The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion

avett__59847_zoomRating: ★★½☆☆

Magpie and the Dandelion is the eighth full length album from the Avett Brothers, a hardworking folk-rock band that has enjoyed considerable popularity since their 2009 major label debut, “I and Love and You”.  Fans of the band will discover another consistent album and a few worthy additions to the band’s live set list.  Those on the fence, however, are unlikely to be won over.

The Avett Brothers make simple, accessible music that always seems effortlessly authentic.  In keeping with their previous efforts, Magpie and the Dandelion is a fairly straightforward and minimalistic album.  Musically, the record holds no real surprises; the Avett Brothers stick to their winning formula: real instruments, sparse arrangements, calm, sincere vocal performances.  

Any band that insists on simplicity to the degree that The Avett Brothers do puts a lot of pressure on their songwriting.  On top of that, The Avett Brothers write very literal, direct lyrics and often repeat them.  I like the idea of The Avett Brothers.  I like their sound, their confidence, their openness.  It’s hard to say a critical word about this band because their message is so earnest and positive, but I’m going to give it a shot.  

The songs, specifically the lyrics, on Magpie and the Dandelion are something of a let-down.  My inner grammar Nazi perked his ears up early and often while listening to the album.  While nodding my head to the first track, “Open Ended Life“, (certainly the catchiest tune on the record) I heard the line: “I was taught to keep an open-ended life and never trap myself in nothing” (apparently this includes the constraints of proper syntax).  Okay, okay, I know that double-negatives, even those as easily avoidable as the one caused by the choice to use the word ‘nothing’ instead of ‘anything’ in this lyric, are accepted colloquialisms and should be forgiven.  It would also be nitpicky of me to get worked up over conflicts of tense, such as the one found in the line, “I lived it but now I’m wanting out,” from “Skin and Bones”.  Where this album loses me, however, is in its constant use of pronouns with vague or missing antecedents e.g. the line: “Apart you’ll see how true it is and how back then it possibly was impossible for you or me to know it,” in “Apart From Me”.  Besides the general clumsiness of the sentence, I’m left with no clue what the word it is supposed to refer to.     

There are sweet sentiments throughout, even bits of wisdom worthy to be hung over many a kitchen sink.  Elsewhere though, the album hits you over the head with lines such as: “When to know what I should for my heart to rest doesn’t meet with the actions I make, I will seek the approval of no one but you in love for the changes I take.”  I can’t begin to parse this statement.  Unfortunately, Magpie and the Dandelion’s ultimate song “The Clearness is Gone” could also serve as its ultimate description.

Despite getting hung up on some of the lyrics, I did manage to enjoy parts of Magpie and the Dandelion.  Although the opening track is ostensibly about packing up and hitting the proverbial road, in many ways this record is all about commitment and responsibility.  Songs such as “Good to You” and “Bring Your Love to Me” reflect the real cares and concerns of songwriters who have become fathers and husbands.  There are some great piano parts on the album, most notably in “Morning Song”, which is at once hopeful and bittersweet.  My favorite song on the album, by a long shot, is “Souls Like the Wheels”.  This is the only live recording on the album, and the song dates back to 2008’s The Second Gleam EP.  The finger-picked guitar here is brilliant, and in contrast to many of the other songs on the record, “Souls Like the Wheels” is effective and emotive.

Psych Fest Recap 2011: Part 2

The Seaholm Power Plant played host to psych, prog, indie and noise for three days, we were on hand for two of the three, picking out the best for the ATH faithful. The main stage centering the cavernous interior offered several interesting viewing angles due to the fenced off holes in the floor to the level below. Lighting throughout accentuated the scale of the interior and depth of the catacombs. Stage two was a smaller space set off to the side that remained at human body. Hit the jump for part two of the band summaries and pictures from the festival.

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Psych Fest Recap 2011: Part 1

The Seaholm Power Plant played host to psych, prog, indie and noise for three days, we were on hand for two of the three, picking out the best for the ATH faithful. The main stage centering the cavernous interior offered several interesting viewing angles due to the fenced off holes in the floor to the level below. Lighting throughout accentuated the scale of the interior and depth of the catacombs. Stage two was a smaller space set off to the side that remained at human body. Hit the jump for band summaries and pictures from the festival.

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Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

Rating: ★★★½☆

If the title didn’t already foreshadow this, Lykke Li has made a noticeable shift to a darker sound in general. The lyrics have reached a point of seriousness that can lead one to believe that this band doesn’t want to be mistaken as just a girly and cute throwaway kind of music. Lykke Li, hailing from Sweden, looks to prove that she can produce mature and progressive songs on this sophomore release.

Starting out on “Youth Knows No Pain,” you can see the immediate shift in this darker direction. While the bubbly organ jumping in and out may not convey this right away, when Lykke chimes in with her sassy voice, telling you to live things up while you can, because the “Youth [that] knows no pain” will soon grow old, you can feel the sense of urgency. On the second track “I Follow Rivers,” the group dabbles in the form of drastic ups and downs. It begins mildly quiet, but then dives right into a full energy chorus that carries the jangly tune.

Changing things up from the bouncy first two tracks, on “Love Out of Lust,” the band sounds anthemic, once again urges their audience to take advantage of the time at their hands before its gone; “dance while you can.” From here, if it wasn’t felt before, is from where the newfound profundity really takes off. Yes, the same fundamental sound is there: the bittersweet vocals of the front woman herself, the amiable bass lines, some electronic elements and the overall ability to make you move. When Lykke chants “I’m Your Prostitute,” on “Get Some,” it’s clear to see that she is reaching farther than before. She wants to make a statement with her music that is as equally as meaningful as listenable.

On Wounded Rhymes, Lykke Li does just that, the songs are enjoyable and catchy, but they don’t just stop there. Instead they progress into tracks that can become statements, driven by the desires of the band itself. However, this seriousness makes for a bland number of songs after “Sadness is a Blessing” brings forth the line that dubbed the album. The loss of playfulness that makes this band is absent here, and it makes for an anti-climactic close. While “Jerome” tries so hard, it doesn’t fit in with the songs that came in the beginning and it sort of feels as though she just gave up with the end.

As disappointing as this is, I don’t think it ruins the whole album. The first seven songs are solid and groundbreaking in this new I’m-a-big-girl-now-take-me-seriously style. For the most part, Lykke accomplishes what she set out to prove.

Show Review: Silversun Pickups @ Stubbs (7/19)

As I prepared for my evening at Stubbs, I pored through several different albums.  A few tracks from Silversun Pickups, all the Against Me, and the solid new album from Henry Clay People. I didn’t know what to expect necessarily, caught in nostalgia for my punk days, but not so amped for the main course. Still, I love a good live show, so I just had to be there.  Follow the jump for more.

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The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Jack White is on a mission of late. Between three bands touring extensively in recent years, a new White Stripes’ DVD, a marriage to his model wife, Karen Elson, and 2 albums in 10 months with his latest project, there’s no shortage of insatiable, swampy blues guitar riffs in his bag of tricks (or drum licks in this particular case).  Following up 2009’s Horehound is their latest Sea of Cowards. Right away the differences between the two albums are apparent, on the vocal front, there’s more Jack White’s smarmy howl, which was primarily the Kill’s lead singer Allison Mosshart’s forte; and secondly, there’s more secure percussive stylings from White, which steadies the record as a whole from start to finish. If there was a question about their last release, it was not focused on intent or motivation, but in the execution.

At first spin of the vinyl, the bass lines and kick drum rumbled my speakers. From the first few lines of ‘Blue Blood Bones’ it’s obvious that White has been practicing. He is no doubt one of the hardest working musicians in the game nowadays, but he manages not to over-extend himself. That may be in part to surrounding himself with like-minded uber-talented musicians which push towards high quality in every collaboration. With the afore mentioned Mosshart approaching rock goddess status, Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dean Fertita and Raconteurs‘ bassist Jack Lawrence are by no means pushed into the shadows. Even though it may seem that way with White’s growing influence and Mosshart larger than life personality. In only 10 months the group seems to have hit their stride and are thriving in the new found confidence which translates to one of the best live shows in the world, though the creativity for song-writing is still lacking. As with the last, the intent is solid and the execution is much stronger, but the tunes just don’t carry as well on the turntable as well as they do on stage. For some, that’s not a bad thing; and I just happen to be one of those people. If you caught the group’s last stop through Austin at Stubb’s, you know exactly what I mean. These songs just can’t be contained in a formal studio release, though try as they might.

Sea of Cowards is much angrier than their former, allowing the band to show their angst and fierce nature, letting loose on tracks like ‘Hustle and Cuss’ and ‘I’m Mad’. ‘The Difference Between Us’ is the first track which solely highlights Alison Mosshart’s full potency as she dominates the track.  The first single, ‘Die By The Drop’ is no doubt one of the highlights of the album with Mosshart and White each taking turns howling alongside strong performances from Fertita and Lawrence. During ‘Looking At the Invisible Man’, White it seems to be making a symbolic gesture of his desire to step out of the spotlight and to let his accompaniment shine, and the realization that it is no use. He exclaims that he is the invisible man, though his presence is always felt. On the final track ‘Old Mary’, White recites last rites with a simple piano accompaniment before the band pounds out the finale in style. Something tells me this however is not the last breath of this rendition of White (and Company). In fact with White’s steadier percussive talent, I feel the best may be yet to come. This is by no means the best album of the year, but it is a worthy successor to Horehound.

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