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Album Reviews

 

Cloud Nothings – Turning On (Released 10/12/10)

It seems like 2010 has become the year of the lo-fi pop indie scene, with bands coming out left and right with albums that mimic the rough sound and jagged riffs of Portland’s grunge rock persona. Cloud Nothings, fronted by 18 year old Dylan Baldi, seems to adhere to the trend with its premiere album Turning On. Turning on is filled lo-fi riffs like the distorted melody of “Can’t Stay Awake.” However, it sets its self apart from this year’s trend with an adolescent sound that keeps the music light and sarcastic, rather than overly deep, like the song “Hey Cool Kid.” This track provides a fun sound, with lyrics that contain a sarcastic bitterness.  The sheer talent of Dylan is a reason why this lo-fi pop album should be in the spotlight. The hooks and falsetto that Dylan enthusiastically belts out proves that he is capable of great music. So, if you’re a flannel wearing, eight track playing, garage band rocker, pop this tape in your deck and get ready to jam out to some bodacious tracks.

Emphasis Tracks: 1,4,5,10,11,13.

RIYL: Crooked Rain, Blunt Mechanic, the Strokes

Cloud Nothing//Carpark Records

By David F

Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern (Released 10/5/10)

Guitar-guru Marnie Stern returns to the music scene with her third, self-titled, full length, once again paired with percussion aficionado and Hella drummer, Zach Hill. While the album is technically proficient as anything in Stern and Hill’s back catalogue, daunting skills are hardly the primary focus. Instead it incorporates math rock inspired guitar and drum riffs into melodic pop song structures that are both catchy and dense; math rock made accessible. Stern’s childlike vocals reflect and guide the instrumentation, bringing a sense of vulnerability to these tracks that effectively glues everything together.

The constantly changing opening track, “For Ash” doubles as the album’s well deserving single, drawing listeners of varying tastes in with powerful technical builds and anthem-like vocals. Two other single worthy standouts, “Risky Biz” and, “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black” are likely to incite a variety of responses from listeners old and new. In both songs the vocals and instrumentation work together, reflecting each other’s tone and scale progressions. What makes these reflected progressions unique is the fact that they are eerily similar to the progressions of such teasing childhood rhymes as, “Nah-naah-na-naah-nah”. Marnie Stern was released on October 5th, 2010.

Emphasis Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 5, and 10

Marnie Stern//Kill Rock Stars

By Terry Q

Avey Tare – Down There (Released 10/26/10 )

Down There is the first official solo album from Avey Tare (Dave Portner) of Animal Collective. Avey Tare uses a unique blend of shadowy harmonies and experimental beats to create his own brand of psychedelic pop. He has has long relied on fellow band mate Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) to add the finishing touches to the atmospheric soundscapes associated with previous Animal Collective albums, most notably The Merriweather Post Pavillion, but with Down There Avey Tare sets himself apart . Down There is notably dark & menacing (stemming from several personal losses/setbacks suffered by Portner), and contains abstract lyrics and sounds that are, in fact, inspired by Alligators, yes, the reptile. Down There provides the listener a personal perspective on the creativity and madness of Avey Tares’s contribution to the musical juggernaut know as Animal Collective. This album is a must listen for anyone remotely interested in Animal Collective or Panda Bear.

Emphasis tracks: 1, 2, 4, 7, 9

Avey Tare / Paw Tracks

By Steve C

Paleo – A View of The Sky (Released 10/25/10)

A View of the Sky marks the third effort from singing/songwriting troubadour, and local folk favorite, Paleo.  Paleo, whose real name is David Strackany, once spent some time around these Iowa City parts, running Public Space One’s art gallery, before packing up to record an album and tour the country.

Paleo’s tour history, which includes approximately 700 shows over the span of six years, is equally as impressive as his Song Diary project, in which he wrote a song a day from April 16, 2006 to April 15, 2007.  But putting these notable factors aside, and focusing solely on the music, it’s quite clear to see Paleo is not just a hardworking visionary, but also an undeniable talent. 

A View of the Sky wonderfully displays his earnest, wobbly vocals and sincere, intimate lyrics, among a backdrop of toe-tapping instrumentals, as seen in album standout, “World’s Smallest Violin.”  His lyrics tell the tales of love and the sights and scenes experienced on his never-ending journey with honest, endearing delivery, while his unique, shaky vocals instantly draw the listener into his nomad world.  The thirteen-song collection manages to stay fresh and interesting throughout, with the help of additional instrumentation, including strings, keyboards, and horns, the latter of which feature on the mariachi-inspired album opener and title track.  A View of the Sky is a perfect introduction to the creative genius that is Paleo, so if you’re unfamiliar, I suggest you take the time to get acquainted.

Emphasis Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 11

RIYL: The Tallest Man on Earth, Bon Iver, Bob Dylan

Paleo//Partisan Records

By Emily L

Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner (Released 10/12/10)

Aside from a handful of remixes and EPs, not much has been seen from East London’s Gold Panda since last year’s eastern influenced breakthrough hit, “Quitter’s Raga”. Marking his first venture into LP territory, Lucky Shiner, is quick to communicate that this was time well spent. The album consists of 11, tightly knit, electronic instrumentals (for the most part) that further establish and expand on the eastern-indie-pop sound Gold Panda has surrounded himself with.

Describing this album as electronic hardly does it justice as the electronic sounds here have a certain level of human intimacy akin to those found in Rostam Batmanglij’s short-lived side project, Discovery. Where Discovery focused more on R&B style vocals than the electro-Oriental sounds accompanying them, Gold Panda places the focus primarily on the juxtaposition of cultural sounds with danceable, electronic music. Forming an ellipsis, the album opens and ends with the song, “You”, the latter being an alteration of the former. A welcome surprise considering both songs accomplish what they are meant to accomplish; the opening track, holding sounds in common with, “Quitter’s Raga” is a clear standout that will inevitably draw the listener with energetic and catchy arrangements and the closing track putting the album to rest by slowing the energy down a notch and bringing a violin into the mix. The acoustic based, “Parents” acts as another welcome surprise that opens with an obscure vocal sample and ends with the sound of birds chirping. It is a nice lead into the single worthy, “Same Dream China” which compiles many layers of Oriental sounds without ever becoming too busy. Lucky Shiner was released on 10/12/2010.

Emphasis Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11

Gold Panda/Lucky Shiner

By Terry Q

Sneak Preview: The Lonelyhearts / Caleb Engstrom – The Winter Club Split (Released 8/19/10)

The Lonelyhearts boast keyboardist/vocalist/local music aficionado Andre Perry, and guitarist/vocalist John Lindenbaum of Fort Collins, Co. Perry’s vocals range from baritone (reminiscent of The National’s Matt Beringer) to a light-hearted croon, while Lindenbaum’s voice provides a uniformly whispery ambiance, and the two forces mesh perfectly. Perry’s synth/keyboard compliments wonderfully with Lindenbaum’s folky 12-string guitar. At time’s you’ll catch glimpses of Arcade Fire Neon Bible-esque dark organic synth tones, especially on “Post-Soviet” and “A Quick Nine Holes Before Lunch”. “Autumn Percussion” focuses more on the duo’s interweaving and harmonic vocals while Lindenbaum takes the lead on guitar. “Pass Like Night” rounds up the four-song take and starts with gentle strumming as it continuously builds tension with its emotional lyric’s and eventually explodes into a fantastic climax with Perry and Lindenbaum bringing their voices and respective instruments together. Each track is unique and intricate.

Singer/songwriter and Iowa native Caleb Engstrom is no stranger to the Iowa City music scene. His brooding lyrics, light and lonesome voice, and atmospheric songs fare comparably to such acts as; Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, and Nick Drake. He has also played with the likes of Andrew Bird, Pedro the Lion, Owen, and Bon Iver. Engstrom succeeds in laying out four diverse folk/indie tracks on the Winter Club Split that display his range, diversity, and talent as an upcoming young musician. Engstrom abandons the wide variety of instruments found on his previous albums; horns, piano, accordion, violin, bells, etc., and instead creates four stripped-down tracks focusing on his voice (often with distortion), guitar, and bongo prowess.  The lo-fi emotional vibe that Engstrom creates is earthy, sincere, and easy on the ears, track after track. If you haven’t heard this man yet, now is the time to start.

The Winter Club Split is currently available in physical form through Mission Freak Records. The digital release (iTunes, eMusic, Amazon) will be available in late-November / early-December via Mission Freak Records. Check out the sample tracks from the Winter Club Split below.

The Lonelyhearts “Post-Soviet” The Winter Club Split

Caleb Engstrom “04.02.09” The Winter Club Split

The Lonelyhearts / Caleb Engstrom / Mission Freak Records

By Steve C

Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz (Released 10/12/10)

After a five-year hiatus without a full-length album, virtuoso Sufjan Stevens has made his triumphant return with his new album The Age of Adz. Sufjan, a man known to switch muses at the drop of the hat (the 50 states project ended up being a rumor), has once again created a truly unique album that trumps his previous works by way of reinvention; those looking for something comparable to 2005’s Come on Feel the Illinoise will be disappointed. To the Sufjan faithful, prep your eardrums, be open minded, and dig in for a whole new experience. The first track, “Futile”, might be exactly what you were expecting, gentle folk guitar, over laid with piano and whispery lyrics; the Sufjan you grew to know and love, but by the next track you will be introduced to an entirely different animal. The second track, “Too Much”, hits with experimental synth, drums machines, an orchestral background, and enough horns to keep the local baroque musicians in business. “The Age of Adz”, the third track, keeps the experimentation going with a colossus of noise that gives off an operatic vibe. The electronic inclinations continue throughout the entire album, making this album a somewhat lighter-hearted version of Radiohead’s Kid A, with Steven’s as a 21st century version of George Gershwin at the helm. The Age of Adz will take some time for old fans to absorb, and may deter new listeners, but Steven’s has created a truly distinctive and wonderful album that will take you places you never thought music could take you; making this album a brilliant addition to Sufjan Steven’s already highly acclaimed repertoire.

Emphasis tracks: 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10

RIYL: Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird, Animal Collective, St. Vincent

Sufjan Stevens / Asthmatic Kitty

By Steve C

Sharon Van Etten – Epic (Release date: 10/8/10)

In a day and age when singer/songwriters seem to be about a dime a dozen, it’s difficult to come across one that possesses a kind of holding power that separates them from the bunch.  Thankfully for us, Sharon Van Etten does just that.  The Brooklyn-based Van Etten’s haunting vocals and sincere lyrics prove that she is at the forefront of the modern pack.  Her latest album, Epic, is a wonderfully captivating collection of seven songs that instantly welcome the listener into a world of lost love and heartbreak.  The songs are a powerful, heartfelt mix that feature more layered and experimental aspects than Van Etten’s previous releases. VE’s fuller sound does not take away from the passion and intimacy that play such a key part in the songstress’s work, as seen in the hauntingly beautiful album closer, “Love More.”  It merely showcases her undisputable talent in a different light.  Epic is proof that Sharon Van Etten is a force that will only continue to grow stronger and brighter as her musical journey unfolds, and it will be an interesting journey to witness, to say the least. Emphasis tracks: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

RIYL: Cat Power, The Antlers, Bon Iver, Feist

Sharon Van EttenBa Da Bing Records

By Emily L

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (release date: 9/28/10)

Tying together decades of sound and a variety of genres, which would normally be unassociated, Deerhunter has created their most accessible album to date. Removed from this album are the tone setting, ambient tracks, that dominated such albums as CryptogramsMicrocastle, and Weird Era ContHalcyon Digest creates a tighter, more focused aesthetic; one would be hard pressed to find a “filler” track in this collection. However, that is not to say ambience has evaded this album altogether. Instead these elements are found in the background layers of such standouts as “earthquake”, “helicopter”, and “sailing”. With this in mind, “revival” and to a lesser extent “desire lines” become the frame tales for the rest of the album. Combining a vocal sequence, clearly inspired by The Beatles’ “come together”, with pop-percussion picked straight from the 60’s, “revival” expands upon the reflective sounds of Microcastle, while shifting the focus away from the ambient-garde style leanings of Cryptograms. “Desire lines” works in a similar way, juxtaposing the band’s shoe-gaze, garage band affections with the vocals and structure of a 60’s pop song. If Halcyon Digest isn’t Deerhunter’s best album (and this reviewer thinks it is), it is at the least, their most consistent, and certainly a contender for 2010’s “best of” list.

Emphasis Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8

Deerhunter4AD Records

By Terry Q

Women – Public Strain (release date: 9/28/10)

There is a lot going on in Public Strain, the second album from the Calgary-based rock group Women. The first thing you will notice is its undeniably eerie sound. If A Clockwork Orange had a modern day soundtrack, this would be it. It’s noisy and filled with reverb and instrumental feedback that helps establish a very dark, echoing tone throughout the entire album. In combination, Public Strain features raw, old-school sounding vocals that create a vibe comparable to early Pink Floyd (songs like “see Emily play”). There are elements of earl punk and pop as well. Another aspect that will grab your attention is the progressive nature of the album. The songs build, switching back and forth from various riffs, ultimately reaching some sort of musical resolution. You will hear sequences of instrumentation working together, and then individually breaking off, only to rejoin later, sounding even tighter and more powerful (track #11 displays this theme beautifully). Everything is low-fi, but technical and darkly melodic. Generally speaking, Women’s musical style could be described as progressive indie, but Public Strain sounds more like surf music in a cemetery.

Emphasis Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11

RIYL: The Velvet Underground, Real Estate, Interpol, Cursive

Women / Flemish Eye Records

By Rob R

Breathe Owl Breathe – Magic Central (release date: 9/28/10)

Micah Middaugh, Andrea Moreno-Beals, and Trevor Hobbs of Breathe Owl Breathe have created a nearly un-classifiable sound for themselves. The trio’s new album, Magic Central, set for release on September 28th, consists of twelve soulful, folk-based songs that will soothe your ears. Middaugh’s soft, relaxing singing is complimented successfully by the jazzy-like voice of Andrea Moreno-Beals. The album is dense with beautiful melodic lines between an acoustic guitar and a cello. Magic Central also displays a smorgasbord of instruments, including the banjo, violin, thumb harp, drums, and maracas; everything meshes together to produce a very earthy, woodsy feel that is truly reminiscent of the band’s Northern-Michigan roots. The songs are fun, playful, and with a name like Breathe Owl Breathe, why not? Emphasis Tracks: 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12

RIYL: Lake, Bill Callahan, Little Wings

Breathe Owl Breathe / Home Tapes

By Rob R

Flying Lotus – Pattern+Grid World (Release date: 9/20/10)

Los Angeles based-producer, Flying Lotus, aka FlyLo, aka Steven Ellison, has delivered an extremely user-friendly EP with Pattern+Grid World. His previous album, 2010’s Cosmogramma, was a bit of a slow burn and most likely  alienated some new listeners. In contrast, the Pattern+Grid World EP is a truly fascinating and much more approachable listen. Flying Lotus is known for his transcendent genius which encompasses several musical genres, ranging from hip-hop, ambient, jazz, house, intelligent dance music,and world music. “Kill your co-workers” (my favorite track), is filled with 1980’s 8-bit video game sounds, creating a truly nostalgic piece that will have you guessing which Nintendo cartridge FlyLo pulled the beats from (odds are you had to blow into it before each play). The opening track, “Clay”, takes you on a digital odyssey of thumping drum beats, wailing synths, and jazz based hooks that keep you enthralled while hypnotizing you into a world of musical soundscapes. Give the tracks below a listen and expand your musical horizons into the avant-garde world of Flying Lotus. Emphasis tracks: 1, 2, 6, released 9/20/10.

RIYL: Dilla, Madlib, Hip Hop, Excellent Beats

Flying Lotus “kill your co-workers”

Flying Lotus “camera day”

Flying LotusWarped Records

By Steve C

The Walkmen – Lisbon (release date: 9/14/10)

Lisbon marks the sixth studio album from the gorgeously moody, New York-based quintet of castaways, The Walkmen.  The title serves as an obvious tribute to Portugal‘s capitol city, where they had spent a period of time during the writing process.  When compared to the angst, post-punk sound of their early days, heard in songs such as fan and critic favorite, “The Rat,” it’s evident The Walkmen have grown up a bit and have fine-tuned their sound. For Lisbon, they’ve stripped down the excess and focused on the necessities, which helps to showcase one of The Walkmen’s most unique features: their leading man, Hamilton Leithauser.  Leithauser’s vocals have been described as gritty, raspy, and everything in between. Each song displays this vital component to The Walkmen’s sound, which is flawlessly executed in the slow but steady builder, “Blue As Your Blood.” The powerful, energetic drumming of Matt Barrick and clean, sweeping guitars and piano, provided by Paul Maroon, Walter Martin, and Peter Bauer, respectively, help round out the smooth, emotional sound of Lisbon.  Horns and strings are not as prominent, but the former do make a vital appearance on the beautifully heartbreaking, waltz-like number, “Stranded.” Lyrically, the Walkmen hold steady.  They still sing of inadequacies in life and love, but this time around, they do it with polish.   The Walkmen are back, a bit more refined, but as brooding as ever.  Emphasis Tracks: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

RIYL: The National, Spoon, Grizzly Bear, Department of Eagles

The WalkmenFat Possum

Emily L

MegafaunHeretofore (released date: 9/14/10)

Bon Iver anyone? Oh, but this is not a Bon Iver review you say; this is a Megafaun review! What about Bon Iver though? Oh right, Megafaun consists of three Wisconsin natives, two bro’s and one pal. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) used to make this trio a quartet and they went by the name of DeYarmond Edison, but that was more than four years ago. Now, in 2010, the men from Megafaun are shaking things with their new “mini” album Heretofore, a six track gem that will have you wanting more from this alternative /folk /americana tour de force. The album is filled with beautiful harmonies (a la Fleet Foxes), sing-a-long songs, and consists of a mad mix of horns, banjo, and a touch of slide guitar to enhance their acoustic guitar roots. This album is as fun as sitting on the front port with a jug of whiskey on your lap! Emphasis Tracks = 1, 3, 4, 6

RIYL: Fleet Foxes, The Dodos, Tallest Man on Earth, Avett Brothers

Megafaun / Home Tapes Records

By Steve C

Mice Parade – What It Means to Be Left-Handed (release date: 9/14/10)

Drawing as far back as The True Meaning of Boodleybaye, Mice Parade’s new LP, What It Means to Be Left-Handed, acts as the culmination of all of the musical elements that preceded it. The problem comes with moderation as Adam Pierce and company rarely expand on the lush buffet of ingredients before them, constantly forcing the old idiom of, “why fix what isn’t broken?” on the listener. Some combinations work better than others and some songs simply have too many ingredients. Standing as one of the most consistent, standout songs on the album, “Tokyo Late Night”, a piano driven, electronic outing, not too dissimilar from something The Books would produce, will likely catch the attention of fans old and new. Pierce’s use of obscure vocal samples returns with this track as well, bringing a feeling of nostalgia for anyone familiar with Mice Parade or The Books. What It Means to Be Left-Handed is an ambitious album that falls flat on execution. Many tracks are too similar to each other on this album and previous albums, and others are overloaded with ideas, creating a confused aesthetic. Emphasis Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 11, 13

Mice Parade / Fat Cat Records

By Terry Q

The Tallest Man on Earth – Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird

(release date: 9/7/10)

Looking for a fresh, captivating album to add to your music repertoire? Ya! Well then, I urge you to check out this brilliantly simple EP by the talented, Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson.  This 5-track disc is incredibly intimate, showcasing Matsson’s effortless guitar picking as well as his twangy, Dylan-esque voice. Sometimes The Blues Is Just a Passing Bird will leave you begging for more and revisiting the tracks over and over.  With every listen you will pick up on brilliant storytelling that is wise beyond this piney-27 year olds’ years.  Tracks 1,2,3 and 5 display Matsson’s muted, intricate nylon string guitar, while track 4 introduces a slower, bluesy electric guitar that provides a refreshing break from Matsson’s fast-paced picking. Click here to check out “Like the Wheel” from The Tallest Man on Earth’s latest EP! Emphasis Tracks: 1, 2, 4 and 5

RIYL: Bob Dylan, Bon Iver, Hank Williams

The Tallest Man on Earth / Dead Oceans

By Siri H

Cotton Jones – Tall Hours in the Glowstream (release date: 8/24/10)

Recorded out of their living room studio in Georgia, Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw create an undeniable sense of harmony, with a nice dreamy lo-fi vibe in Tall Hours in the Glowstream. Their simplistic way of feeling around the musical patterns connect Nau’s sparingly eased voice with a steady drum beat or McGraw’s tasteful 1950’s vocal style. This duo formally known as Page France, escape their previous notions by embracing the more relaxed and easygoing folk songwriting method. With this record, Nau has more of a harsh, country twang in his voice, but still holds his composure and consistency. Emphasis Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 5, 10

Cotton Jones / Suicide Squeeze Records

By Drew I

Revolver – Music for Awhile (release date: 8/24/10)

Revolver consists of three classically trained Parisians who have the audacity to name their group in honor  of the greatest rock n’ roll album of all time. Already a hit in France after their 2009 debut, these young men are bringing their Beatles, Beach Boys, & Simon & Garfunkel influenced sounds across the pond. Attempting to recreate the magic of their 1960’s pop contemporaries, Revolver has produced a unique and subtly original album for the 21st century. Music for Awhile touches on a number of different genres; from folk melodies that Paul McCarthy would be proud of on tracks “Luke, Mike & John”, and “You Drove Me Home” to emotional indie rock inspired beats like “Balulalow” and “Untitled #1” (Both slightly sound like Belle and Sebastian), and then creating an entire brand of their own with melodic and harmonic tracks like “Leave Me Alone” and “It’s Alright.” This album is a must listen for music fanatics. Click hereto check out there video for “It’s Alright”, and check out there Facebook page to listen to three other free tracks. Emphasis Tracks: 1,2,3,4,5,8,9,12

RIYL: Beatles, Beach Boys, Beirut, Elliot Smith, Belle and Sebastian

RevolverAstralwerks

By Steve C


One Comment leave one →
  1. David permalink
    September 25, 2010 5:50 pm

    emily-

    Great review of the Walkmens’ Lisbon album……I enjoyed it myself.
    You have great taste in music.
    I look forward to reading your next review…..keep up the good work!

    The Godfather

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