When looking back on my early days of music discovery, the years when you found “the good stuff”, the late 90s and early 00s were likely the most important time for me. This was a time when I began to transition from the middle school days of mostly radio rock n roll towards a more indie, underground scene. Coming out of Kansas at the time were bands like The Get Up Kids, Appleseed Cast, The Anniversary, and of course, Ultimate Fakebook. Though maybe not as widely known as those other bands, the group was equally as important to me and to that scene. So it of course brings me great pleasure to review Ultimate Fakebook’s first album in over 10 years, The Preserving Machine. Hit the jump for my thoughts on this long awaited album.
In these weird times we’re living in, it seems like a perfect moment to get some album reviews up since we are major slackers in that category. It makes it east to motivate for a review when a band is kind enough to go out of their way to send us a physical copy of their release. We are hoarders people! My new pals in the German based band Pretty Lightning sent me their new album Jangle Bowls and I’m going to offer my thoughts on it after the jump. Remember, that I’ve stopped traditional reviews and tend to offer a more creative take on opinion pieces.
We still write album reviews? You’re damn right we do! Though it’s been a bit of time (okay maybe a lot of time), we do still like to talk about music and the full album experience. We currently live in a very “right now” society where things need to deliver fast and immediately, but the ATH team still loves a great record. This review of a great record features Scranton, PA based The Menzingers and their new album Hello Exile. Hit the jump for some words and thoughts.
Two couples travel to a remote rental home in the desert for a sex and drug fulled escape from reality. As tensions escalate over the course of a debaucherous night, things take an unexpected turn when a woman (Fairuza Balk) claiming to be a neighbor with car trouble shows up at the door. She seems harmless enough… or so they think.
Hit the jump for my thoughts on the film.
Of all the solo-powerhouses in the indie rock / folk world, few have resonated with me quite as much as the work of Sharon Van Etten. At this point, I’m sure you’re quite familiar with her story: small time broody indie-nobody quietly releases album after album of her own unique brand of raw and powerful music that sits well with fans of The National, Bon Iver, Beirut. Oddly enough, these incredible records like 2014’sAre We There,and 2012’s Trampfailed to push Van Etten into the main fray of the indie world. Cut to 2019: she’s on billboards in NYC, playing Jimmy Kimmel, and pretty much every music publication under the face of the sun is talking about Sharon.
The first thing I noticed at her ACL Festival performance back in October, at which she played a few of the tracks from her new record, is that the guitar was missing. While these tracks–what I came to find out would be the singles for this release–came with a hard bite, the meat of most of the songs were heavy synths played by the inimitable Heather Woods Broderick. We got a bit of a taste of this direction onAre We There,though it was always countered with guitar, be it acoustic or electric. Singles “Comeback Kid,” “Jupiter 4,” and “Seventeen,” as they were released all confirmed this synthy-almost-pop approach, but Van Etten’s sulky vocals kept them grounded in her classic style. On “Comeback Kid,” we have big drums, wailing synths, and Van Etten’s voice as commanding as we’ve ever seen it. “Seventeen” sees her downright screaming, whereas “Jupiter 4” seemingly brings us back to the kind of track we’ve come to expect from Van Etten.
Each of these songs, and the whole record for the most part is a look back on past. This perspective shines brightest in the leaps SVE takes on “Jupiter 4” and “You Shadow.” The former is seeping with desperation and longing to be loved and the insane anticipation of stumbling into something good: “It’s true, that everyone would like to have met / a love so real.” The track a gorgeous love song–though it’s heavy in atmospheric synth, you get a little bit of guitar cutting in, but Van Etten’s vocals take the center. This song is a leap: like most SVE tracks, it’s rooted in this slow pace that seems ominous, but the lyrics are some of the most heart-warming we’ve ever heard from her. She confesses this love continues to move her now: “Turning the wheel on my street / my heart still skips a beat.” This song is a sincere and steadfast confession of being moved by the power of loving someone else, which is a feat to accomplish without sounding corny or trite.
“You Shadow” comes later on and takes the approach of a sing-song-y taunt you’d expect to hear in an argument between teenagers; it’s actually probably the most ‘pop’ track we’ve ever heard from SVE and it’s infectious. Though simple, the song’s melody gets wedged in to your head. The crunchy sounds are juxtaposed well by lighter, bouncy keys. The whole number has this laid back groove to it, but the casualness of the beat and the smooth delivery from Van Etten is contrasted highly in the bridge, where we get the sweeping power vocals once more. It’s a weird combination, but the result doubles down on the strength of the words Van Etten jeers: “You ain’t nothing / You never won.” One moment she’s telling us a story from the perspective of someone emotionally removed, bitter. Next in the bridge, she’s right back in the moment, spilling with emotions and raw anger.
SVE made a lot of bold sonic changes onRemind Me Tomorrow and the two tracks I described were examples of these choices paying off in a big way, but the rest of the album doesn’t always offer that same kind of payoff. I find myself not quite connecting with every song as I’d like to, and as I have in the past. Don’t get me wrong, in the end,Remind MeTomorrowis a good record, but it pales in comparison to her past two albums both in songwriting strength, and in musicality. Sharon Van Etten is immensely talented and well-deserving of the moment she’s having, but this record feels less vulnerable, which is what I’ve always found to be a ridiculously compelling factor (if not the most compelling factor) of her music. Oddly enough, though the sound is bigger than she’s ever done before, Van Etten is emotionally guarded behind those buzzing synths.
Perhaps with revisited listening the guard will come down, Remind Me (to listen again) Tomorrow.
Though I’ve been hard pressed to afford the great many offerings from Waxwork Records, I have always admired their work and dreamed of owning everything in their discography. Part of it is the beautiful artwork and images the company creates for the re-releases and, of course, the other part is my fandom of horror movies and cult classics. So maybe you can imagine me geeking out when the company sent me a few records to review. Yeah, I nerded out a bit. With that said, I’m happy to announce my first ever Waxwork review is the creepy soundtrack from the amazing horror throwback Drag Me to Hell. Hit the jump for more.
I had to search our own site to find out how long it’s been since I’ve posted an album review and I will refrain from embarrassing myself with the exact timeframe, though you could search yourself I guess. We as an ATH staff have been neglectful as a whole when it comes to album reviews and we are hoping to rectify this moving forward. Hopefully you can understand that if an album has brought me out of my review slumber it must be a great one. The very soon to be released new album from Dan Mangan, More Or Less, is just such an album because, holy hell, it’s impressive. Hit the jump for some thoughts, photos, and tunes.
Indigo marks the fourth full-length studio release of Wild Nothing, the moniker for Jack Tatum’s sonic explorations in the realm of shimmery indie rock. We’ve seen Tatum’s style change with each release; a devotee to growth and expansion, Tatum is not one to rest on the early success of the band, but has pushed himself in entirely different directions. Indigo sees yet another direction, but one that functions essentially as a patchwork quilt of past soundsyou can hear elements of prior albums, but Tatum has reimagined them into an album that burns brighter and bigger than the past.
Opener and lead single, “Letting Go,” positions Tatum to soar higher on this release than before. The guitars, ever jangly and bright, ease past fans into the sound. While familiar to Nocturne at first, the track then surges into infectious pop with the choral hook. Tatums vocals are high and resonate starkly at the top of the mix, cueing us into the glossy production that is present all over Indigo.Here is a more proto-typical pop song than weve heard from the dark and simmering Wild Nothing and it’s refreshingly glorious. Not to be outdone by sultry, “Partners in Motion,” whose echo-y percussion and vocal effects make for a 80s synth banger. When Tatum sings lines like, “I had a temper/but now I’m delicate,” the vocals are doubled over and drenched with reverb, urging you to join along. A toe-tapping bass line, playful and snappy guitar licks, and saxophone flesh out the tune into something great.
While the production on this album is glossy and clean, were not so far away from the humble beginnings of Geminithat we feel alienated by Tatum’s new sound. On the contrary, at a cursory listening this record is very easy to cling to with its catchy choruses, danceable synths. You get swoon worthy moments all across the eleven tracks, but probably the most sincere chunk of is the combination of “Shallow Water” and “Through Windows.” Both songs dive into what it means to be in a loving relationship through life on the road, the former a sweeping ode and the latter a tightly wound jam. With lines like “When I’m home/ there’s nothing I’m looking for/ that you havent already found,” Tatum crafts the wonderfully genuine “Shallow Water” as a number about being off the road and completely comfortable with another, the kind of love that people yearn for. Conversely, you get “Through Windows,” about being on the road and not wanting to give it up, but recognizing at some point Tatum will give it up, but that wont be entirely a loss: “Quit this circus life/ and take off my shoes/ I’m still paying what I owe/ to be noticed by you.”
It’s not all sunny pop though–the brightest gem, for me, is “Canyon on Fire,” which is a guitar heavy track that you are immersed in for its five-minute duration and then immediately play again. A brief moment of pause between the previous instrumental interlude of “Dollhouse” washes over you before the squall of electric guitar announces itself with a roar. Soon, you’re hit with dueling riffs that perfectly compliment each other while an even bass line chugs away and airy percussion keeps everything just on the verge of chaos. Tatum weaves us a picture of Los Angeles through his eyes, each line hitting with a soothing cadence that provides lovely juxtaposition to the snarling guitars. He asks, “Who would I be without you?” addressing a love or potentially the city itself, and then answers the question with “Someone I dont know,” acknowledging that Tatum is married to the subject–be it LA or a significant other. That kind of bond has made it impossible to imagine life otherwise. This all takes places within a simmering bridge before the track surges once more into full volume for a glorious victory lap. “Canyon on Fire” merges Tatum’s impeccable songwriting with the infectious guitar riffs from Nocturne-era to make for the best track on this album.
In the end, Indigo, is a well written record about love and being deep in the waters of it. Unencumbered by irony and disdain in an otherwise bitter world, the soaring pop of this album makes for a sincere feel-good (and just damn good) eleven tracks of escape, though far from devoid of introspection. Tatum has found his stride, crafting a collection of songs that youll find hard to turn from. Indigo is both intimate and lofty, hoisting you up with each track as it flies to new heights for dream pop.
RF Shannon, or the project of Shane Renfro, has always been about expansive desert psych americana. Since the origin of the project back in 2013 with the recording of their first demo, Renfro and company have been doing this quite well. With two EPs under their belt, RF Shannon looks to try their hand here at a full length release. The result is, to put it mildly, epic.Jaguar Palace is a record to put on as a soundtrack for traversing a sun bleached desert. be that literal or figurative.
At six songs in length, you may take a look at the track listing and think that you’ve merely encountered an EP, but each song is meticulous and sprawling– a kite let out on its string to a great height, but still tethered to your hand at the ground. Our journey begins with title track, “Jaguar Palace,” which is a perfect introduction to the album. Delicate flute sounds and graceful piano fill your ears with wistful musings for almost two minutes before the guitar, percussion and vocals burst in. This well orchestrated build-up makes the full entrance of the sound huge when it comes along and lets you know you may want to take this album sitting down. Renfro’s vocals are layered and hazy, like a breeze that is gentle in one moment but almost knocks you down the next. Later on, he is accompanied by some female backing vocals that fully flesh out theforce and provide even more texture to the mix. Even one song in, you already know you’ve merely hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of whats in store.
To pick one track out of this collection feels somewhat wrong, as it truly is an album you’re meant to listen to from start to finish, putting ‘single culture’ to shame. For the sake of the length of this review, I’m going to hone in on the heart of the album, “Tell My Horse” and “Had a Revelation.” These back to back numbers show the band hitting their stride with poise and finesse. “Tell My Horse” is a story of wandering alone, whispering tales of your wearisome travels to your animal companion. This is the sort of solitude that is welcomed on Jaguar Palace, embraced even, as the number picks up a nice bit of jam on its way out that carries into the next song. “Had a Revelation” is the shortest track on the record and it’s the song you should play your friends in order to hook them in. Renfro commands the song with his vocals, asking you probing questions: “Do you change with the seasons? Do you cling to the past?” Acoustic guitar carries the track, while slide guitar sneaks in and out, floating over the bouncy percussion.
What’s superbly impressive about the tracks that RF Shannon have delivered here is that while they’re long and sprawling, you don’t notice. On the contrary, each number is careful and poised, akin to the chapters of an epic novel. They serve as gems of their own, but lace together with their counterparts.Jaguar Palacetakes a bit of time to really sink into, but after a few go-rounds of the steady waves of reverb drenched guitar washing over you, you’re fully immersed. If you let RF Shannon, they will hypnotize you into wading in deep and baptize you with their desert psych masterpiece. Get washed clean.
Everyone knows it–Spoon are a force to be reckoned with. Twenty plus years of crafting relevant and consistent rock music and 9 full length LPs under their belts hasn’t slowed them down in the slightest. Sure, the band has had ups and downs over the years, but their lows aren’t so much missteps as sidesteps. Hot Thoughtsis by no means a sidestep, but rather a confident stride in a marathon of a career.
It’s so much so a given that any record that Britt Daniel touches will be worth your listening ear that I debated whether or not to review this record for a while. With the release of the lead singles, “Hot Thoughts” and “Can I Sit Next To You,” the band hinted that the album would be jam packed full of disco-studded indie rock jams and they weren’t bluffing. The aforementioned singles are but the icing on the cake that you’ll find yourself gorging on time and time again. That being said, the singles make for some damn good icing. “Hot Thoughts” is a radio ready hit that plays with what you’ve come to expect from the band in that simmers to a raging boil, the instruments packing the bite and snarl before Daniel’s vocals do. Tinkering xylophone sounds make Eno’s always steady percussion a little spicy, while the guitars are tight knit and signature. “Can I Sit Next To You” is sneaky, sliding to your side with its handclap beat and snuggles into your arm with its waves of smoky synths.
There are no dull moments on Hot Thoughts. But the songs aren’t just catchy– they’re also musically quite interesting and push into realms that Spoon haven’t stretched into before. The band tries their hand at disco with “First Caress,” which features vocals from Sharon Van Etten and is a full on dance tune. We get a softer track(for Spoon) on “Pink Up,” whose musical motif carries over into the ending track. Shimmering percussion lies at the heart of this song while Daniel whispers lyrics like “Everything you think we are, we are” into your ear, as if he knows he has you under his thumb and knows you like it. But then “I Ain’t The One,” cuts this ‘cool-guy’ persona back down to raw sincerity and emotion that Spoon still embed into their work.
Personally, the song that has pulled me back the most is “Whisper I’ll listen to hear it,” which has landed itself high on this album as well as Spoon’s entire discography. It’s here that the band really shows their finesse and sleekness; the song is effortlessly cool while being musically interesting and involved, a far stretch from formulaic or dialed in. Pulsating synths make their entrance first, setting a foreboding tone before Daniel and some cutty electric guitar join in, letting you know that this is only the beginning. Just when you’re settling into this pace, hanging on every lyric, the rest of the band joins in and the band steps on the gas pedal, launching into a fast paced, white hot hit, complete with a non-cheesy and perfectly placed guitar solo. Daniel’s vocal delivery peaks on this song. As the tune progresses and evolves,growing quicker in pace, his vocals grow more intense, mirroring the musical build with their own growl.
The only faux-complaint I have at the end of Hot Thoughts is that the album seems short. This is purely selfish and not a real complaint– the album is actually a little over forty minutes, but these minutes fly by with this band at the helm and before you know it, you’re starting over, the familiar, quick lipped Daniel to guide you along. Spoon have done the impossible, somehow managing to please fans old and new, while remaining relevant and sharp, which is a feat you can only say about a few modern rock bands. Well done and press on, Spoon.