American Culture – Pure American Gum

coverAmericanCulture-300x300Rating: ★★★★☆

Man, noise rock with catchy pop hooks seems to be everywhere these days, and I am far from complaining. American Culture are a Denver group making bubblegum pop with a noisey twist, and they do this quite well. Pure American Gum is a short yet tantalizing album filled with songs that will win your heart over with their fuzzy goodness.

Really, the buzzy noise rock that American Culture have made for you on this album is delightfully infectious. They bring the punk elements of imperfect vocals as well as the gravelly guitars, but most of the songs have a catchy chorus that is bound to delight and entertain you and get stuck in your head for hours on end, which you don’t mind at all. Take second up track and single “Actual Alien,” as the first case of this infectious sound. All of the components of this song come at you all at once, but after a moment of disorientation, you’re able to really appreciate how they all come together. There are the rocking drum beats that carry the whole thing mixed with the buzzsaw guitars and feedback to make for a straight jam. Just when you think that this song can’t get any better, the vocals kick in and make it to the chorus, where the distorted voice screams out “I just wanna be a part of your world” and you’re completely hooked. I could talk about this song for days.

If you listen to the lyrics on Pure American Gum, you’ll notice there’s quite a bit of a range of subject matter and solemnity. There are tracks like “I Like American Culture,” which does a lot of listing of band names and describes people listening to things/liking american things. On the other hand, there are numbers that delve a bit deeper like “Social Anxiety,” which remind you that this album goes beyond vapid subject matter. The variety works great for the band as well as the genre of noise rock; both the music and the lyrics go back and forth between playful and serious, noisy and catchy. “I Wanna Be Your Animal,” is a song that shows both sides of this band, bringing some quaint female vocals in the beginning and then slowly builds to its grand finish expressing simple desire with streaming synths and rambunctious drums.

This album is brief, yet the perfect allotment of time for this blend of songs; they don’t overburden you with their gritty punk music, but rather lay down their jams and then step back so you can fully take in what they’ve made on Pure American Gum. The length of this record enhances the music on here, but in a subtle way that you don’t even think about. You just simply go back to the beginning and start it again, volume up full blast.

 

Evans The Death – Expect Delays

etdRating: ★★★★½

90’s nostalgia is fairly easy to come by these days and one of the facets in which this longing for the past has manifested itself is in a renaissance of the alt-rock of this decade. Evans The Death, comprised of young Londoners barely out of their teens, combine this nostalgia with their own twist of the present to push them past mere imitation and into something creatively different.

Immediately when you embark on Expect Delays, it’s impossible to miss the influence of 90’s alt rock that this band’s sound is so deeply steeped in, especially that of The Cranberries. The juxtaposition of Katherine Whitaker’s impossibly high vocals with the grunge guitar produces the same transfixing quality of the past, but Evans The Death do it so well that you don’t really mind. Songs like “idiot Button,” fourth up on the album, is the closest you’ll get: the soaring vocals glide atop the grounded stop and go percussion and distorted guitars to create a dichotomy of light and dark sound that is as eerily beautiful as it is haunting. Same with ever sunny “Just 60,000 More Days Till I Die,” but here the acoustic guitar part fills in where the electric guitar fades out, and Whitaker’s lyrics are chilling: “Take me to a hospital, send me back to school, something’s wrong in my world.”

But the album never feels like a cheap imitation, or merely a copycat, as the band adds in several other genres to their mix to avoid this very phenomenon. You get the post-punk and jangly rock influence as well, which this band incorporate seamlessly as well. Early on they give you “Sledgehammer,” on which Whitaker’s vocals are another elements to the noisey rock they’ve got going, using their force with added echoes to make for a dark version of jangly guitar rock. “Bad Year,” still on the first half of the album also is one of the most pop-like tracks from this band, complete with catchy choral hook and infectious guitar riffs scattered throughout. Later on the band gets heavier and heavier, with deep cut “Don’t Laugh at My Angry Face,” which is the most metal track on the album while still maintaining the grace that inherently surrounds this band.

Expect Delays is an incredibly emotive album, as Evans The Death makes music around their survival through the humdrum of modern life. They’ve managed to lift the same deep resonance of past genres and transpose this to the present and the result is quite wonderful, even if it is dark and dreary. Isn’t that the world we’re living in?

 

DTCV – Uptime!

dtcvRating: ★★★☆☆

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the French American post-punk duo, DTCV (pronounced Detective) perhaps some of which is owed to the pseudonyms of the band members Vivarock and Fiat Lux. While they had their humble beginnings a mere three years ago in L.A., they’ve already managed to put out two full-length, and one collection of singles under three different labels. Uptime! is an adventure in gritty guitars, catchy pop hooks and shimmering percussion that should have you ready to smash along with these two.

The album opens strongly with the first four tracks all bringing the infectious rock. “Astros” gives you a brief stirring introduction to the band, and the female vocals chime in with haunting “ahhs,” before the guitar snarls in, and I’m reminded of the sleek music of the likes of Frankie Rose. They follow this with the delightful “X-Water,” that moves from sleek to outright rock, the vocals becoming the most striking element as it flourishes and shrieks with grace. This trend continues early on in the album, hitting you with track after track of post punk rock.

Once you reach roughly the middle of the album with “Miley Cyrus Wins The Race,” you can begin to see the direction DTCV are headed. This track listens like a power ballad of the post-punk persuasion; the sultry yet forceful vocals dominate the track, but not without contention from the distorted guitar parts and that throbbing bass that opens the song. What I like about this track is the subtle way that it builds to the very end and the way in which all the components of the song come together with ease and refinement. It’s a less spunky track than what we’ve heard thus far, but by no means less powerful. When you get to the end of the track, which culminates with those female vocals belting “burn it to the ground,” it’s hard not to take notice of the music the band has crafted.

Here, however, marks the point of the record in which the band moves towards a slower approach to the songs, and apart from a few of the tracks that introduce a novel sound for the band, (See “Invitation to a Beheading,” and “California Girl”) they start to lose me a little bit. It’s not that the songs aren’t enticing in their way, it’s that the pacing of the album doesn’t do them any favors: the first half of the album is stacked with the hits and the second half is dominated with slower moments.

While there are some solid numbers on Uptime!, the album falls a bit flat in its low moments, and could have benefitted from a trimming down of a few tracks; forty minutes drags on a little towards the end and the sound begins dull out from the spunky music that the band began with. Perhaps this album is a grower and simply requires more time for the songs to really set in, so I encourage you to find that out for yourself.

 

Of Montreal – Aureate Gloom

ofmontrealRating: ★★★½☆

If you still somehow don’t know who Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal are, after the ever-impressive and prolific thirteen studio albums that he’s put out, I’m at a loss as to what to really say to you. Of Montreal is a household name at this point, and rightly so; this project has been around for almost twenty years now making slightly off kilter psychedelic indie rock for the ages. Aureate Gloom, the thirteenth in the vast collection from this group, finds the band striking a resonant chord once again, bringing together glam/trippy rock and funky lyrics to make for an odd yet enjoyable trip into whatever world Of Montreal are living in.

It’s remarkable after all these albums that this band is still able to put out the hits; Aureate Gloom has a fair number of tracks that feel simultaneously familiar and novel. Opening up the album is “Bassem Sabry,” which launches you right into the groovy realm of the band, as springy disco guitar puts the spunk in this song, and then Barnes’ voice steps in to spiral around with immaculate diction, all of which inspire the same twisted distortion of our own perception of the music. This opening number is a great start, and when Barnes says “I believe in witches/I believe in you,” he brings in yet another element of fantasy to the mix, but often the fantasy isn’t whimsical, but grounded in scathing words sometimes chastising a group or part of life. Later, on “Virgilian Lots,” the music mirrors this grounding with the eerie synths and the gritty guitars.

There’s also the ever-so-obvious Bowie influence, as well as Barnes’ play within this trope of alien spaceman rocker, which comes into play on tracks like “Aluminum Crowd,” where Barnes’ vocals ooze Bowie. But instead of this becoming just mere imitation, Barnes’ lyrics, as well as the structure of this song, give it enough of the band’s own signature to set it apart. It sort of feels like a futuristic imagining of the past, tying together the aspects of glam rock with modern sensibilities and elements that keep it fresh.

Aureate Gloom is a fun record simply in that it has enough funkyness to make you shimmy along with Barnes and company as well as some twisted and alternate reality-esque lyrics to escape into. Of Montreal have still got it, and they want to share with you so we can all trip down this psychedelic distorted, yet comforting road.

 

Buxton – Half A Native

unnamedRating: ★★★☆☆

Buxton are a group from Houston who make folk inspired alternative indie rock with Americana elements interspersed throughout. Half A Native combines the various genres that the group draws from (i.e Americana, honky-tonk, alt-country, psychedelia) with a careful presence of songwriting and craftsmanship that makes for easy listening.

What works well for Buxton on this album is the aforementioned mix of genre that allows these gentlemen to flourish in several different directions while staying under the umbrella of indie rock. Therefore, it’s only fitting that each of the standout tracks all border on different directions. Take immediately emotive and lush title track “Half A Native” for an example of the folksy direction this band takes. This song is combines delicate acoustic guitar riffs with twangy slide guitar and Sergio Trevino’s bluesy vocals to make for a hauntingly beautiful listening experience; this song is powerful in its subtlety. Personally, this is where Buxton’s music comes across the strongest, Trevino’s lyrics are able to shine through clearly and with distinction.

While gentle folk is one direction that lets the band shine, they also show their strength in other genres. Early song “Good As Gone” shows them leaning towards more straightforward rock and roll, with a bit of campy piano that bounces through the track. Trevino’s vocals are central in the mix, but the snarling electric guitar kicks up now and again, taking the reigns and steering us to rock. Near the end of the album they go full honky-tonk alt-country with “Icebreaker,” which is full of twang and Trevino spinning fast lyrics in a southern drawl, throwing around quaint phrases like “whistlin’ Dixie,” accompanied by full on twang-filled guitars and a bluesy bass line. That campy piano also rejoins the band, and this song kind of makes you just want to throw on some cowboy boots and a hat and dance along with the band as they get down.

The easy listening makes this a quaint and enjoyable album, but this same quality leaves me a little underwhelmed along the way. Some songs soar above and create a notable and lasting impression for this band, but others get a little lost in the mix. Half A Native shows promise for this group of gentlemen, and I will be looking out for what the future holds for them.

 

Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun

unnamedRating: ★★★½☆

Trying to nail down the sound of San Francisco’s Moon Duo is a bit more difficult than slapping on the label of hazey rock, as these two (three, counting live drummer John Jeffrey) turn that genre inside out. The drone/noise guitar becomes the substance itself and everything else works like kindling to fuel this grungey fire. Shadow of the Sun sees this band creating music that primarily dwells under this haze, occasionally surfacing for lighter and poppier tunes.

They begin with the darkness of “Wilding,” which is pretty much a straightforward gritty guitars blazing rock song. This song is a rambunctious and raw start to the album, as the band starts you out with the shadowy rock before they tone it down from this grit to the more refined “Night Beat.” The band takes the haze of noise with their guitar, reverb coated vocals, and adds a quirky and somewhat spooky synth part to it. Here is the trend that takes hold over the music here; it feels eerie and haunting but with enough dance hooks and jangly percussion to drive it to genre of synth pop. The same can be said with “Zero,” but this song blends the two genres seamlessly into one slow simmering tune.

Later “Slow Down Low, makes for one of the brighter, lighter tunes on the album. The use of airy synths, handclaps and gang vocals make this song a surefire hit, still incorporating those drone-guitars, but they’re balanced out with the clean clarity of the synthesizer. This is one of the best songs, and the guitars take over at its end to provide that revival of darkness before you move on to “Ice.” Nearing the end of the nine songs that Moon Duo has crafted, “Ice,” feels more like a continuation of the previous song, a groovy outro of sorts to tone down the sound before the last song.

                  Shadow of the Sun is a surprisingly fun album; for all the dark and swirling pieces of the music, there are a decent amount of tunes that have a dance-able quality to them. The brooding nature of Moon Duo’s hazey guitar rock sound is always there, but within that space they’ve made songs that work to get you moving a bit beyond just nodding your head. That being said, this album’s novelty wears off a little bit after you’ve put the record down. I’ll be back to revisit my favorite tracks for sure, but on the whole it doesn’t push from good to great.

 

Lady Lamb The Beekeeper – After

LadyLamb_AfterCoverRating: ★★★★½

When Aly Spaltro recently signed with Mom + Pop Music and gave us a taste of what she had in store for us on After, I had a sense that this album would be something special. In an age in which the concept of a cohesive album feels sometimes forgotten, a single becomes what we look to in order to gauge the worth of an artists’ unreleased work. “Billions of Eyes,” in all its garage spunk and jangly guitars, is misleading in that its warmth and exciting sound may convince listeners that this is as good as it gets for Lady Lamb The Beekeeper, but as a true single should be, it is merely a hearty slice of After.

This album starts incredibly strong, with its first four tracks each battling to be your favorite tune. “Vena Cava” opens, immediately showcasing Spaltro’s bluesy and powerful vocals that Then you’re hit smack in the face with pop goodness from the aforementioned single “Billions of Eyes,” which is both a catchy and emphatically well written track about finding positivity amidst stress. “Violet Clementine,” comes next, mixing it up with its theatrically folksy roots, and even bringing in some killer horns near its end, wowing you with all this song has to offer. “Heretic,” the fourth track on this album, is four minutes and fifteen seconds of sunshine, alternating between the glossy chorus that begs you to sing along with Spaltro as she hits the notes effortlessly and the more grounded verses in which the rambunctious guitars take over.

But Lady Lamb doesn’t stop after this ridiculously infectious line up of hits. No, the rest of the album keeps on this pace, throwing you more and more tunes to fall in love with; there isn’t even a mildly mediocre song on here. After transitions through several genres, from outright garage/jangly pop, to more simmering percussive based jams like “Spat Out Spit.” I don’t mean to downplay pop music, but there’s a craftsmanship here that you wouldn’t expect from such euphonic pop music. Each instrument and note feels right in the mix—it’s pretty and easy to listen to, but neither vapid nor trite. The lyrics and the seemingly endless combinations of instrumentation and Spaltro’s enrapturing vocals prevent you from ever straying from the music.

After is everything at once: one moment it’s soft and delicate, the next it’s a gale force wind of sputtering rock, but above all, it’s all a delight to listen to. With every trip through its collection of tracks that work together quite well, I find myself latching on to more of the tracks than the previous listen. I expect this album to find itself on top of year-end lists, as Lady Lamb The Beekeeper has knocked it out of the park with this one, giving you pop hooks as well as depth of sound. This is one of those records you will tell all your friends about.

 

Colleen Green – I Want To Grow Up

colleenRating: ★★★½☆

As a female young adult, I feel as though the music of Colleen Green should really appeal to me, but her last album, Sock It To Me, didn’t sink in too deep, and left me feeling a bit weary as to the nature of her girl garage rock. I Want To Grow Up is another trip down the road of maturation and growing up, as the title would suggest, but this time around Green’s tunes themselves have matured a bit and we’re able to rock along with her navigation of youth and adulthood with the greater coherence of pop hooks.

“I’m sick of being immature, I want to be responsible” is one of the first lines on this album, giving you a snapshot of the general theme this album: wanting to transcend ones current state and be something else, but not quite achieving that goal instantly and the frustrations that arise out of this dilemma. This theme makes for an interesting subject matter for Green to craft some great garage rock gems to delight. Look no further than “Grind My Teeth,” or “TV” to give you fuzzy guitars and pop hooks. “Grind My Teeth,” is one of the more complex tracks you’ll hear from this artist, and it’s definitely one of my personal highlights off the album. This song goes several different directions, first beginning with a rapid pace, leaning more towards the stripped simplicity of punk song, then transitions to a slower grunge mode, when the buzz saw guitar takes center stage and allows for some sweet synth to solo for a bit. Before you know it the track is back to its hyper fast original state,

The lyrics, while they aren’t the deepest, acknowledge their own shallow-ness and play with this idea, especially on songs like “Things That Are Bad For Me (Part I).” Here, Green’s rhymes are simple and easy, sometimes elongating a word or syllable so that the rhyme will work out; there’s no apology or inhibition, Green just goes with it, and her honest naïveté goes a long way.

I Want To Grow Up feels light years away from Green’s last record and the tunes on here reach further than just noisy girl rock. While Green sticks to her guns lyrically, the music now provides an appropriate catchy- grunge pop setting for them to play in. Something has clicked for Colleen Green on this album, and perhaps something in her life has clicked as well, now that she’s realized she can do whatever she wants. Right on.

 

 

Keath Mead – Sunday Dinner

adventureWeird_LP_11183_newRating: ★★★½☆

Keath Mead is South Carolina boy and self taught musician, and Sunday Dinner is his debut album. Recorded in California at the home of one Chaz Bundick, of Toro Y Moi, the album comes off as a mix between these two distinguished styles: southern ease mixed with California lightness. The result is delightful, crammed full with bouncing pop tunes that make for easy listening.

Like the best kind of end to a relaxing weekend, Sunday Dinner kicks off without a hitch with “Waiting.” Some sugary synths come winding in, scattering around lightly while the lower synths ground the tune all before Keath’s high-pitched, yet still soulful, vocals chime in. This generates a pop song gently evolving and changing modes from the east to west coasts: from slow heated and sleepy to the breezier and permanently chill California style. It’s around two minutes into the song before it reaches its full potential and the drums and some ooh-la-la’s bring it on home. “Grow Up,” the following track, feels kind of like a sunnier Mac Demarco track; the guitar licks are clean and crisp but also distorted and serve as the backbone for the bopping nature of the song. Mead’s vocals and lyrics work together, telling you to “Grow up and act your age,” talking about the self-centered nature of youth, but the overall mood of this song is far from serious. Instead, it feels filled with whimsy and effortlessness, which is the trend of this album; light and airy pop songs with serious, often heavily grounded lyrics to give you that kind of delightful dichotomy.

But the tracks on here aren’t so bouncy that they’re overwhelming. As I said before, the lyrics tend of provide a sense of balance and gravity to the Sunday Dinner that Keath Mead has invited us to. The style itself also gains gravity as it progresses, like you see on later tracks “Quiet Room,” that provides an almost gothic tone with its alien synth parts and heavily distorted vocals. Although sunshine and bounce aren’t terribly far away, as moments like these provide just the right amount of weight before we return to brighter numbers like “Polite Refusal.” Though it begins with those same synth sounds, we get to the choral hook and the soaring vocals and acoustic guitar take over the track and there’s no shortage of sunshine.

Once you get to the end of the album, it’s only a matter of figuring out which tracks were your favorites and which were just really good. Sunday Dinner is brimming with pop gems and enough variation in style to keep your attention all the way through to its termination. This debut from Keath Mead has certainly put him on my map, and if you’re into sunny pop with melancholic undertones, then it should certainly put him on your map too.

 

The Black Ryder – The Door Behind The Door

The-Black-Ryder-The-Door-Behind-The-DoorRating: ★★★★½

The Black Ryder consists of Aimee Nash and Scott Von Ryper, who hail from Australia, but have recently relocated to L.A. Back in 2009 they released their first album, Buy The Ticket, which earned them some recognition as they premiered their self-proclaimed “rhinestone drone dark rock” music. The Door Behind The Door is a dramatic and gorgeous exploration of this genre, complete with standout tracks as well as an intensifying growth over the course of its duration.

If you were to listen to the first and last track of this record, you would be mystified as how one could lead to the other. Opener “Babylon” is a swirling and twisted slow core jam, complete with heavily distorted guitars that rip through the mix for a brief introduction. Then the band moves into their sweet spot: a sometimes-hazy wall of dark sound comprised of detailed and alarmingly subtle nuances that move you. Take one of my favorite numbers, “Let Me Be Your Light” for example. This number slinks in with its whirring sound and slowly takes off, the transparent vocals of Aimee Nash giving the whole number a juxtaposition between the lightness of her voice and the heaviness of the instrumentation. Infectious, deeply moving, well crafted, this song, as well as the rest of the numbers, hit you in a place you didn’t even know existed.

By the end of the album, there’s an overall shift from the heavy rock that The Black Ryder rolls in with to a beautiful and elegant refined orchestral sound; the very opposite of the historical progression of these genres. However, this transition feels nothing but natural and right for the band, as even when they dwell on the noisier side of things, there are signs of this elegance that creeps into the mix even in the beginning of the album. Like a well crafted novel or movie, upon second or third listen all the way through, you notice these subtle moments of foreshadowing embedded in the mix on moments like “Let Me Be Your Light.” Once you revisit the album, these moments become ever more apparent, calling your attention to the precision and intricacy that this band have done so well. When you reach the stirring last number, “La Dernier Sommeil (The Final Sleep),” you are ready for the tune, but still overwhelmed by its instrumental grace and fluidity.

The Door Behind The Door is a sprawling, constantly changing and progressing work from this duo that resembles a walk down a winding path, one which continuously gives you a breathtaking view with each curve you round. At 54 minutes in length, it begs you to simply sit down and do nothing but listen, letting the music wash over you in waves, though if you’re not careful it’ll sweep you away in the best possible way.

 

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