Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

In 2010, Local Natives, then a four piece, now a five piece, released their first studio album, Gorilla Manor,here in the United States to thunderous approval from the masses– their lush harmonies, wild yet clean percussion, and orchestral elements made their pop stand far above the masses whilegenerating a wide fan base. Three years later, they followed withHummingbird, which saw the band furthering their percussive reaches and treading into more emotional territory with a little production help from Aaron Dessner. Once again, three years have passed, and the band has pushed themselves into yet another territory: unabashed pop. The result is is Sunlit Youth; a fairly triumphant third release that refuses to apologize for its pop warmth and youthful glow. Read more

Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN

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Rating: ★★★★★

“Maybe you know that its been too long.” Yes we do, Angel. It’s good to have you back.

At this point in her discography, I assumed that I knew what to expect from a new Angel Olsen album – confessional folk music that explores the uncomfortable dichotomy of relationships while occasionally picking up an electric guitar. In fact, I had the intention of analyzing the albums meaning and lyrical intentions when I initially dived into it, but I was constantly sidetracked by the range of emotions this album reverberates through its variety, production, and songwriting. Angel Olsen of the past, as a songwriter, seemed to deliver her message carefully and quietly. Now she’s writing unique pop and rock songs with confidence and conviction in her delivery; whether it’s a background vocal laden in effects, a climactic guitar solo, or a keyboard subtly peeking in, Angel relies more on the instruments around her and her tools in the studio than her voice to manipulate her listeners emotions. Read more

Mild High Club- Skiptracing

mildhighMild High Club delivers another mellow mixer of soft, psyche-soaked rock with their sophomore album, Skiptracing. Mac DeMarcos former tourmates pay homage to the likes of the Beach Boys and Homeshake with their lay-in-the-sun trippy reverberation. Alexander Brettin leads the charge with his laissez faire vocals that carry throughout the album, carrying their hazy sound that pairs perfectly with the dreamy dripping guitars and synth. The Circle Star Records (Stones Throws step-sister label) band delivers a solid collection with their second album, with sauntering soul/jazz songs like Tesselation and Head Out to the some impromptu instrumental jam on Whodunit?, Mild High Club gives listeners more than what they came to expect.

Hit the jump for full review.

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Omni – Deluxe

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Rating: ★★★★½

Rock n’ roll has a tendency to get stale, and the current landscape has seemed as such, by and large, until I came into this Omni album, Deluxe. Sure, there are nods here and there, but for me, the band have managed to reimagine the world of punk (pop, proto, etc) and capture it at its fascinating best.

The one-two punch of “Afterlife” and “Wednesday Wedding” set the tone for what’s an exciting listen from start to finish. Deluxeopens with a propulsive bounce, discordant guitars ringing in your ears and changing speeds via “Afterlife.” But, in “Wednesday Wedding” the group displays what’s made them wholly fascinating; this track seemingly works against itself, with stabbing chords and bobbing bass hitting in contrast to the cooled vocal punch. If you listen to the song’s chorus and aren’t in love, even though it’s brief, you’re not doing it right.

Really though, Omni have left you with what is actually a 1-2…10 punch. There’s not a bad song here, and every listener will likely find their own favorite. I mean “Wire” has this danceable stab that separates the dreamy state of the track. “Eyes on the Floor” could easily have been penned by the band’s many Aussie label mates such as Dick Diver, filled with these great guitar lines. Lately, I’ve been gravitating towards “Jungle Jenny,” which definitely seems to wear the touches of Frankie Broyles (who was once upon a time in Deerhunter). Those are just some of the standouts and benchmarks from my voice.

But, that being said, I don’t thing anyone that looks for a reason to hate something will find that within the confines of Deluxe. It excels in creativity, but is also fortunate in that there’s some brevity to the album, so you’re not worn out by anything. Each song turns and turns, leaving you flustered, yet immersed in the art the group brings to the table. Start to finish, you’re going to need to listen to this record; you’re going to want to listen to this record…and in a world of singles, that says a whole lot more than I can.

It’s available now via Trouble in Mind Records.

Puff Pieces – Bland in DC

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Puff Pieces are anything but what their band name might lead you to believe. They’ve compiled 11 songs for their latest release, Bland in DC, with each providing listeners with a message. You needn’t look further than some of the titles like “March of the Idiots” or “Money” to see where they take aim. But, in order for the record and the message to completely endear itself to the audience, the band has to supply the musicality to make it last…and boy do they.

“Wanna No” kicks off the album in a jittery, proto-punk fashion while the vocals are drawn out across the tune, seemingly working against the heart of the track. Emphasis is given by backing vocals sporadically shouted from the distance. Staying long isn’t the band’s cup of tea on Bland in DC, as they bounce right into the next track, and so on and so forth until the end. At times, it almost feels like you’re falling off the tracks or racing towards the finish line, such as on tracks like “Wondrous Flowers;” it’s remarkable how quickly and flawlessly the rhythm section moves throughout.

Yet while the group definitely has a signature sound they’re pushing, they also open up the chords for a more traditional approach on tracks like “Pointless People,” which again takes on a furious pace that would likely have normal humans rushing to catch their breath.

I think my favorite track is “Goths and Vandals;” there seems to be a dark sense of humor that lurks in the track, if not a slight bit of sarcasm. My favorite lyric comes via “Y” where the band proclaims “the future’s like a big locked door.”

All in all, I found the record really enjoyable, but I can see detractors proclaiming that it’s too one-note. On the surface, sure, but those of you looking for energetic, yet artful, punk with a message will find a happy home with Puff Pieces.

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

Kevin Morby has been making albums under his own name for a few years now, and with each release, this brand of Americana-influenced rock seems to grow and take a more definite shape. Singing Saw is his third full length on his own, and its nine tracks of delightful folk rock, well orchestrated and complex, haunting and lingering in their construction.

The album eases you in gently, with Morby at his quietest with Cut Me Down, but then picks up quickly with infectious single, I Have Been To The Mountain. Opening things up, you get the impression that Morby is picking up where he left off with his last release, Still Life, which came out in 2014. This track has got that stewing darkness that centers around Morbys smoky vocals, akin to what you found on that last record with tracks like Drowning, but where this song nails down the difference is the way in which Cut Me Down, starts and stops, creating newfound drama. Morby looks you in the eyes as he takes his stance and proclaims And youre going to do/what you came here to do/ So why not do it now/cut me down. This kind of welcome confrontation adds a bit of a punch behind the folk blend.

Such a lyrical punch is mirrored in the instrumentation on the next track as the first track begins to pick up in pace before the second track makes its entrance. I Have Been To The Mountain, is an exceptional songone that makes you want to dance as well as marvel at how detailed it is. Theres this brooding darkness underneath the groove that comes from the string work and the acoustic guitar that begin the track and then simmer underneath through its duration. To balance this darkness, there are the popping horns that chime in and the gospel choir Ahhs that intercede and combine with Morbys vocals.

Singing Saw, the title track, follows up on the dark undercurrents of the previous number, the licks of guitar snarling through the mix like flames of a growing fire. However, this song doesnt just stay in one place, but picks up strength as it goes. Theres so much going on here, and yet, each instrument and vocal note feels precisely placed as the number builds and builds. The rest of the album keeps surprising youwhether its the bouncy Dorothy, the gentle, lyrically driven Black Flowers or ending blues-inspired Water, you remain with Morby to the very end.

What sets Singing Saw apart from your average folk rock is that does both the quiet and bombastic tracks superbly welltheres never a dull moment on the album. The brevity of the nine songs works to hold your attention and keep you rooted in their fine craftsmanship. You ought to take a listen.

 

Otis the Destroyer – Belushi EP

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

“This one goes to 11,” I couldnt help quoting Spinal Taps legendary Nigel Tufnel while listening to Otis the Destroyers freshly released Belushi EP. Recorded with Austins resident Rock n Roll mastermind Frenchie Smith, Belushi unleashes a killer quad combo on the Austin Music Scene.

An avid rock n roller myself, Belushi, and Otis the Destroyer in general, are a welcome antidote to a music scene saturated with cutes-y folks-y ukulele strumming duets. The heart and soul of the music leans heavily on the early 00s charging guitar rock of Grohls Foo Fighters and Hommes Queens of the Stone Age, but Taylor Wilkins penchant for eerie chromaticism sets them apart from these now classic bands.

The lead track Fight comes out taunting the listener with a pumping drum intro and stuttering guitar lick. The chorus comes in quick and threatening and the guitars are layered and mixed masterfully. Cheetah, the single off the EP, follows Fight and builds on intensity. Again, the guitar layering is skillfully executed and the guitar solo screams like a back alley catfight. Otis manages to avoid the pit of muddy, distorted tracks here. It would be easy to leave a listener with ear fatigue from so many roaring six strings, but throughout many listens of the EP I always appreciated how clearly separated the guitar tracks were, and how they managed to be so dang loud (…this one goes to 11). Guitar aficionados and engineers out there will understand how difficult it is to make a record sound and feel loud its a feat thats hard to do right, and quite frankly it can make or break a record like Belushi.

My favorite track off the EP was actually not the single Cheetah. I absolutely loved Swallow, the third song off the EP. The opening plinking, syncopated riff just took me back to an 80s or 90s opening action montage from some B movie (the movie definitely takes place in a gritty harbor town, and the bad guys definitely all have mustaches). The last chorus on Swallow just crescendos like a damn tidal wave ok actually I am pretty sure this movie in my head is about a crime boss setting off a tidal wave with a stolen generic pan-Asian dictators nuclear bomb. Yea. This one definitely goes to 11.

Closing out the EP with the strong, jarring Hatchet (rated pg-13 for strong language and diminished harmonies), Belushi comes to a satisfying finale. Belushi builds on a strong foundation that Otis the Destroyer has laid out. For those of you headbangers out there missing the golden era of hard rock this EP is a must listen, and music preferences aside Swallow is one of those rare songs that has a genre spanning appeal. Catch them at their EP Release show March 5th link (https://www.facebook.com/events/530556140444240/539749096191611/) with Megafauana, Think No Think, and the Shame and the Waste.

Michael Nau -Mowing

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

Its possible youve heard the work of Michael Nau in some capacity over the years through his work in several other outfits (See Cotton Jones). Mowing marks his first debut recording as a solo artist, and its a nice first album that wont hit you too hard, but will slowly work its way into your heart.

Mowing comes across as a collection of carefully crafted folk lullabies, perfect for those days when you want to dissolve into your music, or at least be carried away on its light breeze. Youll begin to understand this notion when you first enter into the album with While You Stand. Gentle acoustic guitar wafts in like wind chime, and the warm, full vocals of Nau contrast the sweetness of the only other element in the track. Simple, yes, but so elegant; a refreshing break from the usual multilayered hyper-complex music we have so much of these days. But then, The Glass, kicks things into gear with the addition of other instrumentation that puts a little spunk into the mix. Theres a nice presence of ragtime piano and the guitars are a little fuzzy and jazzier. Naus voice is smoky and smooth, riding above the rest of the mix.

The rest of the album continues in this vein, later on in the album, you get the incredible So, So Long, which really hones in on the lullaby nature of the tunes on here. But then, theres also the deep classic blues bass line that you find in alt-country. This beautiful track is followed up by instant stick out favorite, Winter Beat, which is rambunctious as Nau gets; slow simmering drums give it a jazzy flair once more, subtle strings work their way in and out of the background. Youll find yourself closing your eyes and slowly nodding your head with the beat. Its gentle music for Sunday afternoons or waking up slowly in the morning.

Whats wonderful about Mowing is its breezy carefree spirit; it never gets too bogged down in itself. At the same time, this airy lightness makes it bit too transparent at moments, during which, its easy to let the music slip out of your focus. This is a small qualm in a soothing album, and I advise you to pick up a copy and give it a spin.

 

Wild Nothing – Life of Pause

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

When you hit the ball out of the park on your musical debut and sophomore album, I imagine its somewhat of a daunting task to try and create something that will repeat your success and move into different musical territory. Whether or not this was on Jack Tatums mind when he was working on his third full-length record remains to be known. Regardless, Life of Pause strikes a balance musically between the straightforward dream pop of Gemini and the well-orchestrated synth heavy pop of Nocturne.

Reichpop, begins the album in classic Wild Nothing fashionboiling electronic elements create the undercurrent of the instrumentation as the song heats up. About a minute and a half of build up later, the song coming into itself, the guitars and bass join the mix, adding their lush influence to the simmering track. This song in its easy and steady coolness sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The key to understanding this record comes in the title track, which marks the center point of your listening journey. Synths soar and bubble into the groovy beat, Tatum sings repeatedly at the crux of the chorus, How can we want love? and the synths stutter coldly in the background as he questions human desire for affection honestly and openly. Herein lies the detached emotion that the entire album is entrenched in. On the first few listens, its easy to mistake this for a lack of emotional accessibility, but upon further investigation, Tatum comes through quite vulnerably as searching for something and narrowly skirting jadedness. This is where Ive found the album to be quite raw and not the icy-cool sleek collection of eleven tracks that it may sound like at first.

While the album becomes more accessible with this in mind, the vulnerability is still subtle, hidden under those loud synths and danceable 70s grooves. Life of Pause has immediate hits that will grab you upfront, but there are some slow burning gems that take a bit of time for you to gravitate towards, like Lady Blue, which ends in a switch in rhythm that is simply impossible not to turn up loud and jam out to. Of course there are those reach out tracks like TV Queen and To Know You, that are wonderful examples of Tatums skills at crafting solid tunes that bridge the gap between dream and synth pop.

At the end of Life of Pause, theres a bit of a longing for more; while theres no denying the artful skill that Jack Tatum has poured into the record, you sort of wish that there was more of a fire within the tracks on here. Still a remarkable and worthwhile listen nonetheless.

 

Pete Astor – Spilt Milk

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Rating: ★★★★½

People rarely rave about records anymore. No matter what, people inevitably find themselves listening to single and hits, but don’t you dare do that with Pete Astor‘s new album, Spilt Milk. If you do, you’re likely to miss one of the purest pop albums likely to surface this year.

You can possibly separate Spilt Milk into two styles, bouncing jangle pop and pure pop balladry. Opener “Really Something” falls into the first category, while a song like “Good Enough” ends up in the latter grouping. But, what one should focus on is the central theme of pop music. To me, it means accessible and catchy, and I feel like if we were all given such options more often, then Pete Astor might be our favorite artist. But, that’s not where we live, nor where we seem to be heading, making this effort all the more outstanding.

Some bands rush songwriting, trying to push out the next hit, trying to stay relevant in a culture adhering to consumption, but within the confines of this album, you have the purest dedication to great songwriting. In doing so, Pete’s managed to craft an album that endears itself to fans of all styles, leaving you with a lesson incraftsmanship; it’s one that I can see enduring in my playing rotation for time to come (and probably yours too).

In the end, Spilt Milk isn’t a musical exercise that will hit you over the head immediately. You have to digest it slowly, which is best with tracks like “There It Goes” that will pull at your heartstrings. Still, you’ll find an inner joy (and maybe a hop in the step) when you put on “My Right Hand,” among others. It’s a listening journeyyou must dedicate yourself to, and in doing so, you’ll reap the greatest reward…a listen that won’t easily be turned off…or forgotten.

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