New Gods | Beloved Album Review

Good things are growing in Melbourne Australia.  New Gods are an up and coming five piece band that has just released their debut album onto digital cassette called Beloved.  It’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into the band’s first effort and it’s not often that you come across an album that has something to give on each track.  This album is being touted as a digital cassette. The word cassette may bring to mind a few things for people who had the privilege to live through the era of cassette tapes. You might feel inclined to write this album off as part of the recent lo-fi movement that co-opted this particular medium to distribute their grainy sounds born in the comfort of someone’s garage. You can’t though, the tracks may have a bit of background noise to them but the lyrics are not masked by an overwhelming layer of distortion. For a lot of those lo-fi bands this layer of distortion acts as a kind of camouflage for either a lead singer with little to no vocal talent or lyrics that ring hallow in the ears of listeners. Luckily, that is not the case with New Gods’ album Beloved, to miss the lyrics that populate this album would be at the loss of the listener. 

This album has a certain quality to it. Each track can touch the inner plaid wearing youth of a certain generation while also calling to mind even older musical eras which must have played a role in the development in New Gods sound. There are a few tracks that stand out on Beloved, Beneath the World is the lead off track and it creates an atmosphere that is both dreary and oddly comforting thanks in large part to the featured piano portion. Too High starts out with a mood setting bassline but what stands out on this track are the great background harmonies that will resonate with anyone into Fleet Foxes.
It isn’t a simple task, Beloved just hits all the right notes as a debut album. The final track, Deeper Love, features a prominent piano portion and ends with explosive horns and vocals. It leaves you with a sense of satisfaction that is hard to achieve for any song. It’s impressive that every track has something to offer and is undeniably good. Beloved is far from a youthful romp. The tracks on this album have a very serious tone, similar to that found on a The Mary Onettes album but without the 80s flare. All and all, you will be hard pressed to find anyone who does not like at least one of the tracks on this album.

If Beloved can gain an audience then you will be hearing about these guys in the months and years to come. You can listen or download the whole album at belovedalbum.com 


Neko Case | A Review of The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You

Neko Case has released a new album with perhaps the longest title in the history of albums. It’s called The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. If you are unfamiliar with Neko Case, she is one of the lead singers of indie darling, The New Pornographers but she also has a solo project under her own name. In fact, her latest album (insert huge title) is her sixth album as a solo artist. Case is excellent at writing lyrics with emotional force but all of her words would mean much less if not for her distinctive and soulful voice. Somewhere between a sultry lounge singer and a professional singing instructor, Case’s voice is uniquely beautiful.     

The latest album has a different tone from her 2009 album Middle Cyclone which was  well-received by music lovers and critics alike.  The lyrics in The Worse Things Get… have a directness to them, like there was very little time given to dress things up and make them pretty. Any crass lyrics or imagery are offset by Case’s vocal execution. This idea is exemplified in the track Nearly Midnight, Honolulu; here you can really see how raw and sometimes surprising this album can be.  It works, and pays credence to the idea that sometimes it is nice to be surprised.

There are a few standouts on this album that will no doubt live on as repeating lyric or melody in the minds of those who hear them. I’m From Nowhere is essentially just Neko and an acoustic guitar, but it is in the odd transitions and strange sentiment regarding the 80s that makes this song memorable. Then we have Where Did I Leave That Fire. This track articulates, in a abstract way, the realization that you have lost something that used to define you as a person and you cannot get it back. Ragtime, which is the final song on the album, has a very good bassline, trumpets have found their way on this track to great effect.

The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You is perhaps better than Middle Cyclone, and that is saying something.  


Deer Tick | Negativity Review

Deer Tick has released their fifth full length album called Negativity and it’s a worthy successor to the band’s previous effort Devine Providence. Stylistically, Deer Tick could be considered a country band but when you really get down to it they are more of an old fashion rockin’ roll band with a bit of a country flare. Over the years this band has been able to produce some very memorable tracks that have enough nuances to allow for a continuing appreciation.  Take a track from their 2010 album The Black Dirt Sessions, When She Comes Home. This track features strong lyrical imagery matched with a very compelling hook. The way that it plays out allows for multiple listens without disappointment, not unlike a good radio single, When She Comes Home just grows on you. The same can be said for the band as a whole, all the gravelly vocal timbre and stylistic tone of Deer Tick grows on you over time.  

One of the standouts on their latest album is Mr. Sticks; it really touches on what makes Deer Tick a consistently excellent producer of music. This track, just like When She Comes Home, has a tight hook that is matched with emotionally engaging imagery, all of this creates an atmosphere within the song that is hard to achieve and rarely this well done.  This album has a grander vibe than previous Deer Tick albums. The explosive horn portion featured on the album’s first cut, The Rock, sets the tone of the album as though the statement being made here is: we’ve been doing this for a while now and if you haven’t been listening so far it’s time to do so.  Negativity overall is not as playful as Devine Providence, which ranged from a very lighthearted drinking song like Let’s All Go To The Bar to the rather dark track Chevy Express.  But it’s also not as sombre as The Black Dirt Sessions, which dripped with sadness and melancholy from start to finish.  Negativity is a good representation of what Deer Tick can produce, even though it may not be their strongest album to date.    


Fishboy | IMAVOLCANO 7” EP

Denton Texas natives Fishboy recently have come out with a follow-up to 2011’s Classic Creeps. Fishboy’s style of pop music is both lighthearted and imaginative. If you had to put your finger on what Fishboy draws musical influences from, you would have to picture the offspring of a union between The New Pornographers and vintage Sentridoh.  IMAVOLCANO, not unlike Classic Creeps, is a narrative however this EP is a bit more surreal than Fishboy’s last one.  The title and fantastic album art might suggest the story being told here is about a volcano. And if you want to take each track on this EP literally, it is about someone turning into a volcano. On the other hand, if you want to read into it a bit more it could be seen as a metaphor for smoking too much weed, being restless and a slight bit emotionally volatile. Regardless, IMAVOLCANO is a brief shot of energetic music that is worth a listen or two.  You can listen to it here

Wall | Shoestring EP

The London band Wall released an impressive EP a while back called Shoestring. It’s impressive due to the way it can be mellow without being boring and emotional without being sappy. The fine line that this band walks on their latest effort is made most apparent on tracks like Left To Wonder or Valentine.   These two tracks are the standouts on the EP simply because they both combine a moderately paced melody that works well with the imagery of the lyrics. It’s this calm quality which creates the distinctive atmosphere that populates the Shoestring EP and makes it worth the money to buy or time to listen to it. 


Painted Palms | Nothing Lasts Long EP

Painted Palms are an alternative rock band that call San Francisco home. They recently came out with an EP called Nothing Last Long and among other things, has characteristics that make it perfect for summer listening. What might strike you upon first listening to Painted Palms is just how similar the vocal style is to that of The Shins frontman James Mercer. It should be said though, Painted Palms are not some kind of derivative impersonators, and their style has a distinctively west coast vibe.

The highlight of the Nothing Last Long EP comes right on its final cut with Anna. Anna is an incredibly upbeat pop number with a dreamy refrain that takes a bit from The Beatles but there’s nothing wrong with injecting a touch of nostalgia to go along with this song’s bright imagery. EPs always just give you a little taste of what a band is like and a sort of feel for what their future projects might sound like and Nothing Lasts Long does that very well.  Another nice thing about this EP is that it is completely free on their Bandcamp web page, so now you have no excuse not to get it.  


The National | Trouble Will Find Me Review

Brooklyn based band The National is set to release its sixth studio album on May 21st called Trouble Will Find Me.  

The predecessor to their latest album was 2010’s High Violet. It featured a litany of great tracks such as Little Faith, Bloodbuzz Ohio, Lemonworld etc.,  by most accounts this album was very well received, it was the strongest album The National had released up until that point. Each track on that album carried with it a sense of dreary reflectiveness matched with a distinctively expansive tone. If the goal of any good musician is to create something that satisfies the part of the brain that responds to a sense of development that ends with a crowning finish, then High Violet hit the nail right on the head. Though, some people have an issue with Matt Berninger’s baritone voice, finding it unfamiliar by comparison to most lead vocalists who front popular bands, but it’s a large part of what makes The National stand apart in a sea of tenors.     

As always, the newest album from The National takes on the subject of not being a particularly magnanimous human being and exploring the nature of imperfect relationships.  The track Slipped has a few lyrics that touch on what might be the overall sentiment behind this album and The National’s music in general. The chorus goes: “I keep coming back here where everything slips, but I will not spill my guts.”  What slips out in The National’s music is an understanding that people suck, they drink and fight and fuck each other over, passionately loving and hating along the way.  Though, this is not a particularly new revelation to most, it is not so often that a band can put this misanthropic point across in a pleasant way through their music. 
It’s best to come right out and say it, Trouble Will Find Me is not as good as High Violet but that does not mean it is not a great album.  The album opens up with five strong tracks one after another; once it hits the sixth the quality takes a slight but noticeable dip. Heavenfaced and This Is The Last Time just don’t seem to have anything particularly striking about them, as a result, they fail to completely satisfy the listener.  But once you get to Graceless all is forgiven, this track features very strong procession that drives the song from beginning to end.  I Need My Girl is the strongest song on the album and is reminiscent of High Violet’s England in its use of classical string and a synthesiser.      

Review of High Violet


The Strokes | A Review of Comedown Machine

The Strokes have released their fifth album called Comedown Machine. As the title might suggest, Comedown Machine is a rather mellow album. It may in fact be The Strokes very first attempt at harnessing the relaxed musical vibes coming from the west coast, which is strange, given that The Strokes have always been considered a band that was rooted in the east coast NYC music scene.  The last track on the album, Call It Fate Call It Karma, reaches for what some call a beach goth vibe, a la The Growlers.  The majority of the album is similar to what listeners heard on Angels, the band’s last album, but it has a much more relaxed tone.

The major difference between Angles and Comedown Machine, at least in terms of vocal style, is the way Casablancas favours hitting some very high notes. This choice of getting high and going big on this album may have the effect of turning off some fans but this same choice also results in some of the best payoffs on the album. One Way Trigger features Casablancas showing off his new found love of high octaves and it is by far the strongest song on the album. Another standout on this album is 80’s Comedown Machine which is more The Strokes in classic form; the long-time listeners of the band will most likely be drawn to this track because of its purposefully grainy vocals and heart pounding beat.  Partners in Crime is one of the album’s more delicate songs, it also features a few high notes sung by Casablancas but it’s the pacing, provided by the electronic instrumentals that elevates this track.  Happy Ending is a fun track but seems rather unpolished.  These songs have a cruel kind of calm to them that leaves the listener in a hazy state and are somewhat unsatisfying for long-time fans of The Strokes.  

The Mary Onettes | Hit The Waves Review

About four years ago a band called The Mary Onettes came out with a 80s inspired album called Islands. It was the Swedish band’s second album and had a lot going for it, the lyrics were strong and thoughtfully written, but what really made this album one of the best of 2009, was that it inspired a deep sense of nostalgia. There must have been something in the air that year because we saw many 80s inspired acts make their way into the hearts, and onto the iPods, of many music listeners.  The Big Pink made a splash that year with its critically acclaimed album A Brief History of Love and let’s not forget The XX who also released a very 80s album that year.  Here is the issue though, four years is a long time to feel nostalgic about an era, especially for the often vacillating tastes of the internet generation.  The flavour and favour of the same people who ranted and raved about The Mary Onettes four years ago have most likely shifted their interest to the now pervasively present retro rock style, which has been popularized by bands like The Sheepdogs. Better yet, the same listeners may have shifted their interest to the very popular indie folk alternative style of band such as The Lumineers or Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes. If your heart requires nostalgia there is a variable banquet of bygone styles to choose from at the moment.  So where does that leave The Mary Onettes?   

It’s now 2013 and The Mary Onettes have released their third album Hit The Waves and it does not disappoint.  You could almost miss the darkness in the lyrics as a result of the tightly woven hooks that populate this album, but it is there.  Each track on the album recounts dark days and relationship issues.  You might even go as far as to say that this album has deeply emotion lyrics, but due to the soft and catchy nature of the music it is difficult to become truly invested in the sentiment expressed in tracks such as Unblessed and the like.   


Jim James | Regions Of Light And Sound Of God Review

The musician Jim James is best known for his work with Kentucky based band My Morning Jacket, also he has been known to lend his unique vocal talent to another act, Monsters of Folk. Most recently though, James has released his first full length solo effort, ostentatiously titled Regions Of Light And Sound Of God. The album starts off with the track State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U) which is at first slowly sung by James while being accompanied by a simple piano progression, as the song continues the level of complexity increases to a satisfying finish.  As well, A New Life stands out as a memorable track due to its explosive Elvis Presley style finish, something that is not often heard even with the slew of reboot rock acts currently making music today.  All Is Forgiven is part jazz lounge song and part revival hymn, the result is darkly toned percussion driven track that leaves an impression.    

The thing that makes Jim James such an appreciated singer is his ability to create seemingly timeless music. There is just enough innovation on this album to call it something new, but it also illustrates this musician’s love and respect for classic rock and others that have come before him, it’s palpable, and you can hear it on every track on Regions Of Light And Sound Of God.  

Note: Back in 1992 the Beastie Boys released an album called Check Your Head and on this album there’s this song that just might have been one of the Beastie Boys miracles. It is not one of the most notable of the Beastie Boys catalogue; however its lyrics speak of a lad with a penchant for rockin’. This song’s lyrics are about a musician who is going to wake you up, send out love to all corners of the land and brings people together through musical harmony. The name of the track is Jimmy James and it describes a certain artist quite well, aside from the whole “Bass from the back of my car feels soothing. Eight bazookas is what I'm using…” this classic hip-hop song is pretty on the nose.  So, does this mean that the coming of Jimmy or Jim James was foretold by the Beastie Boys

Related Posts: Monsters of Folk


The Wallpaper | A Review of Somewhere

The Wallpaper is a six piece band hailing from Rochester New York. This relatively unknown band came out with their second album in late February called Somewhere. Their first called Never Never was released back in 2011 and it had a few tracks that were particularly memorable such as Rowboats and Born There. This album leaned more heavily on the musical influences of Neutral Milk Hotel. Which is marginally different from the style that The Wallpaper’s seem to be going for on Somewhere.  The new album is centered more in the vein of a pop alternative style along the lines of The Pixies or if you want a comparison with some contemporaries they are also reminiscent of Band of Horses, The New Pornographers or even Clem Snide.

What gives the songs that populate Somewhere distinction is the tone of the album, it’s pleasant and lighthearted while still maintaining a certain emotional gravity. These unassuming characteristics of the music are what make this band very approachable. The content of the songs range from one to the next but they mostly deal with heartache. The album is called Somewhere but you get the feeling that the sentiment behind the album has more to do with being Anywhere… but here. That sense of restlessness is captured throughout this album in each of its songs, but the ones that excel are Black Holes, Gasoline Rainbows and Better.

The first day of Spring might not be until the 20th of March but when you hear The Wallpaper’s sophomore album Somewhere you might just start feeling like it has already come.


Foals | A Review of Holy Fire

The Foals are a growing band hailing from Oxford England with a penchant for using interesting samples in their songs.  They have just released a 3rd album titled Holy Fire and it does not stray very far from their previous offerings except in one way, but we will get to that. The band’s style of music can be summed up as a mix of danceable pop songs and introspective ambient anthems.  The band hasn't released an album since 2010 with Total Life Forever, which featured a very innovative track Spanish Sahara. The track was the stand out on that album as most memorable and technically interesting. On the newest album Holy Fire there are some tracks that stand out such as, My Number, Bad Habit, Late Night and the last track on the album Moon.  

The thing which makes the Foals’ music exciting to listen to is their knack for crafting songs that create a sense of escalation.  Many of their tracks open up with soft instrumental tones matched with a mellow accompaniment of the lead singer. Where this knack comes in to play is the gradual build up in tempo that often leads to a cacophony of sounds that will mark a song’s moment of culmination. Most music has so much to do with escalation and playing with that idea in musical terms, it seems though that the Foals have a more apparent and functional approach than other artists.  

The only thing that is missing from Holy Fire is a truly standout track, one that defines this album as a whole. 


Pat Hull | A Review of Shed Skin

Pat Hull is a Brooklyn based musician who just recently released an album called Shed Skin.  The first thing you will notice when listening to Hull’s emotional melodies is just how pretty this man’s voice is. Pretty is generally not a word usually associated with men but it is appropriate when speaking of singers like Hull. Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead has a very pretty voice and has even been known to point that out to reporters in a half-hearted attempt at self-flagellation.  Half-hearted in the sense that, he knows there is nothing wrong with a pretty singing voice.

Pat Hull may not be attempting to seize Matt Berninger’s (The National) title for manliest singing voice of the year award but the two do seem to share a knack for penning/singing great songs. Hull’s style of music is somewhat stripped down, consisting mainly of simple percussion, guitar portions and softly sung vocals. Hull isn’t the only one to sing on this album though, Michael Chinworth bares a lot of the vocal responsibility on Shed Skin and he and Hull share a few memorable duets on the tracks In Rehearsal and Full Parade.  

It’s difficult to create an album or even a song that can cause someone to take notice given the sheer volume of music being produced and released these days. Pat Hull has managed to do this with his new album. Shed Skin is filled with ambient songs infused with the characteristics of country and blues but also has tight innovative hooks that give his music have a tangible quality.       

You can hear the whole album here.


The Spell | Taking a Look at the HA HA, VWAH LAH Album

California band The Spell released an album last March called HA HA, VWAH LAH. It didn’t garner very much fanfare and it still hasn’t found much traction beyond their home town of Long Beach. The band’s style of music is something of an eclectic one, with some tracks heavy with blues influences whereas others have more of a classic rock vibe. There are even some tracks that take a lot from R&B. So, The Spell covers a broad spectrum in terms of musical style, which makes for nice surprises while listening through the album.

The album itself was mastered and mixed by one of the band members in their home studio where the entire album was also recorded. This fact is rather impressive given the final product has very few noticeable issues. Generally speaking, many home albums produced in home studios rely too much on distortion in order to cover up the imperfection often associated with do-it-yourselfers. HA HA, VWAH LAH has a number of memorable tracks the highlights of which are: Bury Me Alive, Where Are We Going and Use You Like I Used To.

Bury Me Alive has a great intro reminiscent of something you might hear from the late great Freddie Mercury. The track relies heavily at first on the lead singer’s vocals and it’s not until the tail end of the track that the instrumental portions take center stage.  Use You Like I Used To is much more of a sultry number, reveling in the idea of rekindling old flames in a cold-hearted manner. The song is similar in style to bands like Garbage. 

The music video that the band posted on YouTube back in October of last year, for the track Pieces of Me is also worth mentioning. The video has a very literal interpretation of the song’s lyrics and features a group of lingerie clad cannibals consuming pieces of The Spell’s members. In a music video first the lead singer’s dick is cut off and then licked by one of his sexy captors. 
The Spell may rely on the style of past greats but in an industry filled with musicians who are practically impersonators, this band stands apart.