Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lower Dens- Batman (2011)

Recommended If You Like: Tamaryn, Beach Fossils, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Antlers, Cocteau Twins, Real Estate, Interpol, Kurt Vile

After 2010's fantastic Twin-Hand Movement, a record that channeled both the reverb-drenched guitars chords of the 80s and the weirdness of the freak folk scene of the early 00s, Lower Dens return in 2011 with a single called Batman. The A-side contains the elements that have come to define the band's sound: Jana Hunter's dampening moan, shimmering guitars, and tight percussion. However, the track is more upbeat and sloppy than anything on Twin-Hand Movement, a delightful change a pace that makes it easy to get your feet tapping. The B-side, "Dear Betty Baby," is a brooding cover of a Mayo Thompson track. Picked this one up when I saw them live at this fantastic little venue in D.C. called Subterranean A, they were pretty good live, considering how quiet and slow they are on record. Get excited. Click the album artwork to sample.

Buy Batman from Gnomonsong via Midheaven Mailorder

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Kurt Vile- Smoke Ring For My Halo (2011)

Recommended If You Like: The War on Drugs, Lou Reed, Ducktails, Cass McCombs, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young

It’s so interesting to trace the evolution of music from the rock giants of the 60s and 70s to the bands we know and love today. One can hear the rich harmonies of The Beach Boys in the psychedelic pop of Animal Collective or the spacey experimentation of David Bowie in the colorful indie pop of Wolf Parade. But for as much as they’re worth, those influences are often subtle. They are simply ingredients used for constructing a final product that is new and fresh. However crucial baking powder may be to making a cake, it is no longer recognizable when our pastry comes out of the oven.

Rarely can an album be heavily indebted to and celebratory of its influences while managing to sound so contemporary and original. Luckily for us, Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring for My Halo is one of those albums. Philadelphia guitarist Kurt Vile began his rise to prominence with the band The War on Drugs, a band I described as “Bob Dylan if he were shoegaze.” Despite the reaction that description elicited from someone (I believe it was, “that sounds awful”), I stand by it. On the band’s debut LP Wagonwheel Blues, frontman Adam Granduciel’s frantic delivery evokes Dylan’s overstuffed verses on albums like Bringing It All Back Home, while the music itself sounds more like My Bloody Valentine if they had been raised on classic rock. Vile’s solo albums prior to Smoke Ring for My Halo took cues mostly from The War on Drugs' formula, though they have a much more distinct singer-songwriter feel. You could definitely sense that Vile had more control, that the vision was his. But they were also riddled with inconsistency and a lack of focus. Although “Freeway” and “Freak Train” are undeniably two of Vile’s best songs (the former is one of my favorite songs of all time and perhaps Vile’s crowning achievement), the albums they are on, Constant Hitmaker and Childish Prodigy respectively, are tedious affairs, full of psych-folk variations that often go nowhere. Smoke Ring for My Halo exhibits an unprecedented clarity and confidence not found in Vile’s earlier work.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Double Dagger- More (2009)

Recommended if you like: Sonic Youth, No Age, Pissed Jeans, Weekend, Pavement, Death From Above 1979, Fugazi, Moss Icon, Joy Division

Listening to Smith Westerns' Dye It Blonde made me realize something. It got me thinking about age in relation to music. Particularly, how bands like Radiohead or Wilco can sound so old while up-and-coming bands like Smith Westerns, Born Ruffians or Harlem sound so young. And it's not just literally how old these guys are, it's more about how the music can sound so raw and unpolished and youthful. Whereas Radiohead's songs emanate this polished, meticulous and cleanly produced sound, albums like Dye It Blonde are gritty, loud and unashamed. Even when you trace Wilco's discography, you can see how the spry, upbeat ballads of Summerteeth have been slowly traded in for slower acoustic reflections or even the "dad-rock" of Sky Blue Sky.

I don't mean to be making broad generalizations here; sure, there are some old guys who can still ROCK. Nor am I insinuating that "old sounding" music is forever at a disadvantage because it doesn't sound young. Radiohead's incredibly complex songwriting isn't made any less compelling by the fact that they are older dudes. Their songs still pulsate with energy without having to sound like they were recorded in their buddy's basement. But for me, there's something rewarding about hearing an album that just sounds like it was made by a bunch of kids my age.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dâm-Funk- "Hood Pass Intact" (2009)

Check out this incredible jam from LA funk wizard Dâm-Funk. "Hood Pass Intact" is from volume 4 of Dâm's 5-LP set Toeachizown, titled Toeachizown Vol. 4: Hood. Futuristic, funky, spacey, it's an incredibly fun ride. Its blown out heavy bass and clap rhythm track is just screaming to be blasted through a big ass subwoofer in the trunk of some old Cadillac. Layered on top are juicy, colorful sci-fi synths and delicate chimes. Dâm-Funk's palette of sounds recalls Flying Lotus, James Blake's "Footnotes" from CMYK, Discovery or even Daft Punk. Dâm-Funk's unique brand of beatmaking is every bit deserving of his spot on Stones Throw next to other innovative producers like Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gary War- Horribles Parade (2009)

Recommended if you like: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Dylan Ettinger, Sun Araw, Wet Hair, Pocahaunted, James Ferraro, Kurt Vile

It's 3:30am and I'm listening to the ridiculously tripped out sounds of Gary War's Horribles Parade. I can't find much on the information on the dude(s), but one website claims that he's a former member of Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. Not hard to believe, given how ridiculously far-out the stuff on Horribles Parade is. Think Ducktails, Sun Araw, Ariel Pink's early material, the stuff that's nearly drowning it's own reverb-drenched weird psychedelia. Horribles Parade is a strange, unsettling mix of warped vocals, synths, echoing guitars and other generally otherworldly sounds. The more noisy moments recall the creeping cacophony and terror of Pocahaunted, while the album's more straightforward, coherent songs share the strung-out rock of Kurt Vile's early material. And just like The Doldrums, underneath Horribles Parade there is a juicy psychedelic pop core. But whereas Pink's songs seem to reference some weird lost decade in the past, Gary War's music recalls some alien decade yet to come (perhaps the same weird years that sci-fi synth freak Dylan Ettinger is living in). The combination of pop and head-spinning weirdness is what makes Gary War's brand of lo-fi so compelling and exciting. Click the album artwork to sample. You should definitely listen to this stuff in the context of the album, not just single songs.

1. Highspeed Drift
2. Sold Out
3. See Right Thru
4. No Payoff
5. For Cobra
6. Costumes
7. Clean Up
8. What You Are
9. Orange Trails
10. Nothing Moving
11. Anhedonic Man
12. Everynight
13. Next Year
14. Carleen's Yard
15. Scales
16. God Trip
17. Using

Buy Horribles Parade from Sacred Bones

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Day In Black and White- My Heroes Have Always Killed Cowboys (2004)

Recommended if you like: Fugazi, Hot Cross, Sparta, ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

Don't let the band name turn you off, A Day In Black and White's My Heroes Have Always Killed Cowboys is one of the most intense and beautiful cuts of post-hardcore I've ever heard. I got into these guys back in the days of musical adolescence, when I was really getting into emo and hardcore (that's real emo for those of you who are still ignorant, see for further reading) and this is one of the few records that still close to my heart. The other tracks are good but the standouts are by far "The Gaze" and "There Are Objects and Objects." "The Gaze" slowly builds on Daniel Morse's angular guitars and a heavy rhythm section before exploding into this beautiful cathartic tremolo line. Then the instruments fade out for a minute and go into this incredible jam out session, the drums do this massive roll and then explode into the song's last minute and a half, where we finally get to hear Morse's abrasive shouts. He's not screaming, it's more of a yell that makes the room feel like it's going to crash down around you. "There are Objects and Objects" is kind of the reverse formula: the song explodes instantly before dying down into this exaggerated guitar part.

The best part about the album is how it's recorded. The way you can hear the bass clicking and plodding behind the guitar, how fucking loud everything sounds, Morse's overbearing yells. It manages to retain that small-space, live feel without compromising any of Morse's fantastic guitar and bass work. And the aforementioned jam out part in "The Gaze" makes the record sound so human., so personal. There's definitely way more going on here than just traditional Fugazi-style post-hardcore. Morse's dissonant guitar work and preference for delay and reverb hint at post-rock, post-punk and the indie sound that the band would later take (much to my disappointment) on their second LP Notes. But the band's association with Level-Plane records and bands like Navies and Black Castle usually gets them lumped in with emo revival stuff of the mid 00s. Click the album artwork to sample.

While reviewing this, I found out that Level Plane Records has been defunct since 2009. Sad news, rest in peace to a great label.

1. Fordward/Backward
2. There Are Objects and Objects
3. Storming the Bastille
4. The Gaze
5. The Illusion of the End

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tamaryn- The Waves (2010)

Recommended if you like: The Soft Moon, Lower Dens, My Bloody Valentine, Zola Jesus, Grouper, Warpaint, Cocteau Twins

November of this year will mark the 20-year anniversary of My Bloody Valentine’s landmark album Loveless, a record that is perhaps the finest representation of the shoegaze genre. The album’s influence can be heard today, as strong as ever, in the music of bands like A Sunny Day In Glasgow, A Place to Bury Strangers and M83. Bands like the aforementioned ones have taken the genre in new directions, incorporating synth, pop, ambient and even metal and punk influences into the delicate but loud music of the genre’s founders. However, if you are looking for so true to the style of Loveless that it might even be mistaken for a new My Bloody Valentine album, look no further than The Waves, the debut LP from New Zealand singer Tamaryn.

On The Waves, Tamaryn is joined by guitarist and producer Rex John Shelverton, formerly of Portraits of Past. Though The Waves is meant to showcase Tamaryn’s beautiful, ethereal voice, it would be remiss not to shower Shelverton with praise for his fantastic instrumental work. The title track, the album’s first track, begins with thunderous distorted guitars and buzzing bass before exploding into a captivating mix of Tamaryn’s smoky vocals and dissonant, twinkling guitars. Shelverton’s beautiful guitars are perfectly mixed, weaving in and out of the vocal lines, never stealing the spotlight but remaining captivating in their own right. The second track, “Choirs of Winters,” exhibits the duo’s dynamic variability, taking a decidedly slower feel. Shelverton’s watery guitars slowly churn behind Tamaryn’s softer, more intimate vocals, double tracked to give them an even richer feel. Though the most obvious comparison is still My Bloody Valentine, the mix of Tamaryn’s guttural voice with droning guitars calls to mind other shoegaze revivalists and female fronted groups like Lower Dens, Grouper, Zola Jesus and Glasser.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Marked Men- Ghosts (2009)

Recommended if you like: Buzzcocks, The Thermals, Mind Spiders, Teenage Cool Kids, Dillinger Four, Jay Reatard

I've probably listened to this album more than anything else the past few months. Fucking fantastic punk from Texas that's equally snotty and melodic. Apologies if my comparisons are a little off base, my punk collection is still small (though it's growing rapidly). But fans of any garage-y punk will dig the shit out of this. Its not as fast as hardcore, but the songs still have so much movement. What really impresses me about The Marked Men is how they can write such catchy stuff without really relying on melodic lead guitars. Most of it is just power chord riffing, it really finds its strength in the lyrics and vocals of guitarist/vocalists Mark Ryan and Jeff Burke. I can't recommend this one enough. Click the album artwork to sample.

1. All In Your Head
2. Ditch
3. Fortune
4. My Love
5. I Must Be Dead
6. Head Set
7. Locked Up
8. Not That Kid
9. Stay Away
10. Get To You
11. Ghosts
12. Shaky Ground
13. Red Light Rumors
14. One More Time
15. Blew My Head

Buy Ghosts from Dirtnap Records

Friday, February 18, 2011

youtube gem friday


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wolf Parade- Apologies To The Queen Mary (2005)

Recommended if you like: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Unicorns, Born Ruffians, Frog Eyes, Destroyer, Sunset Rubdown

Remember about halfway through the last decade when all that super yelpy, zany indie pop shit was really popular? It seemed like 'indie' had come to be defined by how grating, trembling and wild your voice was and how many ridiculous, obnoxious synth lines you could incorporate into your music. Architecture in Helsinki, The Unicorns, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, I feel like that stuff certainly hasn't aged as well as everyone expected. But if there's one album that I really kept with me and has stood the test of time, it's Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary. Driven by the fantastic songwriting duo of Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug, Wolf Parade plays a mix of self-indulgent indie pop that really captures the heart, soul and spirit of the aforementioned mid-decade movement at its best.

Take the album opener "You Are A Runner And I Am My Father's Son," Krug's invitation for the album. It starts with an instantly recognizable staccato drum beat before unfolding into syncopated piano hits, abstract guitars and Krug's signature warbling croon. Whereas their later material is more plagued by the sharp divide between the Krug-written and Boeckner-written song, on Apologies To The Queen Mary, they establish a smooth flow and strike a creative harmony by adding subtle touches to each others songs. And where At Mount Zoomer boasted polished production and concise songwriting, this album has a refined core while still managing to be rough around the edges. Boeckner's "We Built Another World" builds around overdriven bass, a pounding guitar line, bubbly synths and the incredible spastic drumming of Arlen Thompson.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Smith Westerns- Dye It Blonde (2011)

Recommended if you like: Harlem, Black Kids, Destroyer, Girls, Magic Kids, Born Ruffians, The Morning Benders

All the members of Smith Westerns are younger than me. Man, does that make me feel unaccomplished. Anyway, that youthful energy definitely shines through on the band's sophomore effort, Dye It Blonde. Sure, their sound is pretty generic, unashamed indie pop/rock but they play it surprisingly tight. Like on the fantastic album opener "Weekend," which is full of soaring vocal melodies, dramatic synths and distorted lead guitar lines that are sure to get your feet tapping. They use this bloated effect on the lead guitar lines that sounds like the guitar solo at the end of (The Beatles') "Let It Be." The album switches from fast-paced garage-y jams like "Dance Away" to more intimate slower compositions like "Still New," the latter filled of thunderous chords and delay-soaked tremolo guitar lines. To me, Dye It Blonde sounds like what The Morning Benders were going for with Big Echo, though I think Smith Westerns succeed at the youthful rag-tag indie pop thing with so much more grace and energy. It also really reminds me of Harlem's Hippies, but with way more texture. Again, there probably isn't a single trick or progression on this album that isn't already-charted territory. But Dye It Blonde is fun as hell. Click the album artwork to sample.

1. Weekend
2. Still New
3. Imagine Pt. 3
4. All Die Young
5. Fallen In Love
6. End of the Night
7. Only One
8. Smile
9. Dance Away
10. Dye The World

Buy Dye It Blonde from Fat Possum

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Mike Howard and Christopher Baranowski are...


Summer 2k11

Monday, January 31, 2011

Cass McCombs- "County Line" (2011)

2011's first great single comes from alt-country crooner Cass McCombs. "County Line," from the singer-songwriter's upcoming LP Wit's End, due out on Domino in April, is a five and half minute blissful mix of organ and McCombs' delicate vocals. "County Line" reaffirms McCombs' masterfully minimalist approach to songwriting; the song's soft organ and simple drum beat calls to mind Beach House, Bill Callahan and Devendra Banhart, artists whose sparse compositions allow their vocals and lyrics become the main focus. McCombs' vocal performance on "County Line" is stunning, trading off between his signature nasally whine and a rich falsetto that blend perfectly with the song's chiming organ line and give the song a soulful movement. All in all, it's one of the most heartbreaking and beautiful songs I've heard in a while. I could not be more excited for Wit's End.

Cass McCombs - County Line by DominoRecordCo

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Panda Bear- Last Night At The Jetty (2010)

The third single in anticipation of Panda Bear's release of the Tomboy LP in 2011, "Last Night At The Jetty" could be the best. It begins with perhaps Lennox's heaviest beat yet and builds into a watery mix of violins and layered harmonies. With "Last Night At The Jetty," Lennox reminds us of the core elements that truly make his music so compelling: the beautiful vocal layering, the use of repetition and looping. And though he's ditched the crackling samples of Person Pitch for more organic beats and instrumentation, "Last Night At The Jetty" shows that Lennox's songwriting remains strong. Unfortunately, it's paired with the B-side "Drone," a forgettable track based on a Oneohtrix Point Never inspired blare of synths and electronics, making "Tomboy" and its companion "Slow Motion" probably a more likely candidate for Panda Bear's best single from 2010. But "Last Night At The Jetty" should only the heighten the excitement about Tomboy. Click the artwork to sample.

1. Last Night At The Jetty
2. Drone

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Best Albums of 2010


The War On Drugs- Future Weather

On Future Weather, The War On Drugs play a beautifully crafted mix of classic rock and shoegaze textures. Despite the absence of founding member Kurt Vile, frontman Adam Granduciel takes a command presence and establishes himself as singer-songwriter deserving the same praise as the greats he draws so much influence from. His Dylan inspired lyrics and voice work perfectly over the band’s frantic mix of folk, punk and shoegaze. Check out my feature on the album for more.


Sun Kil Moon- Admiral Fell Promises

On Admiral Fell Promises, Mark Kozelek, the man behind Sun Kil Moon and the late Red House Painters, sheds his band for an intimate album of classical guitar and vocals. Just listen to the intro to the first track, “Alesund,” and you’ll hear Kozelek delicately plucking away at his nylon strings in an almost flamenco style that he’s used rarely before. And though Sun Kil Moon’s earlier LPs were so interesting because of the way they could switch from acoustic folk ballads to droning, fuzzed out jams, the lack of stylistic variation does not detract from Admiral Fell Promises. This is still the same Kozelek, only stripped and unplugged. His lyrics are just as devastatingly personal as ever, his guitar playing just as top-notch, and his quavering voice still sounds on the verge of tears. Admiral Fell Promises wouldn’t be the first Sun Kil Moon album I’d recommend. Newcomers will undoubtedly grow tired of his extensive and simplistic songs. The album is really more rewarding for more intense fans like myself who have come to appreciate his beautiful narrative lyrics and preference for repetition.