I’m From Barcelona – Who Killed Harry…

I’m From Barcelona – Who Killed Harry Houdini?

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Did you have any idea that the Swedish supergroup I’m From Barcelona had another album hitting stateside?  Don’t worry, no one really covered it, but sure enough, we now have Who Killed Harry Houdini?.

Opening tracks pretty much establish the mood for all albums, no matter what we say; that’s the job of the person who sequences the songs. “Andy,” the album opener showcases an entirely new aesthetic for the group, most noticeable is the absence of sprawling pop infectiousness. It’s quiet, almost as if it’s the choir score to a Tim Burton film. The artwork, along with the album title, hint at this darker underbelly.

Remnants of the last album do remain throughout this new effort.  Many of the songs hold tightly to the choir backing vocals, a la Polyphonic Spree. Still available is the landscape sounds created by piling layers and layers of instrumentation and vocals upon one another.  You can even find handclaps and shakers here and there. BUT, it’s missing a key ingredient!

SPIRIT! When that guy from Barcelona introduced me to all his friends on his last album I remember being really excited.  Not only had a collective of musicians united to make zany-pop fueled extravagances, but they were good at it too!  Songs like “We’re From Barcelona” or “Treehouse” oozed with pop sensibility, creating listening experiences even hippies could groove too.  Here, it’s gone.  It’s as if they put all that energy into the first album, and now they’ve run completely out of gas.  Also, the level of horn work has been greatly diminished.  It’s strange considering the frequent usage of the horns on the last effort. It’s just another thing  that indicates an entirely different direction for the group.

This album isn’t an awful attempt; it actually has some redeeming moments, albeit slower moments.  Unfortunately, they’ve gone so far the other way that it is difficult to find any correlation between this Who Killed Harry Houdini? and Let Me Introduce My Friends. One album is fully shimmering joy, the other lacks emotion; compare and contrast; go!

Land of Talk – Some Are Lakes

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Land of Talk is yet another band from Montreal, Canada, intent upon re-creating pop music in their own likeness and bringing it to your ears.  Their latest effort, Some Are Lakes, has just been issued by Omaha label Saddle Creek Records.

According to press information, the opening three songs of the album seem to revolve around the band’s earlier sound, which seems to reflect the earthy undertones of the album’s title track.  It is a female-dominated sound that recalls similarities between various Canadian acts that have made their way south of the border.  While these first three tracks definitely showcase the band’s musical repertoire, there isn’t anything too remarkable from these first glimpses.

Then they come straight at you with “Some Are Lakes,” which features stronger vocals from front-woman/guitarist, Lizzie Powell. Here you will find the band cleaning out their sound, ridding the song of extemporaneous noise in place of a more direct approach to your ears.  “Give Me Back My Heart Attack” has the band going back a few steps, those this song definitely has a stronger groove than the opening tracks present on the album.

“It’s Okay” is one of the simpler songs on the album.  Picture Amy Millan singing along to piano ballads and you’ll get the picture for this one.  The band pulls it off, but it’s not altogether very inspiring.  Then the band seems to pick it up from here.  Land of Talk pushes forward with more Canadian influences, but they do it this time with a certain brashness that makes it all seem more worthwhile; it comes off a lot more personal.  At its best when they unleash their guitars, they pull them back momentarily for what is the album’s stand out track, “Got A Call.”  As it sweeps in and out, it sweeps you away in the process.

After all that progress they sum it all up with an acoustic number that doesn’t seem to stray to far from the works of Feist, which is not necessarily a bad thing, it just makes the album feel entirely too uneven. Some Are Lakes is an album with varying levels of accomplishment, and those mainly come in the form of a band that let’s loose on the listener, releasing the power they seem to hold back for the majority of the album.  It all ends without the band establishing itself as the predominant force in the music presented here, and they fail to step out of the shadow of the Canadian heavy hitters.

The Rosebuds – Life Like

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Last time around the Howards, also known as The Rosebuds, offered us a swirling bundle of disco beats and dance tracks.  Beneath those bubbling hooks layers of darkness soothed out of the stereos, making melancholy danceable. This time around, they’ve stripped out of those disco clothes, revealing a straight-forward moody album titled Life Like.

Opening title track, “Life Like” presents a somber Ivan Howard looking back on his life, or his current state, warning those to come that there are more just like him.  The hollowed guitar work seems to mimic the emotive vocals, continually building an underlying darkness.

Juxtaposed to the opening track comes “Cape Fear,” which features Kelly singing in place of her man.  Despite a darkness in the search for a man-eating catfish, the vocals don’t quite seem to match that of her counterpart, making her feature tracks seem more positive.  It seems odd to have such a juxtaposition, but this is the one thing that makes the dynamic between the two so strong, on album, and life like.

One of the more special moments comes by way of “Nice Fox.”  It’s a pleasant ballad driven by chugging guitar strumming and darkened saloon piano.  The entire affair is made more meaningful with the presence of a backing choir full of the who’s who of the band’s various musical friends. Then comes “Black Hole,” which seems to have the band emulating the late great Grandaddy in a supremely slow fashion.

In the end you find that this album is full of storytelling, which is most likely due to the fact that the band owes the imagery in this album to their respective grandparents.  It reflects a band that is willing to look anywhere for their creativity, relying, always, on what they know best, or in the case of this album, what they feel.  Life Like is not coated in the past, and as it moves into the future, The Rosebuds continue to progress, always keeping their best elements as the focal point.

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.

1 880 881 882 883 884 895