RF Shannon – Jaguar Palace

Rating: ★★★★ ·

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.

Spoon – Hot Thoughts


Rating: ★★★★½

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.

The xx- I See You


Rating: ★★★★ ·

When your first album is a sweeping success, how do you move forward and create something that both steps away from your past hits yet strikes the same sort of resonance with your painstakingly huge fan base? This seems to be the question that plagued the ever-huge The xxon their sophomore album–while new tunes from these indie rock darlings immediately grabbed my attention and affection, these feelings didn’t bring me back to continued listening. Third time around, it seems like these South Londoner’s have shaken off the chains of their past catalogue and pushed into exciting new space.

With I See You there is a key caveat–to really dig into the songs, you need to be willing to accept the pop simplicity that the band has tried their hand at this go-round. Before, it sounded as though the band made their own sound, which shaped and happened to appeal to pop listeners, but here they’ve put their own spin on pop music itself. On this album, the tight and intricate guitar-work that first drew in early fans has been supplemented with sampling, and more synth breakdowns. However, for The xx, this feels like a natural and logical progression.

The band launches straight in with dance-ready opener “Dangerous” with sampled horn sounds. You’re rooted to the track by the prevalent bass line, pulled closer by the ever-enticing male/female tradeoff in vocals that this group has always excelled at. These vocals are punchier than you’ve heard them before; more commanding and compelling. This grip that The xx puts on you holds strong through the first four songs. Single, “Say Something Loving,” isone of the superstars of the album, again the vocals are demanding and so strong, begging you to scream along with them. The samples are integrated with the vocals seamlessly, hitting you ears with ease and not distraction.

 

Later on you get tunes like “Replica,” and “I Dare You,” which rely on the bands’ knack for sleek guitar riffs. “Replica” is a simmering dark track with shimmering interludes of lightness. This song may not hit you hard with immediacy on your first spin of the record, but provides a less obvious treat for the next listen with its detailed lyrics. On the contrary, there’s “I Dare You,” which stomps into the penultimate and will immediately jump into your favorite track place. The percussion on this song is a steady beat of what sounds like sampled handclaps, which puts a dance-rythym immediately into play. Those sleek guitars mirror the vocal melody, playing into the pop aesthetic, an the result is pure bliss.

 

Overall, I See You is a bright and bold move for The xx, striking an easy-listenable balance between intricate and simple–offering hooks for your first listen and subtleties that will hold your attention and have you coming back for more. Like the ‘new love’ high that a lot of the lyrics touch upon, you want to stay with I See You for the long haul; “don’t let it slip away.”

Survive – RR7349

surviveRR7349 (Relapse Records) sounds like some sort of galaxy or nebulae that has yet to be named by human scientists. While this isnt the case (Its the catalogue number) I think the general line of thought fits. The sounds, timbres and moods contained in this record are upfront, but theres subtleties at work that make it difficult to say exactly what they are. Read more

Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

sunlit-youth

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

angel-olsen-my-woman

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.

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