SYNDICATE
Posted by: Dave on August 23, 2009 at 11:25 am

RamonaFallsIntuit.jpgNote: Ramona Falls is a solo project from Menonema’s Brent Knopf. His more well-known band’s last release was the excellent Friend and Foe (my #2 Album of 2007).
Sound: At their root, most of the songs on here feature Brent’s forlorn and fluid vocals over a pretty combination of acoustic guitar chords and piano melodies. But—if you know anything about Menomena—there’s no way he could just stop there. Nearly every track has several more layers that build up and dissipate – including dramatic strings and horns, shimmering mandolin, cascading piano, fuzzy bass, ferocious electric guitar, floating synths, echo-laden harmonies…and more.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “I Say Fever”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Melectric”; “Bellyfulla”; “Diamond Shovel”; “Salt Sack”
Recommended: Intuit isn’t nearly as stunning and memorable as the last Menomena album, but it’s almost as creative and ambitious. Menomena members are strongest as a unit, but pretty darn good on their own (Brent’s bandmate Danny Seim released a decent album last year under the moniker Lackthereof).
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on August 16, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Julian Plenti Skyscraper.jpgNote: Julian Plenti is the alter ego of Interpol frontman Paul Banks, and this is his debut release under this moniker.
Sound: The dissonant riffs, driving rhythms and somber atmosphere on Skyscraper differ very little from Banks’ work with Interpol. But the music on this side project is a little more stripped down and mellow, and Banks’ vocals are more intimate and clear.
Heavy Rotation track: “Games for Days”
Medium Rotation tracks: “No Chance Survival”; “Only If You Run”; “Fun That We Have”; “Unwind”
Recommended: If you like Interpol, you’ll like Julian Plenti – they’re simply not that different. Though Skyscraper lacks any great tracks, it’s consistently satisfying. It’s a stronger album than Interpol’s last release 2007’s Our Love To Admire, but it’s a couple of notches below their first two albums – Turn on the Bright Lights (my #5 album of 2002) and Antics (my #11 album of 2004).
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on August 11, 2009 at 8:46 am

FeaturesSomeKind.jpgSound: Snappy, melodic indie pop/rock with a slight Southern accent. Driving saxophones, twinkling piano, percolating synths and woozy organs are some of the sounds that meet up with frontman Matt Pelham’s quivery but confident croon.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Lions”; “The Drawing Board”; “Concrete”; “Foundation’s Cracked”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Wooden Heart”; “Baby’s Hammer”; “The Gates of Hell”
Recommended: Some Kind of Salvation is a hit parade of one hook-filled tune after another, making it an easily digestible and memorable listen. All of the songs have a heard-it-somewhere-before feel but that doesn’t prevent you from enjoying their interpretations of these classic styles, especially since they show off such solid musical chops.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on August 9, 2009 at 9:21 pm

UUVVWWZ.jpgNote: The Lincoln, Nebraska band’s name is pronounced “Double U, Double V, Double W, Z.” This is their debut album.
Sound: A spastic, arty hybrid of hypnotic, floating indie rock, jittery, choppy punk, chunky, hard-driving metal and lounge-like, seedy jazz. Frontwoman Teal Gardner leads the way with a mix of frenetic yelps, convulsions and howls, plus atmospheric chants and sultry croons.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Jap Dad”; “Shark Suit”; “Green Starred Sleeve”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Neolaño”; “Berry Can”; “Hum Jam”
Recommended: At times UUVVWWZ show they’re a viable new force that should be mentioned in the same breath as highly respected, female-fronted bands like X-Ray Spex, Sleater-Kinney and Deerhoof. But their sound is also occasionally reminiscent of one of the most innovative male-fronted bands of the last decade, System of a Down. UUVVWWZ is an invigorating debut album.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on August 2, 2009 at 12:50 am

Fiery Furnaces Im Going Away.jpgSound: Instead of continuing to see how far they can push the boundaries of music, The Fiery Furnaces actually rein in their music to a relative simplicity on par with their debut Gallowsbird’s Bark (my #17 Album of 2003). The multi-sectioned, ADD-friendly, tangential epics are replaced by a collection of streamlined songs. Their playful indie rock is as whimsical and scrappy as ever as they bounce between frenetic pop, lounge-like ruminations, swingin’ boogies and sinister grooves.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Staring at the Steeple”; “I’m Going Away”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Take Me Round Again”; “Keep Me In the Dark”; “Charmaine Champaign”; “Even in the Rain”
Recommended: I’m Going Away isn’t quite as accomplished as their stellar debut, but it’s certainly their most focused and listenable release since then.
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on July 30, 2009 at 12:55 am

Chali 2na Fish.jpgNote: This is the first official solo album from the MC known best as a member of Jurassic 5, but also as a founding member of Ozomatli in the ‘90s and a prominently featured artist on hip-hop tracks throughout this decade.
Sound: More modern and than his throwback-heavy work with Jurassic 5. There are definitely several funky old school breakbeats, turntable scratches and soulful samples, but there are even more synth-heavy, slinky, percolating and popping beats ready for either the streets, the club or the block party.
Vocals: His unmistakable, smooth-flowing, deep baritone is one of the most satisfying voices in hip-hop, and it’s in top form here.
Lyrics: After some cookie-cutter bragging and boasting in the first couple of tracks, he raises his game on the rest of the album. He gets nostalgic for ‘80s hip-hop, r&b and graffiti, creates a true anthem for himself and gets more serious on several tracks as he dissects the dangers of neglecting loved ones and failing to nurture relationships, contemplates struggles in the poverty-stricken and war-ravaged parts of the world, and delivers a sobering tribute to his cousin who was trampled and killed when a fight broke out at a club.
Look For: On the lighter side of things, the scattered clips of legendary radio DJ Charlie Tuna—including some interaction between Charlie and Chali—are irresistibly fun.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Righteous Way”; “Comin’ Thru”; “4 Be Be”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Love’s Gonna Getcha”; “Graff Time”; “Controlled Coincidence”; “International”; “Don’t Stop”
Recommended: Chali sounds out of his element when he teams up with thicker, more aggressive beats, but thankfully he gets most of those missteps out of the way early. He’s a tremendous voice who—more of than not—has an exceptional way with words. This is a solid solo debut for him.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on July 28, 2009 at 8:46 am

RuralAlbertaAdvantageHometowns.jpgNote: This is the Canadian band’s debut album. It was actually recorded in 2007, and they started selling it in shows in 2008. Eventually excellent buzz after key festival performances and an eruption of support online led to a record deal with Saddle Creek, who officially released Hometowns for the first time here in the summer of 2009.
Sound: There are at least three types of songs on here – the light, wistful acoustic reflection, the pulsing, pleasing mid-tempo indie pop tune and the hard-stomping, rocker. Most songs incorporate some soft, subtle organ and strings that create a sweet, yearning atmosphere that’s frequently peppered by Amy Cole’s innocent and airy harmonies. But these gentler sounds are often balanced by Paul Banwatt’s feverish percussion, which can be explosive (like mini-fireworks displays), skittering or just pounding. Leading the way, though, is frontman/singer/songwriter Nils Edenloff. His tales of heartbeak and homesickness are powered by a voice that can be piercing and nasal (but melodically pleasing in the way Billy Corgan’s voice can be), husky and glammy (Supergrass’ Gaz Coombes comes to mind) and scrappy and punky (with hints of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and even a little bit of early Jack White with The White Stripes).
Heavy Rotation tracks: “The Dethbridge in Lethbridge”; “The Ballad of RAA”; “Don’t Haunt This Place”; “The Deadroads”; “Edmonton”; “Four Night Rider”
Medium Rotation tracks: The rest
Recommended: The melodies are top-notch, the juxtaposition of mellower and more aggressive sounds adds exciting emotional depth to each song and the eclectic range of styles keeps you guessing throughout. Hometowns is an excellent debut. Now that it’s been officially released, it’s an immediate contender for album of the year consideration.
Grade: A (Strong 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on July 27, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Dead Weather Horehound.jpgNote: The Dead Weather is a new band/project that consists of Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) on drums and some lead and background vocals, Alison Mosshart (The Kills) on most lead vocals, Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs) on bass and Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) on guitar.
Sound: A grimy, sweaty, raw and dangerous mix of sludgy blues and experimental indie rock that features lots of sexually charged vocals and distorted guitars and synthesizers.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “I Cut Like a Buffalo”; “Treat Me Like Your Mother”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Hang You from the Heavens”; “3 Birds”; “New Pony” (a cover of the 1978 Bob Dylan song from the album Street Legal).
Recommended: All of these musicians have produced more accomplished songs and albums in the past – they really just threw this whole thing together in a few weeks – but Horehound has a ragged, loose and unpredictable energy that makes for a sinfully enjoyable listen.
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on July 24, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Spinnerette.jpgNote: Spinnerette is led by Brody Dalle – former frontwoman of The Distillers and current wife of Queens of the Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme – and includes Alain Johannes (Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age), Tony Bevilacqua (The Distillers) and Jack Irons (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Eleven).
Sound: Surprisingly refined for a Brody Dalle project. Her vocals still have a raspy bite, but they’re more melodic and restrained than ever before. Plus, the music isn’t nearly as rugged or aggressive as The Distillers. In fact, the snappy, handclappy, arena-ready tunes are often quite mainstream-rock-radio-friendly. Occasionally, they lean more towards the harrowing fury of the past. But far more often, the music on Spinnerette sounds like a marriage of Joan Jett and Garbage – who certainly bring an element of danger but a more controlled danger – with a little bit of The Donnas’ sweet sass sprinkled in.
Heavy Rotation tracks: none
Medium Rotation tracks: “Ghetto Love”; “Cupid”; “Geeking”; “All Babes Are Wolves”; “Baptized By Fire”; “Impaler”
Recommended: Once you get over the initial shock of Brody’s new sound, you’ll discover that it works pretty well for her. She and the band definitely pull it off. But then as you get sucked in, you’ll realize that this isn’t her best collection of tunes. The first six tracks are all pretty good—and there are a couple of other decent ones scattered throughout the rest of the album—but there aren’t any standouts on here. Spinnerette is a fun new direction for Brody. If she continues this way in the future, hopefully she comes up with a few stellar songs.
Grade: B

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Posted by: Dave on July 19, 2009 at 7:22 pm

SunsetRubdownDragonslayer.jpgNote: This is the third full-length recording from Sunset Rubdown, the other band of Wolf Parade co-frontman Spencer Krug.
Sound: Proggy, imaginative indie rock with epic, multi-sectioned tracks, but a bevy of hooks and strong melodies keep everything tight and focused. The juxtaposition of Spencer Krug’s vibrato-heavy, sometimes-glammy warble and Camilla Wynne Ingr’s smoother, cleaner and sweeter harmonies and vocal interplays add a satisfying layer that balances out some of the noisy experimentation.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Silver Moons”; “Nightingale/December Song”; “You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Oh!”; “Dragon’s Lair”; “Black Swan”
Recommended: The Wolf Parade boys are on quite a tear. First they release the excellent At Mount Zoomer last year (my #12 Album of 2008). Then co-frontman Dan Boeckner released his strongest album to date with his other band Handsome Furs back in March. Now Spencer Krug has nearly matched him with this Sunset Rubdown release. The beauty of Dragonslayer is that despite all of its fearless ambition and near indulgence, it feels fun, carefree and full of memorable melodies.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on July 17, 2009 at 5:44 pm

GossipMusicforMen.jpgNote: This is the band’s first major-label studio album, and it was produced by the legendary Rick Rubin (the guru responsible for overseeing landmark albums by a wide range of artists from Run DMC and Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Cash and Dixie Chicks to Slayer).
Sound: Poppier, more electronic and more dancefloor-friendly than anything the punk-rooted threesome has done before. Guitars still chug, basslines still creep and Beth Ditto’s vocals still demonstrate her extraordinary howling power, but the radio-ready tunes frequently go disco, electro pop or new wave—while other times they rock in an arena-sized or grittier, aggressive way. The album has a surprisingly eclectic range of styles that manage to feel like they belong on the same disc.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Men In Love”; “2012”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Pop Goes the World”; “For Keeps”; “Spare Me From the Mold”; “Heavy Cross”
Recommended: Moving in such a sleek, mainstream-friendly direction is certainly jarring for these indie stalwarts, but the music still has an undeniably visceral energy and excitement. The commercial appeal of Music for Men doesn’t undermine the fact that this is just a great excuse to hear Beth Ditto belt out 12 more songs.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on July 7, 2009 at 10:29 am

WilcoTheAlbum.jpgSound: Groovy rockers, gentle ballads, tense introspections and laid back musings—all filtered through varying degrees of rootsy and country instrumentation like bendy pedal steel, strummy acoustic guitar and swirling organs. The songs often have a classic, Americana flavor—though not nearly as vintage as the stuff on 2007’s Sky Blue Sky
with some more modern, aggressive touches like squalling feedback, throbbing piano, and funky bass—but it’s certainly less experimental than 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or 2004’s A Ghost is Born.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “I’ll Fight”; “Sonny Feeling”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Everlasting Everything”; “Country Disappeared”; “One Wing”; “You and I”; “Solitaire”; “Wilco”
Recommended: Like its banal title might suggest, Wilco (the album) is not a special album. It lacks standout tracks—at least compared to their past highlights—and pales in comparison to several of the albums in their impressive catalogue. That said, this is still a solid collection of songs and musical ideas. Those that like Wilco’s more challenging and adventurous work should take to the first half, while those that like their hookier, poppier tunes should find more to like in the latter half.
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on July 6, 2009 at 11:48 am

MarsVoltaOctahedron.jpgSound: A significantly mellower and simplified version of The Mars Volta. Last year’s The Bedlam in Goliath found the aggressive prog rock experimentalists evolve by creating compositions that resembled long songs, instead of free-form multi-sectioned jams and sound manipulations. But Octahedron is even more streamlined—only 50 minutes of music, considerably fewer errant musical interludes, and fewer layers of instrumentation. Yep, it still sounds undeniably like The Mars Volta. The vocals still soar into the stratosphere and have a wicked creepiness, but they’re also frequently tender and soothing. The guitars shimmer, echo and occasionally thrash out some monstrous riffs, but they also sing out several gorgeously clean melodic lines. And the rhythms can grip you with their funky power, but they rarely pummel you, as they’ve done so often in the past.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Teflon” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “Cotopaxi” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “Since We’ve Been Wrong”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Desperate Graves”; “Halo of Nembutals”
Recommended: Many of those that have loved The Mars Volta’s previous work have put up with their musical excesses and meanderings, because the good parts were so good—completely worth the wait. But Octahedron is predominately highlights with limited waiting (relatively speaking, at least) for the next euphoric section. This scaled back and sedated version of The Mars Volta is so much easier to digest than anything they’ve done before that it could actually broaden their fanbase—and it makes their exceptional skills as musicians and hook writers more apparent. Beware, though, the lyrics are as dense, dark, death-obsessed and, at times, borderline ridiculous as they always are.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on June 29, 2009 at 8:43 pm

ReginaSpektorFar.jpgSound: Regina worked with four different veteran pop/rock producers on Far and the result is the slickest album she’s released to date—her piano-driven, chirpy pop songs and precious meditations lack the rough edges of the past. And even though you can’t help but think of Tori Amos or Fiona Apple when she gets darker and more dramatic, Regina’s sugary sweet demeanor makes her music much safer than her distinguished predecessors’.
Heavy Rotation track: “Folding Chair”; “The Calculation”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Machine”; “Human of the Year”; “Eet”
Recommended: On 2006’s Begin to Hope (my #13 album of 2006), Regina impressively graduated beyond the quirky novelty of her previous work. But on Far, she’s back to more of the theatrical silliness. She dares you to be annoyed by her oddball whimsy and repetitive phrases, and with the squeaky clean production there’s no place for her adorable personality to hide. Fortunately, she writes some solid melodies and music that make for a pleasing listen. But your overall enjoyment will depend on how much of her vocals and lyrics you can take in one sitting.
Grade: B

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Posted by: Dave on June 22, 2009 at 7:49 pm

KasabianWest RyderSound: Fuzzy guitars, electro hip-hop beats, anthemic, fist-pumping choruses and epic, psychedelic journeys are what you expect from Kasabian, and West Ryder has all of the above. But there are some unexpected surprises on here – Kinks-like, jangly acoustic guitar, classic Brit poppy melodies and more traditional song structures (as opposed to extended, club-friendly grooves).
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Take Aim”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Where Did All the Love Go?”; “Vlad the Impaler”; “Fire”; “Underdog”; “Fast Fuse”
Recommended: For all the ambition and bombast on display on West Ryder—and everything Kasabian does—the end result actually sounds pretty safe and simplistic. The songs are all fairly catchy—though none super-memorable or impressive—and if you’re a fan of classic Brit pop or psychedelic British rock, the sounds will be pleasing to your ears. It’s an accomplished effort, but little on here captures the excitement of the standout tracks of their first two albums or their live show.
Grade: B

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