Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Everything All the Time

Band of Horses - Everything All the Time

Band of Horses
Sub Pop, 2006

Sounds Like: Indie rock, or what passes for indie rock these days.
For: Fans of The Arcade Fire.
Listen: Band of Horses - Monsters

There is something about this album that irks me, and I haven't quite been able to put my finger on it until now. I mean, I was excited to hear this album for a little while, based on the bits of Carissa's Wierd [sic] and S that I've heard, along with the couple of pre-album songs I've listened to, and the Tour EP that I got around to listening to two weeks ago. By the eve of the album's released, it had garnered a lot of praise, and I was charged to hear it. And, on first listen, I liked it. A lot.

On the second listen, something started to rub me the wrong way. And it took another five to figure out what that was.

The album, for all its good (and great) songs, memorable lines, and pure warmth, is just there. It is an inoffensive singer-songwriter album polished and dressed up to seem a bit more important than it really is. It is more focused and homogeneous than the group's earlier songs would have suggested (the traces of alt-country found in, say, "I Lost My Dingle On the Red Line" are all but completely absent here). Perhaps the blame lies in Phil Ek's (Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Les Savy Fav) uncharacteristically powersander-and-lacquer production.

In TMT's review of the new Larsen album, Paul Haney jabs at "indie-rock" as "slowly becoming synonymous with inoffensive songwriter pop fluff for jaded yuppies." I think this album, for all its merits, is guilty of this charge. "St. Augustine" might come between Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens on the satellite radio Coffee Shop Mix, "Weed Party" could be on The O.C., and "Our Swords" will probably be on the soundtrack to Garden State 2: Jersey Boogaloo. That, however, does not undo the great bass riff driving the latter song, or the soaring majesty of "The Funeral," 2006's requisite mournfully yearning song. However, it does detract from the best moments on this album, like on the homey ballad "Monster," that seems to find the band most in their element. I can only hope that this band stumbles a bit on their way to success; their edges could use a bit of roughing up again.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Greatest Song Ever - "Damage"

Yo La Tengo - Damage

Yo La Tengo - "Damage"
I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, Matador Records, 1998

Periodically, I (like most other excitable people), will see/read/hear something and exclaim in a feverent, salival manner: "GREATST BLANK EVER!"

This is the first of many of those times to be documented on ye olde weblog.

Now, I'm late to a lot of trains, and by the time I found out about it, the 'Tenga train had not only departed, but had made its way accross most of the country. I'm only now starting to fully grasp what I've been missing out on all these years: this song's full, lush wall of sound uses distortion to sooth as only those in love with their shoes can. A simple, muted bassline carries this song's simple, repeated hook around buried vocals. That is, until the wordless chorus disarms you completely.

Best experienced on headphones in the city at night, or on your stereo as loud as possible.

Listen: Yo La Tengo - Damage

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More Deep Cuts

Thee More Shallows - More Deep Cuts

Thee More Shallows
Turn Records, 2005

Sounds Like: Say Hi To Your Mom recorded an album after finally, like, totally getting Hail to the Thief.
People who read the above and thought "oooh!"
Listen: Thee More Shallows - Cloisterphobia

As I mentioned in the Silent Shout review a few weeks ago, online music sites have been pushing hard to get the "scoop" on new bands, and great albums by existing ones. To that end, its hard to believe that albums like More Deep Cuts can get looked over by some of the big guns. Thee More Shallows revolves around singer and songwriter Dee Kesler, and the album carries the air of a fuzzy bedroom pop album on the next level of evolution. Similarly, while there are many influences and contemporaries evident here, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly who (or what) it sounds like without resorting to "a meets b fronted by c with a little m from d produced by i..." trainwrecks. All this makes for one of the most unique (and best) albums of the past few years.

Following the throwaway drum and sound loops of the intro track, "Pre-Present" gives a strong statement of purpose for the San Fransisco band's second album. Deep, wavering basses and stated drums accompany a gentle fingerpicked guitar pattern, giving way to a slow burning build of synths and french horns before the song climaxes to a thick, almost tangible, mass. All the while, Kesler's calm, persistent voice remains steady and anchored low in the mix. This approach to vocals in densely orchestrated instrumentals gives strong images of someone calmly describing their death as they lay dying, or casually strolling through a hurricane.

The album hits its high point around its middle, where the Bedhead-esque "Cloisterphobia" delivers a slow, powerful build, then releases it into the vibraphone-driven standout track "2 AM." Unfortunately, the energy begins to drop at this point on the album, moving into one of its many instrumental interlude tracks before getting to the meandering, toms-and-low-guitar dirge "Walk of Shame." Though album's closing two tracks are good, the loss of momentum hurts the strength they would have had otherwise.

More Deep Cuts is one of last year's true overlooked gems; a very strong album that showcases a tremendous amount of room to grow. With an EP in the wings, and maybe another album not too far off, Thee More Shallows stand to release an album that not only demands attention, but chides you for not doing so sooner. Only in the calmest way possible.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006


The Appleseed Cast - Peregrine

The Appleseed Cast
The Militia Group, 2006

For: Midwestern emo kids that grew up to despise that word, but will always have a soft spot for "Marigold and Patchwork" and "Parking Lot."
Sounds Like: The Appleseed Cast, desperately trying to find their sound again.
Listen: The Appleseed Cast - Ceremony

In 2001, The Appleseed Cast seemed poised to be the Radiohead of Midwestern independent music. Starting out accessible and largely derivative of their music scene, then becoming more experimental before releasing a near perfect, unique, breathtaking album, which was quickly followed by a leftovers LP. Two Conversations, however, was no Hail to the Thief, especially coming off the heels of a double album as great as Low Level Owl.

This album is filled with the sounds of a band trying to find their footing and craft their own sound, so much so that this sounds more like a first album than a sixth. The album opens strong with the great, dynamic post-rock-y instrumental "Ceremony," before fading into the faux lo-fi beginning of "Woodland Hunter (Part 1)," which recalls a spacey cover of Bright Eyes' "If Winter Ends." The difference between these two tracks is representative of not only the album, but the band's career itself; there seems to be a conscious struggle to figure out whether expressing emotions is best done through impassioned, slightly off-key vocals, or through crushing instrumentals.

The album hits its stride around the middle, with the three song run of "February," "An Orange and a Blue," and "Song 3." Here, AC keeps a consistent, powerful sound, making great compromise between their two M.O.s. "February" is a great example of where emo can lead a band if they are capable and open enough to see it beyond the standard format (and, I wager, would have been a prized 7" if released in 1996). "An Orange and a Blue" drops the vocals and sets up a build reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky's more recent work. "Song 3" completes the synthesis with an instrumentally carried vocal track, with Chris Crisci's vocals getting drenched in reverb and dropped low in the mix.

The conspicuous absence of dynamo drummer Cobra is notable on this album, especially on cuts where AC's new spin on "experimentation" include chopping up sampled drum tracks (most notably on "Here We Are (Family in the Hallway)"). The drumming remains powerful, but nothing that really recalls the pummeling force on their past records.

As a whole, Peregrine is a worthy effort, and a small step up from 2003's unfairly maligned Two Conversations. It may be far away from the greatness of Low Level Owl, but still shows the seeds of another something great in the band's future.