This is not a drill, nor a late April Fools joke as I first suspected. Everyone’s favorite broody sad dad rock band The National have dropped an out-of-left-field new track called “Sunshine On My Back,” which is probably the closest this band has ever been to an upbeat dance track, although the lyrics would have you believe otherwise. While the first part of this track sounds like the classic track from these gentlemen, as you progress the sound is a lighter kind of somber than we’re used to hearing with Matt Berninger’s vocals higher and airier than usual, but I’m digging it. My day has been made by this surprise track, and I hope yours will be too.
Sometimes a band needs a little bit of help to get off the ground, or rather with the case of The Lone Bellow, where to go once they have. On Then Came The Morning, they brought in The National’s Aaron Dessner to produce their sound, which makes for some interesting tracks and a bit of progress from their first effort they put out a few years ago.
The Lone Bellow have a bit of a mild alternative rock sound—one you would expect to hear from a band on the radio. This quality isn’t intrinsically negative, but it is apt; their folksy blend of acoustic guitar and harmonies doesn’t push a lot of boundaries sonically. In this baseness, they’ve found their niche—within this genre they’ve got some good numbers you’ll want to give a second or third listen. On the whole, however, the sound isn’t exciting enough to set them strongly apart from what others have already done.
Opener and title track, “Then Came The Morning” is about as boundary-pushing as you’ll find here. It’s a bluesy waking up track—the tempo is slow and rolling, as lead singer Zach Williams’ raspy vocals chime in with their emotive quality. The backing group vocals provide an interesting sweeping effect to the tune, the “oohs” and “ahhs” as well as the repetition of the chorus gives the whole number a balloon-like sound, giving the album a positive start. Other good songs seem to come when the band is doing bluesy sounding rock—take snappy number, “Cold As It Is” as an example. This song holds the vocals in the limelight, which freshens up the sound that The Lone Bellow have already developed. This number is a stomper and a catchy one at that, and one of the standout bright moments of the album.
By the end of the album, there is a feeling as if the songs are repeating themselves, within this genre it seems difficult to craft boldly different songs, and with thirteen altogether, the band doesn’t do themselves a lot of favors. Then Came The Morning is far from a bad record technically—the production is clear and there’s intricate craftsmanship abundantly placed all over—but I’m left wanting more edge and bite from this group. Maybe you’ll find you enjoy the mildness of The Lone Bellow, but I can’t seem to get fully behind what they’re putting out.
I’ve had a few days to recuperate from the fest that doesn’t sleep and have gathered my thoughts on the sets from Friday and Saturday of Primavera. Read on for highlights and some comments about Parc Del Forúm and the festival itself in case you’re thinking Barcelona is on your music festival horizon.
After last year’s RainCL debacle, many fans of these gentlemen from Brooklyn were disappointed to miss out on their set, which was scheduled for a brief slot on Sunday. To counter this missed show, The National came back in full force, booking two sold out nights and a third added in the aftermath of popular demand. Riding high off of their sixth full-length album, which has steepened their rise of popularity initiated by High Violet to a new level. They brought along the ladies of LA’s Warpaint to open, and the crowd was amped up to hear their new favorites off of 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me.
Click through for more on the show and plenty of pics from the honorable B.Gray…
Making our year-end list of Top Albums is never something we take lightly. We realize that it’s rather arbitrary in the grand scheme of things, but we realize that our role is to at least toss out our opinion, however meaningless it may be. In the long run, we had to take the tastes of several people, and whittle it into a list of 50 great albums that we think are vital to your listening experience. We know it’s a matter of personal tastes, but the records below are reflective of our tastes and our site, so don’t get mad, they’re just opinions. But, feel free to tell us where we went wrong, or what we might have missed. If you click on the album titles, you can also read our full reviews of each album, save the ones that we didn’t get to in time. Sorry we don’t like Kanye.
50 – Wampire – Curiosity
49 – Dot Dash – Half Remembered Dream
48 – Mantles – Long Enough to Leave
47 – The Appleseed Cast – Illumination Ritual
46 – Bad Sports – Bras
45 – Part Time – PDA
44 – Dick Diver – Calendar Days
43 – Math and Physics Club – Our Hearts Beat Loud
42 – Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen
41 – Eat Skull – III
40 – The Lonely Wild – The Sun as It Comes
39 – The Love Language – Ruby Red
38 – Gun Outfit – Hard Coming Down
37 – Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
36 – Daughn Gibson – Me Moan
35 – Andre Obin – The Arsonist
34 – Arp – More
33 – Gap Dream – Shine Your Light
32 – The Black Watch – The End of When
31 – Ty Segall – Sleeper
30 – The Stevens – A History of Hygeine
29 – Of Montreal – Lousy with Sylvianbriar
28 – Mirror Travel – Mexico
27 – Local Natives – Hummingbird
26 – Girls Names – The New Life
25 – GRMLN – Empire
24 – Small Black – Limits of Desire
23 – Audacity – Butter Knife
22 – Mikal Cronin – MCII
21 – Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty
20 – Foals – Holy Fire
19 – Radical Face – Family Tree: The Branches
18 – Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
17 – Terry Malts – Nobody Realizes This is Nowhere
16 – Shout Out Louds – Optica
15 – Kurt Vile – Waking on a Pretty Daze
14 – Braids – Flourish//Perish
13 – Crystal Antlers – Nothing is Real
12 – Typhoon – White Lighter
11 – Ski Lodge – Big Heart
Admittedly, this album makes nods to folk troubadours of Christmas’ past, but what grabbed me from the moment I heard this record was the sincerity in what’s being created. In leaving us with a stripped down listen of folk tunes and incredible poetry, we’re asked to look into the history of American songwriting tradition; it’s been awhile since it was executed so well.
9 – The Growlers – Hung at Heart
I’d put this album on any list for one song alone, “Someday.” But, it just so happens that the rest of the album maintains the sensation that’s established on the opening track. I’ve heard it referenced as a surf-psych opus, but what’s been assured in my mine is what an incredible listen we’re all be treating to when we put Hung at Heart on our record players.
Hether Fortune seems to scare people. Her work is in your face, never making an excuse for who she is or what she believes. That attitude carries on into her music, allowing listeners to experience a musical world void of any pretense. The songs on this album are angular, dark and abrasive; the vocals have Hether dominating the scene of modern lady rock warriors. If you don’t dig it, she doesn’t care, but I do because this record rules.
While many of the songs on this effort leaked out before under various EPs, the whole masterpiece exists in the way it was tied together as a complete work. It’s operatic and grand at every corner, but it’s also undeniably a pop record. The emphasis might revolve around the more artful spectrum of pop music, but this is an album you can play for everyone in your family, and they’ll all find themselves swept up in the wonderment of Privilege.
What else really needs to be said about The National. They consistently make great albums that are lauded then often overlooked, but we didn’t want to do that to one of our favorite acts. I mean, if they played 8 shows in 8 days, we’d be at every one, and the DJ set after party. Their accolades and recognition are warranted, and it’s especially clear on this, their latest release.
When listening to Pass the Ringo, I thought of one thing: this is the sort of record that makes a small label, like Loglady Records, a household name. It’s spun around garage rock and psych rock structures, whilst still maintaining an accessibility that few people working in that genre achieve. Some albums can play in the background of your house, and might be happy to do so, but Legs created something that made me stop and listen at every turn; I’m thankful for that.
Someone For You came our way in January. On my record player, it hasn’t left since. This is one of the most rewarding power-pop records I’ve gotten my hands on, and trust me, I’ve gotten my hands on a lot of great records. Each song is filled with innate hooks and garage rock grit, encouraging you to tap your toes for the entirety of the record. You’d think after a full year our interest would have waned, but with time we’ve only grown to appreciate the record even more.
At the moment, there’s not too many people releasing music that’s the quality of Mathew Cothran and Coma Cinema. There are elements of the bizarre, similar to the work of early Elf Power, yet there’s this intimacy that artists like Eliott Smith were able to create with their listeners. You wrap that up and put it in a package of pop sensibility, and you have an album that can’t be ignored.
In today’s musical climate, we buy into the fact that artists have to be doing something strange, or something that’s vastly different from their peers. But, in the grand scheme of things, we often forget what it’s like to take enjoyment out of the music. This album was one of the many reminders that music, when it’s good, can be quite special. Every song here is a single, and worth your time; it’s the best thing Laz has done, and I feel like he’s just really getting started.
This album is about Devon Welsh. From the first instant I heard his voice, it took hold of me. Throughout the year, Impersonator, consistently played on my radio. His voice was mesmerizing, captivating audiences on several occasions in Austin, convincing us to be as quiet as a mouse, so as to hear every note. The unique quality of the album will reward listeners for years to follow. It made us believe in great music again.
Everyone’s favorite kings of doom and gloom, The National, certainly aren’t new to creating tunes for other sources of media. From a Game of Thrones ending credit track, to songs for Video Game, Indie Flicks, and now Major Motion Picture Soundtracks, this band seems to always be at the ready to add a little gravitas to any situation. As per usual, this band is giving you poignance in their lyrics and a nuanced sound unlike any other band today, complete with some elegant string arrangements to wow you. Have a listen, and if for some reason you haven’t already, catch the latest wonderful full length release from the band, Trouble Will Find Me.
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It’s that time of year where everyone on the Internet is throwing in their two cents as to what the best records of the year are, at least up to this point. We thought we’d give it our own go, with each of us tossing out our choices. I can tell it’s going to be a huge fight come time to make our year end list.
Though already a staple of brooding indie rock and alternative music in general, The National are going to be one of those bands that follow you years down the road, regardless of their continuation of putting out new records. Fact of the matter is, time after time they have doled out albums whose entirety have wowed audiences, as they are filled to the brim with tracks that speak on a deeper emotional level while also rocking out pretty hard at points. If you haven’t figured it out by now, they’re sort of a big deal, and if you haven’t fallen in love with them by now Trouble Will Find Me is yet again another perfect place to start.
Around for 14 years and counting, this group of middle-aged men has found an uncanny way of speaking to you in ways you never thought they could and they keep on digging their way deeper on this sixth full length studio release. They’ve made some changes, but overall they’re still the same tight knit crew of brooders that will break your heart in some strange way that you enjoy. First up on Trouble Will Find Me is “I Should Live In Salt,” which brings you into the new sound for the band. As always, front man extraordinaire Matt Berninger croons away behind the lead vocals, but his voice has found a new vulnerability in its higher register here. Instead of his deep baritone, borderline mumbling voice, which is the norm for the band, we are introduced to this higher version of our favorite dark and cynical voice and the result is already and emotive difference. If you can believe it, The National have added yet another layer to their emotive depth, making this one of their most accessible albums.
As with any brilliant album, upon the first listen through, every song seems to be fighting for the prize of best track in your mind; every twist and turn the band takes seems to build upon something bigger. On Trouble Will Find Me, this is truth in every sense—the imagery carries through from track to track and if you’re listening closely, from their previous releases. However, it’s not just a rehashing of what they’ve already done, but a slightly different take on the dark and swirling mood that The National is famous for. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still extra dark and swirling like you like them, but at places, these dark clouds part a little to reveal a little glimmer of light. Take some lyrics from one of the most anthemic songs the band has written, “Graceless:” “Put the flowers you find in vase/if you’re dead in the morning they’ll brighten the place/don’t let ‘em die on the vines, it’s a waste.”
When I said accessible earlier, I didn’t mean easy or lazy or boring, but the very opposite. I could go through song by song here, iterating to you how excellent each one is, but Trouble Will Find Me speaks for itself. If you’ve been present in the indie world in the last few months, it’s quite possible you’ve already heard anywhere from one to five of the songs off this album without participating in any sort of illegal activity; the band has played the songs. They were confident that every song on this album is a solid, well-produced addition to their already extensive catalogue of highly emotive and outright beautiful music. They were right.
In 2010, Gorilla Manor put this band on every keen indie-music fan’s radar, and since then, due to an insane amount of touring (they’ve played in Austin at least four times since their debut alone, not including the SXSW the year prior) it seems like everyone has been wondering when this band was going to put out a follow up record. But now that time is upon us, a bit of pre-flight jitters and second thoughts fill the air: would it be as good as their debut, or leave fans wanting to break free from the sophomore slump?
Those who have heard the two singles, “Breakers,” and “Heavy Feet,” that the band were circulating in hype of this album should know that Hummingbird is a completely different animal than Gorilla Manor (pun intended). In every way that Gorilla Manor was percussively raw and indulgently explosive, Hummingbird is refined and yet powerful, constantly effervescing in some way—be it a percussive element or a gentle riff, or a cathartic “ooh.” You can hear the difference in the two tracks aforementioned. On “Heavy Feat,” the drums flutter hyperactively in the background while the blissful harmonies you’ve already come to love fill the foreground. On “Breakers,” the percussion is still there, but what is most noticeable are the building waves of “Oohs,” that layer upon themselves and give the song an elegant ferocity that will have you playing it on repeat.
But these two songs are far from the only hard hitting tracks that Hummingbird has to offer—on the contrary, the whole album shines almost as bright as the band’s debut, albeit in a different light. Part of this is due to the National’s, Aaron Dessner, who helped produce this album, as well as his recording studio wherein the band recorded this time around. With his finesse, the band’s nuances are amplified, and a sharper, cleaner record comes into focus in which the music is less gimmicky, and more emotionally accessible. Even on the numbers that are of a faster nature, the lyrics are still vividly expressive, though perhaps on a bit darker, more National-esque, note. Take the opening lines of “Black Balloons,” one of the strongest songs, for example: “I can see the words as they come out of your mouth/Black Balloons form into a poison cloud—” such imagery is much more prevalent.
And in the end, it’s pretty hard to be disappointed with Local Natives, as Hummingbird lives up to the hype even upon first listen and gets better upon repeat. That being said, it’s important to let go of your preconceived notions of this band as one-trick percussive ponies and let yourself be carried away by the refined ferocity, if not, you’ll be passing up on a band who has only put out, and will continue to put out impressive music.