The Depreciation Guild – Spirit Youth

Rating: ★★★ · ·

While many of the indie rock followers will surely be all about The Depreciation Guild due to the main gig of its two core members, that being The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, that’s about the only similarity.  Sure, the mood of the music, and a bit of the texturing due share a close proximity to their other band, Spirit Youth steps out of the shadows and into its own space.

Electronic beats open the album on “My Chariot,” which is just an indicator that Kurt and Christoph (PoBPA touring guitarist) have a map all their own to follow.  Musically, it has a lot more of a bedroom aesthetic to the vocal quality than one would come to expect.  It’s really reminiscent of the same sort of vocals you heard on many of the more pop friendly albums of the early 90s.  It’s the same ground they’ll live in on “Crucify You,” and the dynamic doesn’t do much to distance itself.

But, in a sense, they mix it up on “Blue Lily” by opening up with a more prominent guitar piece.  Then almost immediately they bring in the warmth by adding the vocal texture.  Here you might see that often the vocals are a tool, never really stepping out from the instrumentation.  But, the guitar definitely serves its purpose in the background of the song, and that might remind some of Republic-era New Order, though a heavier atmosphere hangs over these songs.  This is the sort of place that it seems The Depreciation Guild hangs their hats.

Almost every song from here on out fuses a little bit of careful programming with guitars that ring out through the far off horizon of the song.  At times, such as in  “Trace,” those little parts really hang there, creating a dense electro-guitar collage of atmospherics, but without the vocals to brighten the moment, these songs really just seem to hang in air for the most part, almost like a pop-oriented fog. Don’t get me wrong, however, there are a few moments when the beats really do the song justice, like in “A Key Turns.”  A calm mood established itself early, and every noise on the song, including the vocals, is accented by the beats (the most creative on the album thus far).  It makes the perfect song for sitting outside as a storm drives itself into your town.

Oddly, there are a few heavy moments, or at least heavy in regards to the general sound of Spirit Youth.  The albums title track and “Through the Snow” have the benefit of harder hitting guitar pieces.  While the band manages to keep that quiet sensibility here, the chords of the guitar bring in a heavier punch, changing the overall quality of the tunes, and in fact, making them rising above the rest.  It would have been nice to see those numbers placed randomly earlier on in the album, rather than slotted in near the end.

All in all, Spirit Youth is an enjoyable listen, albeit one that does tax the listener a bit.  You’re caught in a world, unsure of whether or not you want to try and unravel the key to the lyrics (which are quite good) or just immerse yourself in the depth of sound that The Depreciation Guild have presented you with here. It’s not an easy choice, and that’s probably the biggest fault with the album: you have to make a choice on which instrument is the most important to follow, music or vocals.  Still, stepping out of from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is never a bad thing entirely, especially when you can craft generally heartfelt songs that will keep you glowing inside.


Download: Depreciation Guild – Crucify You [MP3]

Jaguar Love – Hologram Jams

Rating: ½ · · · ·

When the Jaguar Love project first came to fruition, it was initially 2 parts Blood Brothers and 1 part Pretty Girls Make Graves.  They released an incredible single with “Highways of Gold.”  That was then.  Now the band is 2 parts Blood Brothers and no parts PGMG; will this affect the sound of Hologram Jams?  The answer is yes, and you’ll be surprised how much.

Take Me to the Sea, the group’s first album was fueled with the energy you would expect from Blood Brothers, but this new band doesn’t even really resemble anything of that, other than that you can always recognize Johnny Whitney’s vocals.  That’s about the only thing remaining that you will find on Hologram Jams.

Unfortunately, the missing percussionist Jay Clark really leaves a huge gaping whole in the music.  Instead of turning to another drummer, the remaining duo went straight to a drum machine.  The Nylon Tour in 09′ featured the group as such, but many hoped that this was just a temporary solution.  Without Clark, the beats seem really uninspired, and the guitars of Cody Votalato don’t really add an extra dimension.  If you take “Cherry Soda,” it just sounds like programmed beats with auto-tune. 

After all the promise of the early recordings of this band, Hologram Jams is an enormous let down.  Lyrically, it just seems extremely cheesy. Here’s a sample from “Up All Night” : “We stayed up all night, and saw the sun come up.”  This is disheartening, as the lyrics just come across as if they were written by a teenager in the midst of his first experience with partying. 

While your nostalgic tendencies want to recall the glory dates of Blood Brothers, this album seems to damage everything that they established.  People remarked that this was a New Order meets Black Flag, but instead it comes across like a hardcore Kesha album, only cheesier. 

Perhaps the criticism is extremely unfair, and I’m being overly harsh.  I thought about that sincerely, especially after I praised this band all during the summer of 08, but I feel like I owe every person who read that stuff an apology.  This is possibly one of the least enjoyable listening experiences of my life.  I can back this up with four simple comments: 1) These sound like the beats already programmed into any keyboard you buy at Wal-Mart 2) The guitar doesn’t even seem to serve a purpose on this record 3) Lyrics are pre-pubescent 4) I just deleted this from my iTunes.

Sorry guys, but while I love early Jaguar Love moments, Hologram Jams is the least listenable thing I’ve come across in a lifetime.

Shout Out Louds – Work


Rating: ★★★★ ·

It seems like our obsession with Sweden has faded since a few years back, but luckily for us, there is still a lot of great music coming from the Scandinavian country.  It’s the home of Shout Out Louds, a quintet who has slowly built a following in the States by releasing several albums chocked full of pop hooks and those crafty Swedish melodies.  Work is another solid display of a band who knows their strengths, who can pull them off with such precision that it’s hard to find a thing wrong.

We’ll start our journey with “1999,” a tune that spends its first thirty seconds tinkering away on the piano before Adam Olenius’ vocals kick in to really get the song going.  Just for fun, they toss in a couple of “oohs” to grab you with a little hook.  But, where some bands might push the limit during the chorus, Olenius has the band pull back, leaving a perfect pop gem in the wake.

You can continue to push through this record, and those of you who are familiar with Shout Out Louds will notice that the work of Phil Ek (producer) has really put the spotlight on the group’s assets.  Sure, they have those New Order guitar chords cutting in and out of the entire album, but you’ll definitely take note of the percussion.  One of the things that made bands of this ilk so fashionable was the drummer, and Eric Edman definitely solidifies everything in the music.  He’s steady, and his delicate touch in songs like “Candle Burned Out” display his dynamics behind the kit.

Percussive elements are not the only noticeable difference with Work; Shout Out Louds have gradually grown a little bit softer.  On Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, they seemed a lively bunch, eager to have you bounce around the club to their tunes, but that’s all changed.  It appears now that they just want you to nod your head and tap your toes, which has admirable traits in itself.  “Too Late, Too Slow” has a jangle to the guitars, but instead of pushing forward as the group has done in the past, they let vocal interplay between Olenius and Bebban Stenborg carry out the song.  While it may not jump up and drag you to the dance floor, it might convince you to grab your lover and dance once around in the living room together.  “Walls” does much the same thing.  It chugs along pleasantly with steady guitar, and while you might find it catchy, it’s a restrained sense of joy.  And, the chorus is quite emphatic, showing they’ve never strayed too far from where they began years ago.  These are how perfect pop moments are made.

Just make sure that you save your dancing shoes because the group hasn’t given up entirely on their knack for throwing in a solid groove.  You might have to wait until the end of the record, but “Show Me Something New” is not only one of the best tracks in this collection, it’s the one most likely to get you moving frivolously to and fro.  Using Stenborg to balance out Olenius’ voice perfects the chorus, and it seems the group can do little else to win you over.

Shout Out Louds seem to have outlived the fad of the Swedish invasion, and they’ve done so by not sacrificing their original formula.  Instead, they’ve chosen to perfect each inch of recorded material; they’ve pushed Adam’s vocals to new levels, and they’ve pushed themselves to an entirely new levels.  Work shows a band who have finally found the place where they’re the most comfortable writing great pop songs, and we’ll all be better off for it.


Download: Shout Out Louds – Walls [MP3]

Hot Chip – One Life Stand


Rating: ★★★★ ·

By now, surely everyone has his or her expectations of what a Hot Chip record should sound like.  You’ve got the club bangers, and you’ve got the geek-tronica that makes you questions just why you’re moving to and fro.  Their fourth album, One Life Stand, sees the band doing much of the same, yet they finally honed their craft enough to create an album with very few imperfections.

One of the record’s longest songs, “Thieves in the Night” kick off the whole affair.  While the beats remain catchy, they aren’t as in your face as you’ve found on previous efforts, which actually propels the song along without letting the listener grow tired of redundant house beats.  You can follow that up with another similar tune, “Hand Me Down Your Love,” where the electronic elements actually aren’t forcing you to dance at all, yet you can tap your feet along just as well.  It’s reminiscent of Erasure (or Republic era New Order), a band who wrote love songs that could just as easily be enjoyed lyrically as you could dance to them.  This is sort of the story of One Life Stand; it’s no longer about creating great dance tunes, but just great tunes period, which Hot Chip does for the most part.

Middling point kind of dies down the minor tempo, slowing it down just a bit further.  The trifecta of “Brothers,” “Slush” and “Alley Cat” all take a step back from focused electronica in favor of fleshing out complete songs, albeit ones that include electronic components.  “Alley Cat” is possibly the best of the three tracks, due mostly to the fact that the band has composed such songs without going too far out with their experimentation.  In the past, the usage of too many elements often busied certain tracks, rendering them irritating upon repeated listens; this is no longer the case.  The away the created “Alley Cats” leaves the perfect amount of room where it should be, whilst still including certain touches for the die-hard Hot Chip fan.

Closing out the album, Hot Chip go back to where you want them, hitting you with the edgier “Take It In.”  It’s a dark number, but then it opens up in the middle, bringing you back to the light.  It sort of encapsulates the whole of One Life Stand.  You’ve got some electronic fused tunes kicking up the pace in the beginning, only to sort of relax and leave room for sitting back in the middle of the record.  You can’t argue with such an ending, and you don’t need to do it, as the group has clearly closed the record in the most appropriate way.

Throughout the years, we’ve watched Hot Chip tinker with their own recipe of electro-pop.  Finally, they’ve made enough breakthroughs, as well as missteps, to have landed upon what seems to be their final recipe.  It’s hard to imagine that they’ll create much better than One Life Stand; of course, we can always hope they take the lessons learned and push even further into their development of great electronic music.


Download: Hot Chip – Take It In [MP3]

Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Higher Than the Stars EP


Rating: ★★★★ ·

After speaking with Kip, we realized that this EP was something to really look forward to, as this entire EP includes new songs from 2009 darlings The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.     You can’t not want more tunes from these guys can you?  So here we have Higher Than the Stars, song by song.

This EP opens with the title track, “Higher Than the Stars.”  It opens with a noticeable keyboard programmed atop the steady drumming and hazy guitar.  Kip’s vocals are extremely soft here, almost kept to a whisper.  You’ll find that some of the guitar tones are really bright, which is what makes the group a pop band afterall!

Following the opener is “103.”  This is the track that most closely resembles the group’s stylings on their debut LP.  Once again, you can heat the march of the drums, and instead of the hazy guitars, this time around you get more of that earth-shattering atmospheric guitar sound, with a nice little solo blaring through it all near the end of the tune.

Personally, “Falling Over” is where it’s at on this EP.  It’s got a lot of that classic 80s jangle-pop mentality, but with the influence of someone like the Happy Mondays, bringing in a little bit of dance into your clasic guitar song.  The chorus is perfectly fitting to the concept of the song, placing it squarely in the past–for some reason I hear someone like New Order or the Pet Shop Boys rocking this chorus. 

Our fourth track is somewhat of a new nostalgic approach.  It’s less jangle-pop than previous records, and it demonstrates that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are more than just one trick ponies.  The lack of clarity on the guitar here recalls the likes of The Stone Roses or Teenage Fanclub. It’s an American Britpop song.

For the final track, you get a little remix of “Higher Than the Stars,” done by St. Etienne and Lord Spank.  It doesn’t add too much to the original track, other than a steady dance beat, and a little bit more time.  It’s not an awful track by any mean, just dismissable in comparison to the previous four tracks.

Overall, the wonderful thing about this release is that it gives way to a new horizon for the group.  They haven’t foudn themselves stuck in one place, destined to release the same thing over and over again.  It makes it rather enjoyable for us all.


Download: Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Higher Than the Stars [MP3]

FT5: First CD

0522top5cover8-Tracks. Cassette Tapes. And now, another one bites the dust. Today’s Top 5 is dedicated to the memory of the compact disc. Honestly, when was the last time you bought an actual CD? Even if you have made a recent CD purchase, chances are you took it straight to your computer to put it on your iPod. So in honor of the CD’s demise, we’re taking another trip down memory lane. Most of us here at The ATH were in our early teens when CD players became the craze. So the day we brought home that first CD was an epic experience. So without further ado, here’s a list of first CD’s from 5 ATH staff members. Be sure and stroll down memory lane with us when you’re done.
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FT5: Disappointing Albums Of 2008

In 2008 we saw all kinds of releases across the board. Noise-pop seemed to be a pretty big deal, as did lo-fi production. But when preparing for our year-end lists, we came across the conundrum of deciding the biggest disappointments in 2008. Today’s Friday Top 5 is full of albums that our staff really looked forward to listening to when they were released, but instead fled in fear as to what our ears had just heard. List is after the jump

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