Review: The Dead Weather is an American supergroup composed of Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Jack White (The White Stripes and The Raconteurs), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs and The Greenhornes). The music on Horehound is raw and bluesy, and at times reminiscent of early Zeppelin (including plenty of sexual innuendo).

Mosshard and White trade vocal duties, while White also performs on the drums. But the real standouts on Horehound are the guitars and the most evil sounding organ work I've heard in quite some time (check out "Treat Me Like Your Mother" to get a sense of what I mean). This album has too much attitude and confidence to ignore.

Bibio: Ambivalence Avenue

Artist: Bibio
Album: Ambivalence Avenue
Date Released: June 23, 2009
Genre: post-rock, experimental, indie electronic, electronica
Rating: 8.5

Review: On Ambivalence Avenue, England's Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) weaves together densely textured and dynamic layers of heavily processed samples and beats. The album's mood is warm, welcoming and summery.

Bibio dips into a variety of influences, some as immediate as Boards of Canada, Justice and Caribou, and others as far back as Future Sound of London, Jean-Michel Jarre and even Ummagummesque Pink Floyd; Bibio shows outstanding creativity as he reworks these influences into something that still sounds very fresh.

Ambivalence Avenue
will appeal to those looking for straight-forward pop while also appeasing those looking for something a bit more daring and complex. There's absolutely nothing to be ambivalent about here in the slightest.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mos Def: The Ecstatic

Artist: Mos Def
Album: The Ecstatic
Date Released: June 9, 2009
Genre: east coast rap, alternative rap, political rap, hip-hop
Rating: 8.3

Review: Dynamic. Laid back. Frenetic. Bollywood. Soulful. Brooklyn. Hazy. Diverse. Afro rhythms. Madlib. Political commentary. Hip-hop. Middle East. Oh No. Great samples. Vamping. Spanish. Mr. Flash. Fantastic.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bill Callahan: "Jim Cain" [live video]

Bill Callahan: Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

Artist: Bill Callahan
Album: Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
Date Released: April 14, 2009
Genre: indie-rock, alternative singer/songwriter, low-fi
Rating: 8.1

Review: Bill Callahan, the artist formerly known as Smog, has returned to more familiar territory on Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle: this album is moody, laid-back and devoid of frills.

As always, his low baritone is front and center, teasing the listener with his limited range. The arrangements are light, spacious and warm, providing a beautiful accompaniment to Callahan's striking voice.

Lyrically, Callahan is somber, angry and introspective. Indeed, it's the strength of the lyrics that power Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. His statements and repetitive phrasing demand attention. On "Jim Cain" he sings,

Well I used to be darker
Then I got lighter, then I got dark again
Somethin' to be seen, was passing over
And over me
Well it seemed like a routine case at first
With the death of the shadow, came the lightness of births
In the darkest of nights, the truth still dazzled
And I work myself, until I'm frazzled
I ended up in search of ordinary things

But my favorite lyrics come on "Faith/Void," where he explores some more existential territory:

This is the end of faith, no more must I strive
To find my peace, to find my peace in the lie

It's time to put God away
It's time to put God away, I put God away

Callahan's my new hero.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Best albums of far

Okay, we're just over the half-way point of 2009 so it's time to list the top albums of the year so far:
  1. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
  2. Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
  3. Fever Ray: Fever Ray
  4. Isis: Wavering Radiant
  5. Mastodon: Crack the Skye
  6. Metric: Fantasies
  7. Various: Dark Was the Night
  8. Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest
  9. PJ Harvey and John Parish: A Woman a Man Walked By
  10. Art Brut: Art Brut Vs. Satan
  11. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca
  12. Heartless Bastards: The Mountain
  13. Bat for Lashes: Two Suns
  14. Dan Deacon: Bromst
  15. Dinosaur Jr.: Farm
  16. Antony and the Johnsons: The Crying Light
  17. Cymbals Eat Guitars: Why There Are Mountains
  18. Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career
  19. The Horrors: Primary Colours
  20. Bloodhorse: Horizoner
  21. Handsome Furs: Face Control
  22. Sonic Youth: The Eternal
  23. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It's Blitz!
  24. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: The Century of Self
  25. Tombs: Winterhours
  26. DOOM: Born Like This
  27. DM Stith: Heavy Ghost
  28. Manic Street Preachers: Journal for Plague Lovers
  29. Morrissey: Years of Refusal
  30. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Fever Ray: Fever Ray

Artist: Fever Ray
Album: Fever Ray
Date Released: March 24, 2009
Genre: indie electronic
Rating: 8.8

Review: Fever Ray is the solo project of Karin Dreijer, lead vocalist of the electronic music duo The Knife. Well, calling it a 'solo project' is not entirely fair; Dreijer is getting help from co-producers Christoffer Berg, Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid. The end result is a sound not too dissimilar from what Knife fans have come to expect.

But as Fever Ray, Dreijer is able to explore a sonic space with much darker and eerie overtones. The album is an intimate and spooky journey that's as distinctive as anything bound to come out this year. Dreijer's vocals are intermixed with brooding electronic swells and an often minimalist percussive arrangement. Fever Ray's extremely tasteful use of sonic space adds to the album's over all intimate tone and its hints at alienation.

One of my favorite lyrics are featured in "Seven":
I've got a friend who I've known since I was seven
We use to talk on the phone, if we have time, if it's the right time

Accompany me by the kitchen sink
We talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets, illness
And we dream about heaven
Definitely one of the year's best.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Mars Volta: Octahedron

Artist: The Mars Volta
Album: Octahedron
Date Released: June 23, 2009
Genre: experimental rock, prog-rock, neo psychedelia, post-hardcore
Rating: 7.6

Review: For their 5th studio release, prolific neo psychedelic rockers The Mars Volta have decided to take a deep and cleansing breath -- a welcome change after their spasmodically frenetic but brilliant The Bedlam in Goliath. Octahedron still features their characteristic power and trippiness, but the pace is taken down a considerable notch. The end result is a more listenable and intricate album where the band can showcase its song-writing talents. It's also an opportunity to hear Cedric Bixler-Zavala's vocals in a more intimate atmosphere (check out "With Twilight As My Guide" which features some gorgeous singing alongside an acoustic guitar and spacey guitar effects) . The Mars Volta remain one of the most fascinating and distinctive bands in the world.

Dinosaur Jr.: Farm

Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
Album: Farm
Date Released: June 23, 2009
Genre: indie-rock
Rating: 8.4

Review: With an album cover right out of the 70's and a sound characteristic of the early 90's, indie-rock veterans Dinosaur Jr. have released a gem worthy of comparison to their best work. The tracks are strong and dynamic, but it's the guitar work that makes Farm stand out. Those pining for the good ol' days of grunge (J Mascis is sounding like a very sleepy Eddie Vedder on this one; or is it the other way around?) and no-nonsense guitar rock will be very happy with this release.

Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca

Artist: Dirty Projectors
Album: Bitte Orca
Date Released: June 6, 2009
Genre: indie-rock, experimental rock
Rating: 8.5

Review: Their most accessible work to date, Bitte Orca retains the experimentalism of previous releases while showcasing the Dirty Projectors' talents for complex vocal arrangements, melodies and harmonies. Bitte Orca is absolutely exploding in ideas; take "The Bride," for example, which intertwines Beatlesque harmonies and Led Zeppelin-like acoustic guitars with a modern indie touch reminiscent of Grizzly Bear. Stick with this one: it's a complex and rewarding release.