Laura Gibson – La Grande

Rating: ★★★½ ·

The folk soundings of Laura Gibson are marked by a variety of sounds. While the words simple yet elegant seem fitting to describe such an artist, I think intricate and raw also have their place in the description of La Grande. However, through all of this soft and roughness, Gibson’s sugary vocals remain constant, serving as the syrup to run between the sounds. In its folk genre, this album seems to go a lot of places and somehow stay in one place.

Strewn through La Grande are various instances of gentle serenity, which seems to be the bigger of the two paths that this album takes. You have moments of subtle beauty apart from the obvious pretty voice of Gibson of herself and the accompanying, soft acoustic guitar. On the second song, “Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed,” these subtleties culminate to produce a solid, slow moving gem; the quiet xylophone, Gibson’s meek voice meandering through the song, the bare minimum percussive elements make the track feel a little sleepy, and yet ever enjoyable. Another instance of this chill folksy combination is on the later track, “Crow/Swallow” in which Gibson croons simply over some guitar plucking, which makes for a calming listen.

On the rowdier side of things are songs like opener and title track “La Grande,” on which the emphasized percussion reminds me a bit of The Dodos; the very base of the song is the constant, stomper of a beat. Of course, Gibson’s vocals prove a start contrast to the deep drums that resound deeply towards the end of the song, giving it that edge to avoid the song turning into a mess of beats and dulcet tones. Another song that rides the rowdier waves in a stronger percussive sense is my personal favorite, “Skin, Warming Skin.” On this track, you’ll find the build to a climax that is lacking in places elsewhere on the album. Gibson’s voice contrasts with the likes of drawn out guitar sound and eerie backing “oohs.” It’s easily the most interesting song on here.

Overall, this album isn’t entirely overwhelming, but it will present you with moments that can overwhelm you. Sure, you will have some instances in which you are even underwhelmed a tad, but the music is presented in many forms and Gibson leaves it up to you to discern your favorite—the simple combination of honeyed vocals and guitar plucking explored in a slightly new light in some instances and shining in the same glow in others.

Surfer Blood – Tarot Classics

Rating: ★★★★ ·

If you haven’t heard of the riffy surf rock of Surfer Blood, where the hell have you been? No really, these guys have been to at least two SXSW’s and put out a killer first album. Well, if you haven’t heard of them before, they are a four part, all male band hailing from West Palm Beach Florida, who pack all the balmy weather of Florida into a neat sound package to be sent all over the world. I guess if you’re still a stranger to this band, Tarot Classics is an excellent place to start.

The first song, “I’m Not Ready,” comes out kicking and rocking, with hooking guitar parts and the gravelly vocals of John Paul Pitts’s familiar yells. Instantly, you’re bobbing your head along with that bubbling bass underneath and grooving along to the playful matching of vocals with guitar. At 4:24, this first song does go other places than what makes up the first minute of the song, which is excellent. Surfer Blood refuses to fall into that realm of already-done-before, and somehow manages to keep things fresh. Towards the very end of the song, they drop into this old-time swoony, beat, complete with backing ‘oohh,’ that brings the track out of, and then back into, its hazy garage rock zone that this group are the kings of.

 “Miranda,” is up second on this EP, and it comes across as Surfer Blood’s stab at a track devoted to a lady, and the chorus consists of just her name repeated over and over. While not as interesting as the first track, it does provide for a change in tempo. This second song explores more of a classic rock jam, one that you could hear echoes of from other bands. Yet, while it does go places other bands go, Surfer Blood manages to put their own flair on it, with the backing vocals giving it that extra dimension.

 The third and fourth songs are also excellent jams that add to Surfer Blood’s listening catalog. Both of them, well all of these songs, serve exactly as an EP should: as a lovely appetizer. These tastes of new material from this band make me hungry for their next full-length release album and if this is any testament to the merit of the next album, we should not be in for a disappointment.

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.