Apex Manor – Year of Magical Drinking

Rating: ★★★½☆

So what do you do if you’re Ross Flournoy and your band has just finished their productions as a group? Keep writing songs and diving further into the musical world, of course. In 2009, when The Broken West ceased existing, Flournoy continued his work alongside former band mate Brian Whelan, and also his new roommate Adam Vine— thus creating Apex Manor, a new group for him to belong to. The result is a power pop bang of goodness that will have you jamming along with the distorted guitars.

“Southern Decline” kicks the pop party right from the start. Flournoy spins the story of getting “high, while [he] feels low,” with guitars strumming away, juxtaposing such a negative subject with strong instrumentations. “Under the Gun” then follows and you can see the crystal clear and masterly executed production of Dan Long (who produced such bands as Local Natives) shining. Just enough distortion on the guitar parts fills all the nooks and crannies of this song, so that there are no holes for the airy percussion elements to slip through.

Three songs into the album comes my personal favorite “The Party Line.” Just when you think that The Year of Magical Drinking is going to be just another pop album, Flournoy throws in this number and you’re hooked again. Gentle, undistorted plucking of guitar begins the song and then the beat gets going and some more rock feeling washes over, making your head bob and fingers tap. It’s pure bliss for three minutes and fifteen seconds, even during the short return to quiet that comes before the final chorus. It’s a song that’s meant to be blasted, and blast it you must.

 Accompanying the previous track is another less pop, more rock song: “Teenage Blood.” The repetitive line of “I’ve got teenage blood/boiling in my brain” resounds, and for a second, you almost believe that perhaps there is a little bit of angst in Flournoy; the vocals stray from their refined execution, and the cymbals crash chaotically, but within a few minutes, the band is back to their style—a nice deviation and then return, so that they can finish strong. “Holy Roller” slows things down for basically the first time on the album and Apex Manor shows yet another side of their musical talent; a sort of bluesy , soft rock flair, without the cheesiness of course.

For their first full-length album, Apex Manor has done well. While not the most ground breaking sound, they combine pop with rock, and solid production to match their every beat. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it is a very good example of what mostly pop albums should sound like. Here’s to hoping for excellent future albums from this fine group.


Download: Apex Manor – Under the Gun  [MP3]

Destroyer – Kaputt

Rating: ★★★★☆

When thinking about Destroyer, one might envision the older drunkard who mumbles brilliant things under his breath. While Dan Bejar may or may not be drunk when he writes the songs for his albums, it is still obvious that he writes vaguely brilliant songs, often coupled with a variety of different musical accompaniments, which vary depending on the album. On Kaputt, it seems that Mr. Bejar has chosen to go the way of jazz, along with 80’s pop elements that put a new spin on his coded lyrics. 

 At the opening noises of “Chinatown,” it’s possible to think that perhaps you put a different CD into the player, due to the presence of saxophone and tambourine, but when the familiar guitar strumming is heard and Bejar begins his craft, you know you’re in the right place. The smooth jazz beat in the background mixes with voices, creating a hazy fog where Destroyer lives. It’s foggy enough so that you can see everything right away, but clear enough to understand and enjoy. Slowly, that irresistible beat pulls at the muscles in your feet and makes them tap, and you have been hypnotized by Kaputt.

I could go through the list of songs on this album and tell you of the brilliance in each and every single one, but that would spoil the fun for you. I will however tell you that along with this new jazzy sound, there are some other new aspects to the album, such as the presence of feminine vocals. No, Bejar does not climb to falsetto, but rather hires the vocal talent of Sibel Thrasher, who can be heard on almost every track. Whether it is a big part, or a tiny one, she adds another dimension to Destroyer—as if they needed more complexity. On “Kaputt”, she blends in with the lead vocals and disco beats, giving the impression that the narrator is an ambiguous figure, not just one man preaching to you about the delicate intricacies of life. At one point in the song, Bejar remarks that “it all sounds like a dream,” which sums up the lyrics, as well as the smooth music that becomes Kaputt, all swirling around in your head.

With this new spin on his wit, Destroyer’s choice to incorporate a different sound with their classic style contributes to the catalog of albums. It does not hinder the witty lyrics, nor does it take away from the intricacy that the group does so well. Bejar and company continue their path of wowing their audience with their sacred knowledge of changing just enough to keep their style fresh, but not too much where they have become unrecognizable.

If you’ve been a Destroyer fan since their origin in 1995, or this is your first experience with the group, the waves of cryptic lyrics will wash over you, leaving each person with your own spin on the meaning of his words, just like every well written album should.


Download: Destroyer – Chinatown [MP3]

Braids – Native Speaker

Rating: ★★★☆☆

In this day and age of Attention Deficit Disorder musical consumption, there is something to be said about the first thirty seconds of any album. It’s supposed to be a slice of one of the best songs on the album, drawing people to listen to the rest. However, Braids don’t seem to think it is that important, or perhaps want dedicated listeners because they chose to leave the first thirty seconds of Native Speaker empty, save for some atmospheric sound – a sign of things to come.

A few more seconds pass and soft drums kick in and “Lemonade” gets moving, with the half whisper, half clear vocals of Raphaelle Standell-Preston propelling it onwards. It proves to be a simple, yet elegant song that echoes through the emission of heavy instrumentation. Then, they move to “Plath Heart,” in which the sweetness of Standell-Preston’s voice is shown. A trace of a yelp provides the perfect vocals to ride upon the calm and collected ripples of the song, which is the norm for the rest of the record. Another standout track comes later on with “Same Mum.” For a longer number, it holds the attention of the listener for all seven minutes and two seconds that it plays. The sharper clacking of drumsticks, and raised beat let the song move, as if an easily run marathon.

My biggest problem with Native Speaker as a whole is that it fades into the background all too easily. Something about the lack of variety, length of each song (some are over eight minutes) and amount of soft space allows this album to slip under the radar, instead of pulling me into their world of dreamy pop. Instead of packing a punch in this short album, Braids are as spacey as a band can get. They start with emptiness, end with emptiness and throw in some emptiness in the middle. If one were to listen to one track at a time, the lack of substance would be acceptable, as the songs themselves are not bad—contrariwise they are rather intriguing. With each additional listen, they grow on me, but I want more than small noises that fade when the song ends.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this album, but as it meanders its way to finish, I get a little bored. The band just doesn’t show much versatility or variety, and the long songs work against them in that they stretch the separation of each song so thin that it becomes transparent, and everything blends together. As far as music that will knock your socks off goes, this does not fall under that category. However, if you are looking for something calm and soothing, perhaps the perfect accompaniment to a rainy day, then by all means, this is your album.


Download: Braids – Plath Heart [MP3]

Mind Spiders – s/t

Rating: ★★★★☆

From the instant you press play on your stereo, to the moment in which its final notes resound, Mind Spiders refuse to stop. In that miniscule pregnant pause before the guttural guitar resounds through your speakers, take a breather, because you’ll need all your strength to keep up with their punk pace.

“Go!” is the album opener and does exactly what its title exclaims. It’s an almost two minute scramble of garage rock and gang vocals that pack a hell of a punch into a tiny slice of time. Before you know it, the first track is gone and the second is about to pass you by. On “Don’t Let Her Go,” it is easy to see a similar sound to that of the late and great Jay Reatard. The muddy vocals and frantic jamming guitar along with the shortness of the number all are reminiscent of Jay’s work on Watch Me Fall, namely “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me.”

However, this album is not simply a copy cat of other’s work, but rather, a culmination of tastes from a variety of genres; a little bit of 60’s pop here, some lo-fi there, and a dash of some all out punk. For instance, on “Read Your Mind,” the group starts out slow, with slightly clearer vocals and soft waves of “ooohs,” that occupy the first minute and twenty or so seconds. It’s almost as if the band wants you to relax a bit after the first three songs before they jump right back into their ferocity. The vocals become muddier as the song morphs from slow-mover into punk once more.

The next super stand out track is “No Romance,” which is sadly the shortest song on the album. It continues the quick pace, but not without grabbing your attention through a sea of compact jams. Following this is a lo-fied nod to Little Richard on “Slippin’ and Slidin.’” On this track, the overall distorted sound contributes to enticing quality; the more I listen to this song, the more I like it.

What this album has working for it in addition to its stellar beats is that Mind Spiders know their limits. While only four out of twelve of the songs last longer than three minutes apiece, it works for such a fast paced album. If every song were to last for slightly longer than it does, this album could have derailed from its hasty tracks. Instead, it was a toe tapper from start to finish.

So you as you look at the stereo in disbelief that track twelve is becoming track once again, do nothing. Allow this album to permeate the surrounding air like a gust of cold air into a stuffy room, waking you up like an icy shower —lather, rinse, repeat Mind Spiders.


Download: Mind Spiders – No Romance [MP3]

The Decemberists – The King is Dead

Rating: ★★★★☆

After not the greatest reception of their last album, The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists have made their way back to the classic sound of their folk rock. This time around they have shifted ever-so-slightly to a larger influence of bluesy, Americana tones. As this is their seventh full-length release, The Decemberists are far from amateurs.

The King is Dead begins with “Don’t Carry it All,” which is an immediate stomper. It starts as though the beginning of an epic novel- slowly growing more intricate and detailed, without becoming too heavy at the end. Once again the listener is treated to the superb writing that this band brings to its albums. Blazing harmonica and the strikingly unique and bittersweet vocals of lead singer Colin Meloy combine with string work and methodic percussion to create this enjoyable, albeit not groundbreaking, sound for the first song. The group moves right along to “Calamity Song,” which picks up the pace. Fierce guitar strumming and refined howling in the chorus adds a touch of wildness to the album before they tone it down for “Rise to Me.” On this number, steel pedal guitar and vocal harmonies in addition to harmonica once again shape it to be the most classically blues sounding song of the album thus far.

As on the preceding album and those before it, The Decemberists have always been nothing short of excellent storytellers and songwriters, if one can consider those two different things. On “Rox in the Box,” you get brilliant lines such as “We all do what we can/ we endure our fellow man.” While on the two complimentary songs “January Hymn,” and “June Hymn,” Meloy takes you on an imagery filled journey through winter and summer, two drastically different seasons. These songs are similar in their simplicity, but different in the images they create.

It is really hard to find a song that is lacking in good qualities on this album; I didn’t find any. With their outstanding songwriting in hand, the album heads towards its finish with “This is Why We Fight.” Like the first track, this one is laced with several instruments and lyrical strengths. During the chorus Meloy bites the endings of his words, giving edginess to the song. “Dear Avery” then rounds off the album slowly and softly, more steel guitar ending the album as it began: bluesy.

While this is an excellent effort from The Decemberists, it isn’t a stretch. Simple blues elements added an interesting spin, but it seems as though the group was discouraged from their last album to stray from their classic sound too much. If anything, the album artwork is a testament to my feelings towards this work; it’s really pretty, and I like it a lot, but it’s not mind blowing. It would have been nice to see where they could go, but I’m far from complaining.


Download: The Decemberists – Down By The Water  [MP3]

Sun Airway – Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier

Rating: ★★★★☆

As the human race keeps pushing towards a completely digital age, it is no longer a novel idea to rely on our computers for musical inspiration. Take Animal Collective, and countless others that have delved into the seemingly bottomless pit of electronic sounds. However, there is a definite difference between dabbling into the realm of electronic alternative pop and diving too far into the deep end of noise. With Nocturne of Exploding Crystal Chandelier, these two gentlemen skate this fine line as though tightrope walkers.

The album starts out with “Infinity,” which, to my dismay, is a bit of a redundant dud when pitted against the rest of the songs. However, if you look past the first song and onto the second, “American West,” you can see what this band has to offer. Coat upon coat of electronic fizzle combine with a slightly cloudy vocal to produce a song that is filled with noise, but allows for a ton of variation in said noise so that the listener doesn’t tire of the same drone, but becomes interested in the complexity of the song. This is where I feel Sun Airway failed in choosing an opening song for their debut; shouldn’t the first song grab my attention and make me ask for more?

Next the band travels farther into the bliss pop genre with “Swallowed By The Night,” which is a change from the first three songs, in that it is devoid of the buzz and fast pace. Instead, this song focuses on the sweeping qualities in the vocal, which are sprawled in some parts, and then pulled back to their robotic precision. From this, the song gains an emotional dimension and allows you to feel like you are standing alone with the night sky, engulfed by its vast darkness and captured by the millions of twinkling stars.

And so Sun Airway continues with their neo psychedelic pop, alternating between faster, less human songs, and the softer, easier to emotionally read beats. A song that stands out strongly is “Your Moon.” The delicate vocals break into a downright outburst of longing when the chorus sounds clearly: “I just wanted to be your moon/ alone in your night sky.” This song truly encompasses the delicacy that this group angled for in their nod to Chopin’s Nocturnes. Like Chopin’s music, this band is soft when it needs to be, yet juxtaposed with sharpness that makes for a really pleasurable listening experience.

As far as first albums go, Sun Airway do an excellent job in showing their distinct sound, without growing too hollow or redundant, as electronic beats tend to. For this, I commend them and look forward to their next work.


Download: Sun Airway – Oh, Naoko [MP3]

Matt and Kim – Sidewalks

Rating: ★★★★☆

This is an album that can be perceived in two very different directions.  You can look at it in reference to all the other music that comes your way – the complex, indie, intricate guitar filled albums that blow you away. Or you can just take this album in for what it is: a man with a keyboard and a lady on the drums, turning out simple and catchy tunes. I chose the latter of those two options. 

Sidewalks starts out with “Block After Block, “ classic Matt & Kim: electronic synthesizer patterns and the yelp of Matt carrying over the hyper beat provided by Kim. By the end of the song, by the end of my first listen I was singing along with him on the “Block after Block” line of the chorus; it’s just that catchy.

 I tried to dislike this album, really, I did. But halfway though “AM/FM,” the second song, those repeated “oh ay oh ay oh oh ay ay oh-a-oh’s” had me hooked and there was no turning back. In the first six songs Matt & Kim don’t pause for a breather, instead they turn out song after blistering fast song. Each and every one of these first six jams is quick and ever so danceable. Your toes should be tapping and your head nodding like crazy.

If Matt & Kim haven’t won you over before the first four songs, just wait until “Where You’re Coming From.” This is the epitome of why this album is so enjoyable. It starts out as a simple beat and builds over the course of the song, progressively adding more and more elements to the song, whether it is the buzz of synth, or the electronic beeps and boops. Just when you think they are going to push it too far, Matt & Kim throw it all together and make you feel like the guitar isn’t a necessary instrument for musical greatness.  The climax of the song is one of pure bliss; cymbals crashing, voices echoing, lyrics falling into their place perfectly, and the electronic noises blending together with the actual beat.

As I mentioned before, the first six songs are a nonstop party, but this doesn’t mean the last four tracks are boring, on the contrary, Matt & Kim finish ever so strongly.  They slow it down on “Northeast,” showing a bit a depth to their music from an emotional stand point because the imagery in the lyrics show true feeling as opposed to simple beats. They then bring back their rambunctious energy on “Silver Tiles  and culminate everything together with “Ice Melts,” leaving the listener in the same place where Matt & Kim started, except perhaps a little out of breath.

So before you turn your nose up at this work because it is currently in the number three spot of top albums on iTunes, give it a listen with an open mind.  Yeah, it isn’t the equivalent of work from artists like The National, but I believe that you’ll find an entertaining and danceable bunch of songs in Sidewalks, that are sure to make your party mix for the rest of the year.

Warpaint – The Fool

Rating: ★★★★☆

After seeing these ladies play at ACL I was quite impressed. Despite playing for a small crowd early Sunday morning they managed to bring their quiet girl indie sound to the outdoor setting rather well, heightening my excitement for this album. Their sound is a mixture of psychedelic guitars with female vocals that vary from hushed to super strong, over the course of the whole album, as well as even in just one song.

Warpaint starts off with “Set Your Arms Down,” which begins in a slow sort of fashion moseys along, drum beats feeling very stop and go, but glued together by the meandering vocals until the build comes and the drums begin to roll faster and the murmurs of lyrics build – in unison at some parts and mismatching in others—and just when it seems that the band is about to spiral out of control the song is reeled in and transitions to the next song. Warpaint demonstrates their ability to form a complete and total song that may take you many places, but in the end they bring you back home.

They continue this journey in “Undertow,” the pre-released single, in which it feels as though Warpaint is asking us those questions of bitterness. The lead vocalist has a certain real feeling about her voice that makes you believe what she is singing; these are not just words, but rather a series of confessions. Perhaps the subtle imperfections, or the rawness on some notes is what gives the song this vibe. Whatever it is about this song, it certainly conveys the idea that they are not just a girl band, but one that wants, and should, be taken seriously.

Almost as if nodding to their name, “Composure” starts out with an echoed group chant in the background. Then the band moves the song abruptly, the whole beat is basically stopped, to a faster pace. In this transition they add more intricate guitar work, and a new song is born instantaneously. After dabbling into this new groovier pace for the majority of the song they slowly dive back into the chant, bringing the tune full circle. The album then sways smoothly into “Baby,” in which the soft flow of ooh’s and the delicate vocals add onto the gentle guitar plucking to give the song it’s simplistic lullaby shell and the melancholy tone.

For only a nine track album, it seems as though you have been taken everywhere by this band. They start you off with thicker slow movers such as “Warpaint”, lighten things up with faster, more danceable tunes like “Bees” an then bring it home with songs that combine these qualities, which makes The Fool such an enticing album. Warpaint exhibits all the aspects of a girl group without coming across as too sugary. There is a bite to their sweetness that prevents this album from being a one note dud, but instead a precision piece. I look forward to future efforts from this group.

Frank Smith – Nineteen

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Frank Smith comes off as a culmination of several genres. You have the bluesy guitar and the classic bass lines that make up an alternative country group, yet the raspy and distinct vocals that correspond with a more rock or pop genre. At first listen to this group my mind immediately thought of Ben Kweller, whom shares a similar sound. This country/indie sound comes across as incredibly enticing at first, but as with Mr. Kweller, it can get a tad flat and colorless after a while.

The album begins with “Nineteen,” a slow burner at first, carried by the methodical drum beat for about a minute and a half of the song. Aaron Sinclair provides the hazy tune with his unique voice, which has a clear, yet somehow gritty quality about it that instantly draws you in. When the song picks up at just the right time, an enticing sound of the blues guitar is added to the sped up pace and prevents the song from turning into a dud. It instead leads listeners to the next song, “5, 10, 15…” which continues the mellow tone of the first track. The waves of echoed twangy guitars together with the soft vocals and the “oohs,” give it crisp and pure indie/country song feel, making this a stand out track for Nineteen.

 Perhaps it is just my general dislike for country music, but the rest of the album sort of blends together after this for me. The overall slow tempo and the super distinctive sound of Frank Smith grows a little dull after the first few tracks and loses my interest. There isn’t enough variation between slow song and fast song, or rather any different aspects to help discern song from song. The whole feeling with the album is too mellow; it becomes boring too quickly and stays that way for too long.  

But through the monotonous and flat line “chillness” of this album, a slow, yet interesting track floats its way to the surface in “Swollen Tongue.” The bass and drums start the song, sounding the same as the others, but then the band moves to the bridge, where all the members chime in with their respective instrument, providing the edge you’ve been waiting for this whole album. On this song, they put together their cool, and mellow sound with instrumentation that makes the song interesting and new.

This is an album that is fairly simple, yet offers a few great tracks that really show the potential of Frank Smith as a band. Nineteen isn’t a standout album at all, but it still has some good qualities about it.


Download: Frank Smith – Nineteen [MP3]

Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love

Rating: ★★★★½

Belle and Sebastian are the darlings of the indie pop scene, which has been basically known for the past decade. This being their eighth studio release, they reinforce that they are not a band plagued by maturity and ten years of being indie pop superstars, they are Belle and Sebastian: always fresh and never ceasing to make youthful music.

The first track is “I Didn’t See It Coming” and starts the album with Sarah Martin’s vocals leading, which is a surprising, as one would think Stuart Murdoch’s infamous tone would be first heard. It turns out to be an enticing and creative surprise, as she and Stuart harmonize and play off of each other’s words, with bluesy guitar work in the background. During the build to the chorus they nod to everyone’s current economic situation: “we don’t have the money/ money makes the wheels of nowhere go ‘round,” but instead of this song becoming a pity party, these two tell you to “forget about it, honey,” and the song builds to a fantastic and joyful climax, with synthesizer echoing, giving it that twee-pop sound. Belle and Sebastian continue this happy mood with “Come On Sister,” which brings more synth and poppy goodness, sure to have you bobbing your head to the soft drum beats.

Then things slow things down a little with “Calculating Bimbo.” The percussion elements are more clearly heard in this song, and the slow drum rolls through as Murdoch pushes his voice to the limit and meets up with backing vocals for more harmonious moments. More of these vocally excellent moments come on “I Want The World To Stop,” where Stevie Jackson joins Martin in echoing Murdoch and you want to echo him too.

The rest of this album continues in this style, with “Write About Love, that has sort of the same idea of “I Didn’t See It Coming” and it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, as if all of your problems don’t seem so bad anymore. This is the general feel and tone of this whole work; looking past those things that put you down with a proverbial screw it; I’m not going to be down.

On the last two songs, Belle and Sebastian finish ever so strongly. In “I Can See Your Future,” they incorporate majestic horn work and some orchestral elements effortlessly so that this complex song feels simple and elegant. But Belle and Sebastian aren’t done, they bring a tangy guitar sound and whispery vocals on “Sunday’s Pretty Icons,” finishing in their classic style, and leaving you wanting more, in a totally good way.

Belle and Sebastian have come a long way since Tigermilk, but have shown that they will always make excellent, witty and classic indie pop that can brighten any day. If Write About Love isn’t proof of this, I’m not sure what is. As expected, it is most definitely a contender for a spot on my list of top albums this year.


Download: Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love [MP3]

1 116 117 118 119