Pretty & Nice – Get Young

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Sometimes a picture sums everything up, which is precisely what the cover art for Pretty & Nice‘s new album, Get Young, does.  The girl frivolously jumping in the air seems to have been listening to this album for quite sometime, as this is exactly what the band prescribes to listeners with their most recent effort.

Influences are abundant, and a trip to the band’s Myspace page yields one key influence that seems to dominate the band’s sound, albeit in an entirely different light; that is the listing of Q and Not U. Several of the more straightforward tracks definitely dwell in that post-punk aggression made famous by the Washington D. C. scene. But, influences don’t always give you a starting point for a conversation.

A band not listed, but definitely in the same vein, is Of Montreal. A few listens to the album and you will find that the vocal inflection of Kevin Barnes is definitely a shared characteristic with Pretty & Nice. It’s not just the vocals that emulate the allusion, but the mixing of electronics inside a rock-fueled song structure.  This tactic is used to extremes in the latter half of the album.

Oddly, that contrasts with the hard-hitting punch of the first few tracks, which makes the listening experience unfortunately imbalanced.  The opening power definitely draws your attention to the speedy guitar licks and hard-hitting drum sound.  It’s this fury and vigor that immediately warrants a positive attitude in regards to the Get Young.

But, the strength of the first five songs wanes as the band begins to sink into a bit of repetition.  Each song seemingly blends into the other as the album draws to a close.  It’s this element that leaves a question mark on this release.  As the band carries you towards the end, it’s almost as if they wore you out too quickly, leaving you with less passion in the end than they offered at the beginning.  Sure, they’re still going strong, but it just becomes a bit redundant.

Brash and courageous, Pretty & Nice come out of the gates swinging for the fence, but you can only jump around for so long before your legs go weary, along with your ears.  Too good too quick, and then its done all over again, much to the possible demise of this album.

Vivian Girls – s/t

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Everyone seems keen on the Vivian Girls lately; you’ll find their name on every independent blog or web site across the world.  Despite their recent rise to glory, it’s completely clear that the girls have a great deal of work to do in order to rise all the way to the top.

After a set of 7 inches, and a short run of their self-title debut, the girls have re-released the entire debut; this time on In the Red Records. It’s odd how such a short career has risen sky-high, and one must question whether the downturn in the global market has finally led to inflation in the minds of indie connoisseurs .

“All the TIme” opens this album, and the earnestness in the song definitely creates a sense of interest for the listener. The soulful female vocals, reminiscent of ancient R&B singers, carries the song amidst waves of sheer noise.  This is about as far as one can go with garnering loads of praise upon the band; their efforts here fail in regards to the critical praise they have recently achieved.

Throughout the entire album, the drum work is somewhat shoddy, relying upon the cymbals and pounding snare work, which harks back to the more straightforward punk sounds that came out of New York in the eighties.  For some reason, the drums lack the proper clarity in the final mix, which destroys their overall effect, almost rendering them the label of juvenile.

Every song seems to follow in the footsteps of the first track, playing upon the the female harmonies.  Momentarily, one might be distracted from the walls of noise and feedback at first, but as the album continues to push forward with the varying levels of sonic noise it appears as if Vivian Girls are trying to hide their capabilities behind such noise, disguising their talent from the ears of listeners.

No one seems to be linking the girls to the fame and popularity of Beat Happening.  Sure, Calvin  Johnson carried the band for years, but just go back to the album Jamboree and listen to Heather Lewis sing on “In Between” and you will clearly see that the Vivian Girls have quietly lifted their style from everything in that song.  The only difference is that they surround the pop elements with unnecessary noise.  Clearly, they have work to do if they want to achieve the longevity of Calvin’s low-fi pop genius.

Listening to this album is something that one should do with skepticism.  All the hype in the world just doesn’t come through your speakers the way that you want it to do.  You can’t blame the Vivian Girls for this, for it’s clear that they didn’t rise to fame without merit.  There are elements of enjoyment here, along with promise, but the punch in the face you all hoped for doesn’t come through in the end.

Jay Reatard – Matador Singles ’08

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Surprisingly, Jay Reatard is releasing all the songs off of his latest seven inch series on Matador Records in an easy to use CD format, not to mention the fact that you will actually be able to get your hands on this compilation, rather than bidding the hundereds of dollars required to acquire the 7 inches.

Okay, so there might be some bias in that first paragraph, but now that the CD version of the 7 inches has been made available, does it live up to the adoration for those Jay Reatard fans out there?  Yes, and no.

Opening the album with “See/Saw” is a good choice, as it is one of the two best songs on the entire collection.  It’s full of that classic pop sensibiliity that the band incorporates into their garage-punk sound.  It’s a good introduction to the collection–but the band has to step it up from here in order to win over the listener on this compilation.

But, the band doesn’t really go much further on the album, aside from “Always Wanting More,” which is one of the better songs the band has created. It’s easily the most pop driven effort that you will find here; this is the best formula for creativity with concerns to Jay Reatard.

Aside from those two highlights, there isn’t a lot of quality offered on the rest of the complilation. Sure, you get a cover of Deerhunter‘s “Fluorescent Grey,” but even that isn’t the most remarkable of covers.  There are also a lot of flaws, such as the quality of the vocals.  It seems that the lo-fi recording process could have been a little more fleshed out here.  Sure, it’s got that 7 inch quality, but is that what you want on CD?  It’s an entirely different medium, and the vocals sound nothing at all like they did on Bloodvisions.

So at the end of the album, you have to judge the compilation as one would judge a complete album.  As far as complete albums go, most will find that its a fairly poor effort.  Some extreme high points, but nothing as consistent as the band’s last full length.  In fact, you can find lower moments here, then anywhere else in the band’s catalogue (extended and as Jay Reatard).  It seems that as prolific as this man has become, that it might do him well to take a break.  He might get more from spending a little time in the studio writing and mixing, and we, the listeners, might get more as well.

Still, as a different medium, as the collection was orginally intended and produced, it was pretty glorious; this despite the fact that various record stores–I’m looking at you Waterloo–hoarded the 7 inches for their employees, or even for eBay sales, which will cost you two arms and a knee-cap to get the final 7 inch.  So as compilation it fails, other than providing you with an easily transferable format to carry with you, but as a collection of 7 inches, go Jay Reatard!

Deerhoof – Offend Maggie

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Deerhoof is often inexplicable; difficult to pinpoint their location in regards to musical genres, and Offend Maggie poses many of the same questions for listeners; a fact that completely works to the benefit of the band.

Their newest effort offers much of the same discordant guitar work accompanied by the unique vocals of singer Satomi.  This unique dynamic, or unique sound I should say, keeps the album interesting throughout, as you are not quite sure what to focus on: vocals or music.

Musically, this is the most accessible set of songs that the band has created, wavering back and forth between classic pop structures and post-punk sounds.  On the first listen, you can tell that the band put forth a great effort by creating entire songs, rather than the stop-start song structures of their last album, Friend Opportunity.

Offend Maggie would earn fans of all genres based entirely on the music.  Their are elements of grunge, early-emo, post-punk and, honestly, commercial rock n roll.  All of this demonstrates that the sound of the band is growing and developing beyond what most adoring fans expected, yet the continual focus will always be the listener’s interpretation of Satomi’s vocals.

Deerhoof will always risk total adoration due to these vocals.  At times, the heavily accented voice makes comprehension difficult for listeners, and as their focus heads toward deciphering the lyrics, their attention detracts from the overall listening experience as clever band interplay is missed.  Although the formula is so simple, one often finds that following the band is quite difficult, as if we all had ADD. They do offer a more traditional song by way of “Family of Others,” which lends its sound to that of west coast Beach Boy revivalists, yet the absence of Satomi on this song makes it entirely unfitting as a Deerhoof song.

Nonsensical vocals make it difficult to take much from the album, meaning wise.  One listen to “Basketball Get Your Groove Back” will lead most listeners to question the seriousness in the band’s approach to songwriting.  Still, it is the dark contrast between instrumentation and vocals that always makes it difficult to define such a genre splitting band.

At the end of the day, you’ll find that despite its incessant pitfalls in the lyrical department the album is ultimately one of the more rewarding listening experiences you will come across this year.  Deerhoof continue to explore their options whilst maintaining their ability to rest upon what has always made them interesting, Satomi’s inclusion as lead vocalist.  It’s the dark horse for 2008’s Top Ten.

Department of Eagles – In Ear Park

Rating: ★★★★½

Daniel Rossen probably receives the majority of his acclaim from his participation in Grizzly Bear, but as more people catch on to his side-project, Department of Eagles, that won’t last long. The band’s second album, In Ear Park, has enough bedroom beauty to take the acclaim to an all new level.

Much like his other band, Department of Eagles specialize in ethereal pop gems, catering to the changing of fall into winter. Every inch of every song seems so carefully crafted that one would find it difficult to recreate the moments that exist on this album, no matter how great an ear they had.

The first stand out track, “No One Does It Like You,” begins with an extra step, but quickly goes into subdued harmonizing vocals, reminiscent of multiple harmony bands such as Fleet Foxes. Layer upon layer is piled atop the song until the track completely transforms into perfection.

“Teenagers” is driven to fruition by delicately dark piano work, and the hollowness in the vocals seem to echo from the past, that is until the hand-claps come into play, carrying the song further, only to return to the lone piano work you hear at the beginning.

Amidst all those perfect moments come some dense atmospheric sounds, but they don’t necessarily detract from the album. In the strangest of ways it provides a haunting element to the album, deepening the emotional connection  between the band and the listener. Each song progresses as they should, but each listen offers more and more, as layers reveal themselves to the listener in an unusually gratifying listening experience.

The vocals differ from those of Grizzly Bear due to the more personal touch Rossen has placed on this album, which is said to be due to the unfortunate passing of his father. As the album touches on the personal emotions of their own world, the listener, too, can dive into the subconscious where our own innermost desires and fears may rest. See “Floating on the Lehigh” or “Classical Records.”

Their is a quality to this record that is difficult to place. At times the songs are haunting, ultimately revealing themselves as gems. During other moments it’s touching, as harmonies are shared between listener and band. In the end, you might find that the overall beauty in this record changes depending upon what your ears and mind bring to the table; you might find that it surpasses pieces for which Rossen has already achieved great success. No other album is more fitting to the onset of winter.

The Calm Blue Sea – s/t

Rating: ★★★½ ·

It would be extremely easy to come across this band, lumping them in as thieves of the popular instrumental music scence, yet that approach to this album would be a coward’s way out.

Sure, the self titled album from The Calm Blue Sea is filled to the brim of your stereo with sprawling guitar sounds that walk the thinnest lines back and forth between songs, almost as if the guitars intend to pace back and forth.

One element that sets them apart, and I know others use it, but I think the usage of the piano as the skeletal background for a good deal of the songs places a different spin on the entire album as a piece.  It coats the instrumental core of the album with a melodious undertone;  listen carefully for the treasures in this genre always rely upon close listening.

Another difference lies in the fact that they occasioanly use lyrics, predominantly in the song “Literal.”  It’s usage here recalls, to these ears at least, the atmospheric sounds of Statistics.  It creates an entirely different layer to the song, which is encouraging because various bands get trapped beneath the singular layers created by guitars and drums; The Calm Blue Sea uses vocals as a textural layer–admirable.

While other bands simply rely upon the ebbs and flows of their albums, withholding the more rocking elements for their live show, The Calm Blue Sea unleash these heavier moments upon us with joy, creating a beautiful cacophony of atmospheric noise.  It’s great to see that there are new bands still trying to put their own spin on an age-old tradition.

Ra Ra Riot @ The Parish – 10/3

The crooning pop of Ra Ra Riot will make its way into Austin this Friday, twice!  They will be playing a free show at our favorite record store, Waterloo Records at 5 PM.  Then they’ll graba bite to eat before heading on over to the Parish to close out the evening.  If you’re not sure about whether you want to go, just check out our review of the latest album The Rhumb Line .

You can find yourself tickets for the show at Frontgate Tickets.

Gentleman Jesse and His Men – s/t

Rating: ★★★★★

A few months back I was fortunate enough to come across a short album by Atlanta band, Carbonas. After careful research I came across Gentleman Jesse and His Men, a band fronted by Carbonas bass player, Jesse Smith. I adore the more abrasive album featuring Jesse on bass, nothing comes close to my level of enjoyment when listening to the power-pop of the band he fronts.

Immediate references will draw upon similarities to bands such as The Exploding Hearts, due to vocal delivery, and Buzzcocks, based solely on emotional similarities. Still, one would have to go much farther back, back into the 50s bandstand rock n roll in order to complete the circle of influences. Every riff seems straight out of an era, but done so refreshingly that its hard not to fall in love right away.

Remember those bands you grew up listening to when you were younger? This should have been one of those bands. This should have been the only one. Every song has staying power, and it goes beyond the box we’ve placed Gentleman Jesse inside. If teenagers had good tastes, then they would spend countless hours in their mirrors singing and bouncing along to this album with a hairbrush in hand, wishing they could take to the stage. This album has that much power.

Vocal inflections allow for the listener to differentiate between each song, though you might find that the rhythm section becomes a little redundant at times. Still, you could list every single song on the album as a hit. Pick a song, sing along and you’ll bob your head for the rest of the day.

“All I Need Tonight,” the third track definitely jumps out at you as one of the more powerful songs. The backing vocals bring back the simplicity in garage rock, just in time for the killer solo at the end of the song. It’s precisely the way it was always meant to be; straightforward rock music without meandering into noise and atmospherics. “The Rest of My Days” ask “where is time going,” and its clear that the rest of my days will be spent listening to this album, this song.

The latter half of the night packs just as much punch as the first half of the album. Songs like “I Get So Excited” and “You Got Me Where You Want Me” are meant to be sung by entire audiences. Each song is full of fervor, hoping to grab the audience and hold them close to the speakers one last time before the album winds down to its end. No one should skip a song.

After listening to the album in my ears for days, its hard to be really objective here; this album is the most refreshing thing to come by and cleanse my pallet, which is odd due to its apparent nostalgia in the realm of power-pop. Those of you interested in good clean pop rock will do well to find this immediately. I can see it nearing the Top 10 right now as it plays again and again.

The Broken West @ The Mohawk — 10/1

Longtime members of Merge Records, The Broken West are hitting up Austin tonight. The band comes to town fresh on the heels of their newest release, Now or Heaven and will be taking to the stage along with Hollywood Gossip. Mohawk says that they will open the doors at 8 PM, so expect the bands to take the stage around 9:30.

You can head on over to Merge Records to listen to the latest album from The Broken West. 

Blitzen Trapper – Furr

Rating: ★★★★ ·

On their first album, Wild Mountain Nation, Blitzen Trapper was all over the place.  They played classic rock in a crooked modern pop manner, but the vocals lacked clarity in delivery.  Their newest album, Furr, offered hopes of better production with the backing of Sub Pop Records, and dreams of consistency.

Those of us with high hopes might have to admit that despite the band’s efforts, we are only having our needs fulfilled on one level, that of the vocal delivery.  It’s predominant departure from their previous effort, which does make this one exceedingly better than its predecessor.

One would be hard-fought not to notice the 60s-70s rock influences draped across this entire album, but they were there in the past.  The previous albums spoke softly of such influences, but they step it up entirely on this album.  All of this is furthered by the strength in production on this album, which pushed the influences to the forefront, rather than disguising them in  a lack of clarity created by walls of noise.

They did write one of their worst songs ever, and chose to include it.  “Love U” is full of unadulterated yelping, and it rarely provides anything worth holding onto.  It’s merely walls of screaming, accompanied by sloppy musicianship, and it stands right in the middle of the album–just skip it.

Almost every single listener who has a weakness for the folkier moments in rock n’ roll will surely find the rest of the album enjoyable.  Each track seems to recall another musician at every turn, as if the band set out to write an album full of covers.  Songs like “Echos/Always on/EZ con” and title track “Furr” are purely magnificent.  The subdued tones of each song warrants repeated listens for the rest of the year; the folkier side of Blitzen Trapper is where the band, ultimately, performs at their best.

It would be easy to pigeonhole this band as one intent upon revisiting the past, but they seem to have their own spin on our heralded past.  One would be remiss to toss this band to the side due to a lack of originality; give it a couple of spins and you’ll find that the songs seem strikingly modern.  The band is knocking at the door step of a solid album, and Furr is an album that furthers that dream for both the listener and the band.

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