New Music (To Me) from The Babies

babesFirst off, you should own Our House on the Hill by the Babies. The song “Alligator” alone warrants your ownership; it’s one of my favorite songs of the last few years, period.  Luckily, the band’s been holding onto some of their B-Sides while they’ve been working on solo Kevin Morby and Cassie Ramone LPs.  Woodsist has opted to released these two B-Sides as a digital single, and I’m going to pick them up (though I wish they came on a 7″).  This song from the release has that jangly swagger, featuring Morby on the lead vocal; it’s so tasty I’m not even sure how this track didn’t make the final cut! Listen and hit up the label for the release.

Vivian Girls – Share the Joy

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Despite various member changes since their origin in 2007, Vivian Girls seem to know exactly who they are and what they aim to do on this album. Their simple and fun songs rely on catchiness, zest and pure lightheartedness. However, with all this focus on fluff, does Share the Joy just become a write off, or did Vivian Girls manage to do the difficult task of stuffing sunshine into a bottle?

Let me first say that this is definitely an album that grows on you. While the stark and flat vocals of Cassie Ramone can be a little difficult to listen to at first, tough through it; as the rewards near the end of the album are great; not to say that the beginning is bad, it is just a bit of much needed introduction for those who are not already in love with this band. These ladies open with “The Other Girls,” a rather long first track that begins with a little furious guitar, but for the rest of the song, the band develops a very chill mood. The muted and far away drums combining with the jangly guitars continue on their second number and single “Heard You Say.” On this number, background vocals are utilized to their full effect: the “oohhss and aahhss” dominate, but leave room for some lovely guitar riffs.

At this point, Vivian Girls have given you a good taste of their hazy pop sound, accompanied by the clichéd woe-is-me girly lyrics, but you’re still waiting for those knockout numbers. About halfway through Share the Joy, “Sixteen Ways,” fills this desire. The heavy guitar and drums allow Ramone to sink down a little in her vocals, and the deepness of the song in general lets it become one of my favorites; you can’t help but love that simple strumming and harmonization. Following this song, “Take It As It Comes,” is some girl to girl advice that could fit seamlessly in with something from the sixties. Akin to something from the past, you can practically see these three ladies waving their fingers, sassily urging to “think with your head” instead of your heart. “Light in Your Eyes” then finishes off the album with more of the group effort vocally, both harmonically and through the trade off of the lead voice. Much like the album itself, this end track begins softly, but by the end, Vivian Girls have won you over.

While this is a very fun album, it doesn’t come off as oversimplified. With summer just around the corner, most of these songs should be able to find a home blaring out your car windows, the hot sun serving as the icing on the cake to this bubbly work, or vice versa.

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

Rating: ★★★★ ·

“Good morning class and welcome to your American Civil War lesson. Today we will be discussing the fledgling US Navy and the Ironclad battle ship, The Monitor. Hey, WHO THREW THAT!? Titus! I know it’s you, damn trouble making teens with your loud rock and or roll music.”

After the roaring and ironically tame named debut, the Airing of Grievances, the New Jersey-based indie punk rockers are back with their sophomore album, The Monitor. With the new release, the band is taking a stab at the Civil War era, with the release serving as a period piece of sorts.  The title is in reference to the USS Monitor, which was the first commissioned warship by the US Navy during the Civil War.

That in no way means the group has changed their sound, so that means there’s plenty of low-fi, shoe gaze still involved, with a healthy dose of the ever-present fervent lyrics from front-man Patrick Stickles.  The moniker by which the young quintet refers to themselves is obtained from an obscure Shakespearean tragedy, known for it’s over the top drama and violence. Over the top, dramatic, and violent is a good way to describe the group and similarly their amazing live shows, which is providing much buzz for the group across the Country and abroad. In addition to that reputation, it’s obvious that these young men are cultured and know their history and that’s refreshing in itself.

Known for their raucous live shows in small, intimate venues, Titus Andronicus is set to have a very busy Spring Break.  The band has positioned itself to be one of the busiest bands around during SXSW which will give us a good great chance to hear the new album where it is best heard, in its face-melting, ear shattering, sweat-inducing live setting.  The new release also features appearances by members of Wye OakVivian Girls, and The Hold Steady amongst many others, which according to the record label XL recordings, all play a specific role as Civil War-era personalities.

The opener, ‘A More Perfect Union’, begins with the significant Abraham Lincoln quote, ominously stating “if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author, and finisher.” Quickly, the group picked up where they left off in their debut, pounding into a seven minute jam with impressive melodies complimenting Stickle’s ‘agitated Oberst-esque’ lyrical stylings with fantastic results. Its good foot stomping Americana, proudly heralding “Rally around the flag!”, and proclaiming “I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard.” Not truer statement can be said about Titus Andronicus.

Throughout the record are more sound-bytes from the Civil War era, which hold much intrigue alone, but are especially portentous when heard alternate Spickle’s vocals and Eric Hold’s percussive fervor. The record is more or less about the conflict and subsequent unresolved misfortune followed by the ideals from the relationships forged nearly 150 years ago continuing today. However these principles have shaped our modern society, “you’ll always be a loser” quips the self-deprecating theme ‘No Future Part 3: Escape From No Future’, “and that’s ok.”

The two-part single, ‘Four Score and Seven’, which is set to be released on a 2-sided LP, is a great meditation on the subject of war and its absurdity. This track marks a turning point in the album, with the entrance of a brass section and beautiful interlude into the second half of the track which less introspective and more irate at the horrors of conflict more often seen.

‘To Old Friends and New’ displays a new side of the band with a touching duet with the Vivian Girl’s Cassie Ramone, which slowly builds to a crescendo proudly proclaiming “It’s alright now”. This touching moment is unexpectedly followed by ‘…And Ever’ which seems out of place at its ninth spot due to the drastic segue from the former’s tenderness and overall tone. Finally, the band finishes off the record with a powerful message of acceptance, liberation, and ultimately death. Per the band, the release is their way of celebrating the 148-year anniversary of the ship and much like the USS Monitor, this lengthy album fights a first-class battle and proves its worth in a great lyrical clash; only to sink quietly into rough waters following the afore-mentioned closing track, ‘The Battle of Hampton Roads’. And as we have all learned today, this battle served as the height of the Monitor’s service career and fittingly is a high water mark for the band. Any questions? Very well, class dismissed.

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Download: Titus Andronicus – Four Score and Seven (Part One) [MP3]

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Download: Titus Andronicus – Four Score and Seven (Part Two) [MP3]