Kevin Morby – Still Life

kevin-morby-stilllifeRating: ★★★★☆

You may know Kevin Morby better through his other projects such as The Babies, or has bass work in Woods. However, Still Life is his second release for this solo development, a follow up to Harlem River, which came out last year. If you’re still only familiar with this man’s other achievements, it’s time to bust out your headphones or your speakers and have a listen to Still Life, which shows the pure talent that you already knew Morby possessed, but channeled in a raw and real form; the sincerity of this record will have you coming back to it over and over again.

The album comes to you humbly and asks you to “take [it] as you feel—” a line that comes on “Amen,” which you won’t come to until later, but this is an instance of the songwriting aptly describing the listening experience. From the moment you press play on opening “The Jester, The Tramp & The Acrobat,” you get this gentle undercurrent of a rhythm that carries you along while Morby, addressing you as a friend, opens up. The song begins to flesh itself out, transitioning from soft drums and acoustic guitar to some licking electric guitar and a change to a faster pace. Here, we get a bit of a preview as to what this album has in store for us: we get both a subtle and simple side well as the intricately crafted indie-rock-and-roll jam side, all of which is coated in a residual gravity in the songwriting.

While it’s hard to pick a favorite aspect of this record to focus on—both the instrumentation and the lyrics work together in a fantastic combination of mood—the lyrics are constantly are working at your heart, begging for you to let them in. Take any track on this record and you can find a line or two that is stunning in its nature, even removed from context. On a song by song basis, there are numbers like “Drowning” and “All Of My Life” which grip you from start to finish, tying together lines like the threads in a tapestry, leaving you simply stunned at the end product. Here is a man pouring what seems to be the contents of his soul into his craft, laying it all out for you in a sometimes delicate, sometimes rock and roll fueled context.

To put it bluntly and with a cliché, listening to this record feels a bit like falling in love; by the time I reached the ending of Still Life, I was already itching to restart and do it all over again, following Morby through the highs of the jams and especially the lows in his lyrics. It’s all good, and it’s all waiting for you to fall into its depths.

Allo Darlin’ – We Come From The Same Place

HIRESRating: ★★★★☆

Allo Darlin‘ first hit my radar back in 2012 when they released their sophomore record, Europe, and let the world know they have some serious skills when it comes to sunny indie pop. We Come From the Same Place offers a further trek down this road of well crafted glistening pop tunes as well as a beautiful transitional record for a shift to autumn days.

The band opens with “Heartbeat–” a bouncy and ukelele filled little warming up number, which gets you excited for this album by reminding you just what made you fall in love with Allo Darlin’. The real goodness is yet to come, but don’t worry it’s coming soon. Second up is “Kings And Queens,” in which the band picks up the pace and starts to hit their stride. Following that, you get the simply swoon-worthy title track, whose choral hook, complete with backing guitar riff is enough to make anyone tap their toes and jam along with this group. When Elizabeth Morris belts earnestly, “Please believe me, I’ve never said this before,” as the guitar delicately jams along with that jangle in the background, I was jolted from passive to active listener as that sensation of excitement swept over me. Here is where this album hooked me—from here on out I was pretty much on board with anything this band wanted to throw out.

This track isn’t, of course, the only stand out number on the record, as later on you get numbers like “Bright Eyes” and “Crickets In The Rain.” The first of these two songs turns out to be one of the more rock-laden tracks on the record and begins with a little stripped down electric guitar. What makes this track so special is the duet between male and female vocals that you don’t really find anywhere else on the album. Combined with that squalling electric guitar that takes off on its own at the end of the track, this number is infectious. “Crickets In The Rain” gives that perfect for autumn combination of sunny sounding instrumentation with a melancholy twist—be it in the lyrics or Morris’ vocal quality. It’s the perfect mirror to falling leaves or rainy days mixed with the still stagnantly hot Texas sun.

My small issue with this record is that it seems to be lacking a little power punch to push it through to the end. The songwriting is brilliant, the tracks are all pretty good, but I needed one more spectacular, knock-it-out-of-the-park song towards the end of the record to push me head-over-heels in love. That being said, since the songs are slow-burners at the end of the record, perhaps I’ve just missed the needle in the haystack and that missing piece will become evident with repeated listening. You have a listen and hear for yourself.


Sea Pinks – Dreaming Tracks

SPRating: ★★★★½

Sea Pinks are a group from Belfast, whose Bandcamp page touts that they got their start by being “inspired by sea glass, bleached grass and ghost guitars.” That being said, their catalogue, including their incredible most recent full length Freak Waves, adheres to these stimuli. This time around, the band has come out and said it— it’s no coincidence that Dreaming Tracks is called just that.

“Dream Happening” is a killer way to open the album, let alone an album called Dreaming Tracks. There’s this moment of suspense before the band starts with a long drawn out note, and in this brief space that somehow seems like it lasts forever, you are dying, waiting for the band to kick off and get going. When they begin, its like a bath of warmth and light- the guitars are springy and bounce through the tune, while the vocals mirror this effect. The drums are easy, popping along in the background, giving you the perfect head bobbing little rock jam. Here is a wonderful way to begin.

There are some noticeable differences from last go round, mostly in the production of the sound. It seems like there is a clearer quality in this recording—they’ve cut the little bit of fuzz on the guitars and vocals, which makes this album lean more towards the outright jangly rock genre and less so in the camp of garage rock. However, it’s not completely gone from the fuzz, but rather Dreaming Tracks takes things to the detached garage level of jangly rock. This shift is apparent on “Waiting For You (To Go),” in which the guitars cleanly flit and flirt in and out of the percussion, vocals and more cello (who doesn’t love any kind of strings in indie rock?). There’s a certain clean tightness to the guitar work, especially in the breakdown at the end of the track and the freshness does the band good on this album to prevent a replica of their past record.

It’s also very important that the presence of the cello in a lot of the tracks gets noted—simply put that cello pulls me right back in each time I start to wander in the guitar riffs. Take beauty and end track “Invisible Lines” for example, in which the breaks for the string work gives the track an elegance that is totally unexpected for this genre. And yet, it works so well, not only with the jingle jangle, but with deep cutting lyrics as well; the last line of the song is “You’re in the prime of your life/you’re in the dreamtime between worlds.” It’s these little touches that remind you that you’re listening to damn well crafted music here.

Honestly, Sea Pinks can do no wrong by my ears—these last two albums have been spectacular collections of deeply interesting, as well as enjoyable songs. What are you doing still reading this review when you could be jamming? Go listen! GO!


Allah Las – Worship The Sun

worship-lpRating: ★★★☆☆

I say this with little to no sarcasm—there hasn’t been an influx of retro American rock these days—I mean there’s a plethora of garage and surf rock, but not much of what helped inspire this genre. So when it comes to bands like Allah Las, I’m a little soft, but granted, there’s something infectious about their sound, as if it’s a straight blast from the past; akin to that perfect vintage collectable you find tucked away in some mom and pop store. Though old fashioned in style, Worship The Sun has just enough jangle to keep up with today’s genres.

“De Vida Voz” begins as a subtle and soft introduction to the album, with plenty of gang vocals and jingle-jangle to float anyone’s boat, though the very opening part allude to a deeper, rockier side to the band and album that will be revealed later. The whole number sounds like a glazed over desert rock tune—the guitars play off each other in a campy mix, while the gang vocals blend together with the guitars in a nasal ethereal kind of vibe. It’s the perfect kind of song that you want as its still somehow stiflingly hot in the last (who am I kidding, this is Texas) September slump of the summer.

There are quite a few tracks to listen to on this album, so if you aren’t careful, you just might miss some of the good ones. In the third position, “Artifact” is a hauntingly western rock song, which creeps along for longer than most of the tracks here, and oddly enough it has the kind of build that most of the other songs don’t lead up to. You get Miles Michaud on lead vocals through a thick glaze of reverb and fuzz, while the music forms a kind of storytelling mode. Though it comes across as a story in the instrumentation, Michaud’s vocals have a different idea and you can hear the build within it as he circles round for the last time, singing, “it goes on and on and on…” You get the feeling like this song, or style of song, though done well by the group, has been around for a while.

While the overall style on Worship The Sun is really worth your time, the album feels a bit like it could have used some revision. There isn’t a track that’s bad per-se, but a little more precision in the tracks selected, or variation, would have given this record the appeal it lacks when you reach its end and the tracks have all blurred together in one American rock haze.


She Keeps Bees – Eight Houses

skbRating: ★★★★☆

Ever since 2006, She Keeps Bees, hailing from Brooklyn, have been creating under-the- radar blues-inspired rock music. They have three records already under their belt, but chances are Eight Houses is the first you’ve heard of the group, as they’ve somehow evaded popularity. Consisting of Jessica Larrabee on vocals and guitar and Andy LaPlant on drums, the duo has generated a fourth, slow burning and soul itching album in Eight Houses.

To say that Eight Houses is a light record may be one of the biggest possible understatements that you could make—their sound here simply aches with the blues at every twist and turn. “Feather Lighter” begins this trip down the soulful winding road by showing the more mellow face of this group. The start out here with a slowly haunting number—the track really only consists of Larrabee’s retro-vocals, guitar, drums, and a hint of piano. Instead, the group lets the vocals and lyrics dominate the song, which serves to warm you up a little bit before they bust out the rock next on “Breezy.” Whereas the opening number had the band reserved in their little world, the second song sees a fire lit underneath them, which you can hear clearly in the vocals and the new presence of growling electric guitar. This song introduces you into the burning element that She Keeps Bees encapsulates so perfectly; especially the last break down, or rather build up, that they end the number with. Larrabee’s voice is pushed to its max as the guitar gets gritty and intensifies.

However, while the album is quite heavy, at no point does it feel overly weighty or grueling to listen to. A large part of this seems to come from the tempering of this heaviness with the simplicity of some tracks that don’t try to overcomplicate the tunes, similar to the style of bands like Wye Oak. This is especially apparent on the last track of the album “Is What It Is,” which features Sharon Van Etten on backing vocals. The song begins with just vocals and drums, laying it out to you earnestly and letting you come to it on your own. Though this is the way the song starts, when Larrabee strikes out with the line “Do not surrender,” her voice quivering with force, you can feel the tugging of this emotionally charged music pulling you in. It’s a gorgeous and simple end to the album.

Though it was somehow possible that you had yet to encounter She Keeps Bees, I do not see this being a probable phenomenon after this album starts to makes its way around the indie-sphere. This comes with good reason; don’t be the last to get on board with Eight Houses and its epic simplicity.

Tennis – Ritual in Repeat

TennisRiR1500px-608x608Rating: ★★★½☆

A few years ago, I heard a lot of buzz around the husband and wife duo, Tennis, from Denver, but somehow I never got around to really introducing myself to the band. Needless to say, I missed not one, but two albums from the group, as Ritual in Repeat marks their third full-length studio effort of groovy indie pop dance music, and it seems like this time around their challenge is to create an album with more that just a few killer singles.

They start the album out with a slow opener in “Night Vision,” which has these tinny drums that roll along from the very beginning. Alaina Moore’s sugarcoated vocals dance around the drums and a bob-your-head-to-it bass line, while the track builds up to its catchy chorus. It’s a good little warm-up number, but it gives me the impression that the band is holding back. While the chorus is a burst of energy, the rest of the song comes across as just filling space before the band really gets going. The real song that catches your attention and begs you to get on your feet is “Never Work For Free,” which follows the first track. Instantly, from the second the first drumbeat hits you square in the face, Tennis just takes off. You get these electric guitar riffs streaming in with just the right amount of rock to balance out the jumpy drums while Moore’s vocals get playful, pushing themselves for the chorus while a backing vocal track of quick “ohs” loop over. It’s simply a great pop song that will get stuck in your head for long periods of time.

Other solid numbers come later on and are scattered around in the scheme of the album. Immediately you get to “I’m Callin’” after the first few tracks and you’re taken back to the seventies in a little bit of a disco vibe as synths bee-bop through the song. Further into the thick of it you have a more lo-fi tinged number in “Solar on the Rise.” The slightly gritty guitar on this number that cuts through the fuzzy drums and vocals makes the track stick out from the rest as you get down the last stretch of jams.

When you listen to this album all the way through, while cleaning your house, or doing your every day chores, it’s easy to let it play all the way through while dancing away—Tennis will keep you doing just that. However, when you go back to listen to each individual track, there’s a handful of songs that stand above the rest on Ritual in Repeat. It’s up to you to find them.

Love Inks – EXI

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetRating: ★★★½☆

A little less than a year ago, Love Inks gave you Generation Club, a synthesizer filled mix of tracks that took on the minimalist electro-pop genre well. Not even taking a moment to breathe, the band has lined up another album for purveyance and EXI is a stripped down approach to contrast their last work, playing with space instead of filling every empty crack with sound.

As I’ve just mentioned, this album feels like an inverted take on the sound that Love Inks doled out last go-round. The dreamy-electro pop is still there, but it’s subtler in the approach. First track, “Shoot 100 Panes Of Glass,” gives a little taste of this style, breaking in the minimalist style. Sherry Leblanc’s velvet vocals fill most of the track, but there is also a soft drum machine, bubbling bass, and traces of guitar here and there to compliment the deep vocals. The beauty is in the details here, and the minute guitar work at the end of “Regular Lovers” is a perfect instance of this, with just the faintest hint of a riff coming through at the end to top off the song.

Along with the vocals becoming even more so the central element to this band’s sound, so, intrinsically have the lyrics. The title track is a testament to this theory, with the track becoming a story, starting out with the tale of a female protagonist and then follows this character through the whole track. For the chorus, it turns personal, as the lyrics twist and turn, embodied in the Frankie Rose-esque vocal fashion. In the chorus, which comes across as a chain of word association, Leblanc chastises a former lover: “You were never there when you should have been/You could never see what was right in front.” As the song goes along, it starts to loop on itself, but then comes to an abrupt and sudden halt in which the music is replaced with what sounds like a skipping record, perhaps mirroring the end of the aforementioned relationship.

All in all, Love Inks wear this minimalist approach with effortless grace and beauty, though it becomes a little repetitive at points. However, I still find myself falling into tracks left and right, and letting the quietness of the album take me away with its soothing subtleties. Once again these locals prove that Austin is home to some great bands in every genre.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE

59573e8eRating: ★★★☆☆

There’s a lot to be said about a band’s third record; gone are the first impressions that come with a debut and the jitters that a sophomore release present. With a buffer record under their belt, Cymbals Eat Guitars, currently a four piece from New York, can go wherever they want, and LOSE feels, mostly like a manifestation of this freedom as well as growth. This third album is mature and varied in ways that Lenses Alien was lacking.

“Jackson,” begins as the open that you would expect from the group, but quickly grows into a slightly reformed version of the group. You get the same quiet, growing introduction, but just when you expect them to burst into the song with all guns a-blazin–’ and they do burst in quickly—they jump with more control. The electric guitar squalls in the background, but the percussion aligns with the subtle “oohs” that glide in smoothly. It’s as if the band has entered off the high dive with a precision, effortless trick, instead of just a cannonball. “Jackson” undoubtedly brings the rock too, it comes through with D’Agostino’s vocals that cut through the instrumentation with his occasional guttural screech as well as the back and forth between quiet and peeling out. This track doubled down with “Warning,” that has D’Agostino reeling off lyrics line after line with a quick tongue and a bitter heart, saying things like “friendship’s the biggest myth” and “the shape of true love is terrifying enough.” If these lines don’t scream unhappy endings, I’m not sure what does.

While LOSE shows a lot of growth, some of the tracks fall mediocre and fail to hold on to my interest as they go through. “XR” begins with promise and a little bit of harmonica, but then spins around itself a few times and ultimately goes no where—this isn’t to say that every track has to build to a climactic ending, but the sound is grating at the end of the 2:35 time, and feels like a step back from the first two songs. This is to be a pattern: you get a few solid songs that pique your interest and show progress, and then a little step back.

When you reach the end of LOSE, you will feel an immediate desire to return to some really great tracks, such as “Chambers.” This is the best song from the album and maybe one of the best that Cymbals Eat Guitars have put out, but there isn’t the cohesive qualities of a spectacular-knock-you-off-your-feet album here; it’s good, just not great.

The Sour Notes – Do What May

sour1Rating: ★★★½☆

Local darlings, The Sour Notes have been at it for some time now, creating a great deal of music in a rather short period of time and trying to make a name for themselves. They’ve experimented in a good number of genres since their origin in 2008 and have changed band members even more frequently. On this fifth release, Do What May, they venture into a pop psych realm and give it their own spin on this genre.

First and title track “Do What May,” opens things up with a bit of distorted electric guitar, and then the band bursts into the song, building it up with layers. They add some funky synthesizer, stark and concise percussion, a looping clean sounding guitar riff, and add to this with some “oohs.” After they build this up, all of the sudden they’ve switched to a crunchier sound, with heavier effects on the electric guitar, and then Jared Boulanger chimes in with his post-punk sounding vocals and the music has switched back to the psychedelic pop that it started with and the song is in full swing, going back and forth between these two established sounds. Some female vocals come in for the lead in the chorus, balancing out Boulanger with a great texture—this seems to be the trend for the rest of the album, and with no complaint; it’s an interesting and enticing dynamic.

There are tracks on Do What May that will instantly spark your listening ear upon first listen, but also some slow burners that require a bit more of your attention for you to sink your teeth into them. Perhaps it’s up to you to decide which of the tracks fit into which category for you, but “In The Meanwhile,” while it would most likely fit into the slow burner for most, immediately plucked my interest. In an album full of psychedelic pop jams, all of the sudden, stark in the middle you get this sweeping and delicate number with violin to start out the number. The effect on the vocals make them feel far away and soft, building to broader sweeping choruses that seem to go on forever, even though the track only lasts about three and a half minutes. On the contrary, earlier number, “With Ease, With Time,” will immediately stand out, the catchy nature of the chorus and the grooving bass giving it this infectious rhythm.

Though the album starts quite strong and dissipates slightly as it progresses, it picks back up for its close and ends on a high note. The Sour Notes have done good work on Do What May, and I invite you to pick up a copy; you won’t be disappointed.

Wand – Ganglion Reef

wandRating: ★★★½☆

Just when I think I’ve reached a point where I seem to be teeming with enough lo-fi garage rock, Wand comes around with their debut album Ganglion Reef  to let me know that you can never have enough. Cory Thomas Hanson and company from L.A have won me over with their simmering and psychedelic rock music that they’ve crafted on their impressive ten track album.

Though admittedly Ganglion Reef took me a little bit of time to wrap my head around; it didn’t immediately catch my attention, but faded into the background of my multitasking. It wasn’t until the last two tracks that I somehow caught on that this group had something special they were giving out. The second to last track, “Growing Up Boys” is a subtle song, reminiscent of Dr. Dog via the vocals. A soft combination of vocals, acoustic strumming and a brooding bass line carries the song while these lines of what sounds like high-pitched synthesizer strike through, cutting the track with the psych elements. It’s a gorgeous song, with Hanson’s vocals soaked in reverb giving it a hazy glow and you just have to let it hit you with its waves of sound.

This mellow take on the garage rock genre works well for Wand, but then again so does the straight up rock and roll. Last, but certainly not least in value track, “Generator Larping” has buzzing guitars to the max and Hanson dropping into a falsetto voice that is somehow even hazier than the proceeding track. The result is great ending to the record, and these two back-to-back tracks will surely spark your interest and send you back to the start if you hadn’t already been hooked on the way, which is easy to get when you give this record your full attention or a second spin. Tracks like “Broken Candle” have catchy choruses that will get you moving, but also full on guitar solos that follow them with garage rock goodness.

Ganglion Reef is a psychedelic trip into another world from start to finish, but takes a bit warming up to if you don’t fully fall into the hazy waters the first time around. Keep falling for and with Wand… I sure will.

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