Elf Power – s/t

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The last time that we heard from Athens’ band Elf Power, they were trying to get a little bit more of an orchestrated sound on record, but it didn’t necessarily go over so well; it did sound a bit generic, if not mainstream, for fans familiar with the band’s earliest works. But, they return today with a self-titled record, hoping to get things going back on track. We’re hoping for the same.

When you walk into this record, it’s clear that there’s still that element of creative arrangements, held over for the last time.  “Boots of Lead” doesn’t necessarily push boundaries, but the meandering guitar line and Andrew Rieger’s softly hoarse vocals establish a bit of that old Elf Power magic.  We’re not entirely asking the band to abandon cleaner production, in fact, it probably has helped the band gain a larger audience.  So, when you get the electronic drenched “The Concrete and the Walls” you’re happy to see that the somewhat awkward delivery and rhythm have returned to the fold. They even have an odd bit of a breakdown near the end of the track, just to switch the mood for listeners, taking on a darker spirit.

They’ve definitely taken on a softer quality, or one that veers far from the lo-fi approach.  You can tell the work of Vic Chesnutt has definitely had an impact on their songwriting, especially with songs like “Ghost of John.”  They use a great melody to go with what appears to be quick strummed acoustic guitar, and Rieger’s voice has this whispering politeness to it, as if he’s asking your permission to go with the band as they push through Elf Power. Yet despite their subtle changes in songwriting, they can combine this new-found docile approach to their old clever ways.  “Stranger in the Window” is perhaps one of the best songs they’ve written thanks to such moves.  Once again, acoustic guitars appear, but atmospheric touches wash over the song, as a slide guitar quietly paces in the background.  It’s a combination of folk and experimentation that finally works for the band, so much so, that it makes all the bad memories fade away.

One thing to note, and this goes for the last several albums as well, is that the lyrical composition has improved for Elf Power.  Okay, sure, they definitely take liberty with the subject matter, like during “Tiny Insetcs” when we’re getting a synopsis of an individual writing as he watches tiny insects, sometimes in a bedroom, sometimes smashing into a windshield.  Still, they’re not disposable, like they were on “Loverboy’s Demise.”  We expect maturity, and that’s what we have here, so let’s be thankful for that.

It’s not that Elf Power have returned to the heyday of their lo-fi career, but it has finally become clear that that’s no longer the band we’re listening to anymore.  This is a mature band, who have grown, adapted and still hung on to their creativity as a unit.  They offer us a bit more insight into the evolution of all those band’s we’ve adored privately for so long, and despite their missteps, we can still proudly say we enjoy them every bit today as we did back then.


Download: Elf Power – Stranger in the Window [MP3]

New Music from Cinema Red and Blue

Odds are you haven’t heard much about Cinema Red and Blue, yet many of you will be familiar with the players.  The group, which is said to be just a brief project, is comprised of members of jangle-pop darlings The Comet Gain and dark post-punk outfit Crystal Stilts. Upon playing together, they created a beautiful collection of songs that will likely live on in the canon of underground music for years to come. Personally, David Feck’s voice will always hit me right in the heart, and I hope it does the same for you.  The self-titled album will hit stores on September 28th via the hard-working folks over at Whats Your Rupture?.  I can hear this playing around my house for years to come.


Download: Cinema Red and Blue – Same Mistakes [MP3]

The Drums – s/t

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Drums have been on everyone’s radar for a little under a year now, but their star has continued to shine all the way up to the release of their self-titled album.  Their combination of surf guitar hooks and 80s electronic beats is destined to make this record the smash of the summer.  It might possibly be too sweet, but this is the kind of fun we should all have as we sit in our kiddie pools drinking beers with our friends this summer.

Opening with “Best Friend” you’ll find that bouncing groove of the bass moving you right into your first dance movement of the album.  Jonathan Pierce’s hip little croon will keep you swaying, just as it should.  It’s possible that this might not be the most artistic work, but there’s no denying that from the moment The Drums begins, it’s catchy as all get out.

First single from the group “Let’s Go Surfing” was one of our favorite Songs of 09, and it still has the same charm it did when we first heard it. Beach guitar sounds fused with whistling and a charming lyrics make it hard to ignore this song, and no matter how long you listen to it, it still has the kick you ask for in a great single.  Then you come into the beneficial “Book of Stories.”  While it retains the same surf-dance sensibility of early tracks, it definitely slows things down, turning the album in a different direction.  It’s pleasing to see such a variance here, as too much straight lo-fi pop might have put listeners in a sugar coma.  Similarly “Down by the Water” does the same thing, just a few songs later.  It provides a nice contradiction to the infectious pop moments, and Pierce’s voice rises high in the most charming way possible.  Personally, it gives The Drums more in common with bands like The Church rather than the surf version of New Order or The Smiths.

“Forever and Ever Amen” is accompanied by a killer video, and the swirling melody within this sound, despite a redundant bass line, really makes you swing your arms in pure ecstasy.  As the chorus goes “forever, baby its forever,” you feel as if you’re being sucked into some perfect John Hughes montage.  In fact, you can see the Breakfast Club dancing about the library here, at least in my mind, which is perfectly fitting.  It’s a reminder that the album is filled with a certain sense of innocence and frivolity that, when done in good taste, reaps marvelous rewards for listener and songwriter alike.

Time will surely tell how important The Drums self-titled debut actually is.  But, one thing is for sure right now: their intelligent pop tactics combining summer sounds with electronics is the perfect music for kicking off summer in the right way. This album is full of melody, hooks and just simple fun, and while that might not always be my cup of tea, it surely seems to be working with this record.


Download: The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing [MP3]

New Tunes from The Forest & The Trees

As usual, I’ve stumbled across an incredible tune from another Sweden band.  The group is named The Forest & the Trees, and they use catchy guy/girl dual vocals to coincide with their brand of melodious pop music.  This tune features some incredible drum work, which is what propels the song along, but deep beneath lives audible joy.  If you like what you hear, you can go to the band’s WEBSITE to hear the entirety of their self-titled record before it comes out in the states!


Download: The Forest & the Trees – To the Forest (I Need Some Peace) [MP3]

The Soft Pack – s/t

soft packRating: ★½☆☆☆

A few years back a band by the name of The Muslims exploded out of California with the supposed surf-rock answer to The Strokes. Now, the band has changed their name to The Soft Pack, and have released their self-titled album on Kemado Records. It’s exactly what you would expect from a California garage group.

Upon listening to the first track, “C’mon,” the band’s formula is immediately apparent.  They combine mild surf guitars with the fueling of a garage practice space, and they lyrics have a slight hint of punk drawl delivery.  But, what listeners will see is that the lyrics are severely lacking in the developmental sense.  The only words that really stand out are “c’mon,” uttered over and over again.

By the third track, “Answer to Yourself,” nothing much has changed in the structure of the album.  Lyrics are overtly redundant, and clearly lacking in any creative sense. Musically, it just seems like a consistent re-hash of song after song.  There’s a definite energy to the group, but you’ll be hard pressed at this point to find much else in the offering.

When you get to “Pull Out” the bass is a little bit heavier, while the guitars are reminiscent of living close to the waters.  Still, water is the only thing that really comes to mind at this juncture in the album.  Everything about the band just comes across as watered-down, and just out of touch.  It’s not something that you can stand up and say that you hate because it really isn’t horrendous musically, it just isn’t anything that warrants listening to time and time again.  It’s almost as if the band is treading water in the same place for the duration of the record.  Tired of the water analogy?

What once seemed like a promising moment for the band seems to have slipped away as The Soft Pack has compiled a solid set of forgettable songs that you won’t remember when their gone.  It’s quite a shame that all this work and popularity came to nought for the band.  Garage moments and surf-guitars are great, but in this day and age something has to be done to distinguish yourself from the masses in order to reach the pinnacle of the genre, and it’s hard to find a standout moment on the album, aside from the joke track “Move-Along,” which is more of just a “WTF?” moment than anything.  This is just one man’s opinion, but you won’t find the self-titled album from The Soft Pack spinning around my house any time soon.

1 21 22 23