If you are even a casual fan of My Morning Jacket or the band’s enigmatic frontman Jim James then you have probably already read the many articles describing James’ inspiration for his new the album, the parallels his life made to the 1929 graphic novel God’s Man and his deep love for the ever charismatic Bruce Springsteen. A simple google search will bring up plenty of that information so we’ll skip the background and go straight to the main event, Regions of Light and Sound of God. James’ first official solo album is a testament to his creativity and ability to write beautiful songs that somehow push the boundaries of popular music but remain likable at first listen. Combining highly danceable back beats with soulful instrumentation and James’ trademark vocals Regions is everything you would expect from the frontman of My Morning Jacket without actually sounding like a Jacket album. Notoriously eccentric yet accessible James seems to be coming into his own these days and Regions is a perfect example of this new shift in positive energy and complete confidence; an artist who is firing on all cylinders and making timeless music at every turn.
James’ love for experimenting with production shines through with tracks like “Know Til Now and “State of the Art,” yet he takes a more straight forward approach with songs like “Of The Mother Again” that is all stripped down sweetness. Clocking in under 35 minutes and just 9 songs in length the album is far too short for my tastes, but when one of those songs is as beautiful as “A New Life” I am willing to forgive and forget. The only slightly weak moment on the album comes at the very end with the final two songs. “All Is Forgiven” and “God’s Love to Deliver,” may have lyrics that dig deep and resonate days after, but their melodies never really live up to the bar set by the rest of the album. That being said, repeat listens (like the 50+ I have now given the album) soften this opinion and you become accustomed to their sad tones and off-kilter instrumentals.
Regions of Light and Sound of God was recorded over a 2 and a half year period whenever James had time off from MMJ, but has ended up as something much more than a simple distraction from boredom. The album as a whole tells a complete story and the music feels incredibly fresh and original yet familiar. James is solidifying himself as one of today’s most prolific and talented songwriters who is constantly reinventing the mold but managing to stay relatable. James is the type of unexpected songwriter that always leaves you wanting more and with my Morning Jacket returning to the studio this summer I’m anxious to see what’s next.
When I first heard that “the dude from Spoon has a new band with a guy from Wolf Parade”, I was stoked beyond belief. Members from two of the great indie-rock bands in recent history joining forces to create a whole new, dare I say, “group of superiority” known as Divine Fits. The lineup includes Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, Britt Daniel from Spoon and New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown. So it’s not a surprise this album is pretty much everything you could wish for if you are a fan of Spoon and/or Boeckner’s Wolf Parade songs. Some of you might be familiar with Boeckner’s other project, Handsome Furs, an indie/electronic duo consisting of he and his wife, Alexei Perry, but the majority of my experience with the Canadian rocker lies amongst the three striking albums from Wolf Parade. There is certainly an electronic influence here but the digital effects aren’t forced and there is plenty of guitar to go around. The synths have a voice all their own and truly serve as a complement to the contagious head-nodding beats.
Album opener “My Love Is Real” perfectly encapsulates Dan Boeckner’s singing style and earnest mood while the spooky Halloween-esque piano riff sets the pace for a song that is both slow-building and intense. “Flaggin A Ride” sounds exactly like Spoon but I must admit I love it as much as any of the other Spoon-ful clap-happy classics. “For Your Heart” and “Shivers” are two superb songs that best illustrate the Divine Fits’ hybrid style as they blend addictive beats with well-placed driving guitar. With Boeckner singing on “Heart” and Daniels on “Shivers”, each tune showcases the respective singers giving it their all with passionate vocals and straining fervor. I’ll be honest, once or twice I lost track of who was actually singing. There is no Spencer Krug (former Wolf Parade co-frontman) of course and while I do miss his maniacal energy and song-writing, Britt Daniel fills that role with a frenzy and vigor all his own. Divine Fits is certainly in a happier place than Wolf Parade was and the songs are slightly more rockin’ than Spoon’s tick-tock approach. At 42 minutes long, this album is a very enjoyable and a perfectly paced listen. A Thing called Divine Fits emerges from the gate as one of my favorites so far this year. And the sound called Divine Fits is a welcome contribution to rock n roll from two of the best players in the game.
A Thing Called Divine Fits is streaming at NRP in its entirety up to its August 28th release date.
Awwww….dream pop… soooooo….dreamy.
What is “dream pop” you may ask?
• It is a frozen treat made of crystalized clouds?
• A Japanese soft-drink sold in a sparkling iridescent bottle?
• What happens when your boss nudges you to wake up in the middle of a long conference call?
Not quite. According to Beach House’s Wikipedia page* “dream pop” is slow, atmospheric rhythms created through mesmerizing texture and ethereal melody. Full disclosure – this is not my usual repertoire. I typically look for albums a little more…full bodied. Something harder and with a kick. This album was not only a pleasant surprise it was a breath of fresh air in it’s less-is-more approach to pop music. Beach House surprisingly is only two people, French-born Victoria Legrand and Baltimore native Alex Scally. Their fourth album, Bloom, released this past May is an addicting 50 minutes of guitars that sound like harps, beautiful haunting vocals and delicately-crafted works of audio art. The inclusion of layered electronics and what I guess is a drum machine fit well as the percussion should be subtle and secondary to Legrand’s swooning voice.
This album has moments of genius that feel quite cinematic at times. It is not the perfect masterpiece I hoped for, but it does convey mastery. Some of the songs blend together but that’s hardly a knock as this sort of thing is common for albums of the slow-moving and melancholy genre. There aren’t many surprises as many of the dreamy tunes end up right where they began but several tracks stand out in particular. Album opener, “Myth”, is the single floating around the interweb and for good reason. The song is four minutes of feel-good beauty which stirs up similar feelings to the first drink at happy hour, the sun shining on your face or the walk home after that first kiss. It’s simple, pure and manages to create a depth and presence quite uncommon for a band with only two people in it. “The Hours” is hard for me to relate to lyrically as I don’t have a lot of experience with “Frightened Eyes” but I can appreciate the song’s polished and alluring style. “On The Sea” opens with a simple piano melody but it’s simplicity is what makes it work so well. A truly captivating song. Adjectives used to describe classical music are more relevant here but since I’m more comfortable arguing the merits of individual Led Zeppelin albums I will refrain from trying. All I can say is that this song could be a lullaby it’s so absorbing and memorable. All in all, the album is a shiny glimmer of hope in an otherwise gloomy category. Beach House is a welcome vacation from most everything else playing right now and one that will haunt you long after it’s over.
3 years removed from their debut release, the not-so-aptly-named Vancouver duo Japandroids is back with Celebration Rock, a fun,raucous album that plays true to it’s name. The album kicks off with fireworks, and keeps the celebration rollin’ through 8 tracks of good times and rock and roll.
Throughout the course of it’s 35 minute play time, Celebration Rock manages to conjure up a great deal of nostalgia. For a music fan such as myself who got his chops in the turn of the century punk/indie/hardcore/whatever you want to call it scene – this record brings back shades of hole in the wall clubs packed to the seams with sweaty teenagers chanting and fist pumping the night away. Luckily, the Japandroids latest is simply a nod to punk rock past, and not a full blown foray into angst ridden adolescence.
This record seems to possess all of the better qualities of the aforementioned trip down memory lane – leaving the claustrophobia, heat exhaustion and not so pleasant smells behind in favor of a spirited and energetic release. In the midst of the scorching garage rock and punk rock passion is an earnest and genuine rock and roll album worth celebrating.
For fans of the London-based quintet known as Fanfarlo their new album, Rooms Filled With Light, is both a breath of fresh air and a throwback to 80′s new-wave pop at the same time. You’d think sounding like records that are almost 30 years old would seem stale but the current landscape of indie rock has an immediate opening in all things new-wave. The band’s quirky and arty sound has found themselves in playlists alongside bands such as The Cure and Talking Heads. This album will only reinforce those comparisons.
The album opens with a rather intense string-induced “fright fest” called “Replicate” that’s part-Andrew Bird, part-David Byrne but serves as a bizarre and beautiful opener. Track numero dos, “Deconstruction”, is the album’s first single and is a focused and upbeat tune that raises you up but sort of falls apart with with the creepy piano outro. For my money, the light doesn’t fill the room until almost two minutes into the third track “Lenslife” which takes the orchestral pop back to more familiar territory, a la 2008′s Reservoir. A great tune that certainly flows with glimmering ripples and crashing waves. “Tightrope” is a foot-stomper for the internet age and just like the lyrics – it could all come crashing down at any moment. Pretty heavy stuff but what do you expect from a song that may or may not have a harp in it? Once the album gets going it’s actually quite fun. Fanfarlo succeeds in making themes of science and extinction seem fun and quirky. Swedish frontman Simon Balthazar manages to keep an element of hope and youthful energy in a genre that historically includes frontmen who look like Edward Scissorhands or Max Headroom.
Rooms Filled With Light is a little more “out there” than the band’s debut 2008 record Reservoir but the unconventional spirit combined with an electronic and orchestral “double-threat” create a very atmospheric record that would make even Brian Eno proud. They mix elements of folk, indie rock and post-punk using a variety of instruments including the trumpet, violin, mandolin and glockenspiel. A lot of potential combinations there and most of them come together nicely. It’s not the best album of the year but if you’re partial to bands like Belle & Sebastian or Arcade Fire you will fit right in. There’s a depth to the album that I overlooked the first few times but after a few more whirls (and a new set of headphones) I’ve finally seen the light.
Here are live sessions of two great tracks from Rooms Filled With Light.
Most of the albums I’ve been listening to lately are subtle, layered and complicated – they require patience and time to fully understand and eventually love. Faithful Man, is not one of these albums. The first time I heard it I could feel a smile creep across my face and the instant relief of loving something without all the hard work. Just when you think classic soul music is dead, an album comes along and surprises you. Lee Fields has been in the music industry since the 60′s but his newest album Faithful Man has been making people sit up and take notice.
A man that got his start singing in small NYC clubs, it didn’t take long before his soulful voice and James Brown-esque moves were noticed and his career was well on it’s way. Although he began with a funk sound playing with bands like Kool and the Gang, his current album is more soulful Motown. Song’s like “Wish You Were Here” are belted out with all the pain and suffering of Otis Redding’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Not only is this a great soul album with all the bells and whistles of a full band, stellar back up singers and a charismatic front man, but it’s stacked with great tunes. If you aren’t hooked after the first three songs then you might not be paying attention. The title track is a gritty and painful employing all the instruments Fields has at his disposal, “I Still Got It,” makes you want to whole heartedly agree and “You’re The Kind of Girl” is so damn catchy it would have easily been a chart topper back in the 60′s. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a place for this kind of music on today’s radio, but if you’ve turned on the radio lately (at least in my area) they aren’t exactly setting the standard. Rolling Stones cover “Moonlight Mile,” has all the echoes of 70′s rock, but when given the Fields’ treatment becomes smooth, aching and slightly groovy. There are no gimmicks here – no samples, no rappers, and no hooks sung by modern artists trying to force the album to be hip enough to appeal to young audiences. Just straight forward soul music as it should be written and the result is extremely genuine and heartfelt. Faithful Man proves what I’ve always thought, which is that it can be any genre of music from doo-wop to punk, but if it’s good then it transcends time. Good music should be as good tomorrow as it was today, and this right here is good music. Nice work Mr. Fields.
Watch Lee and the band crush it below.
Also the official music video for “You’re The Kind of Girl.”
I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to like the new Andrew Bird album, it just seems like the kind of music for people who go around using words like paradoxical and calling splattered paint art. I’m probably more familiar with his highly impressive collection of gig posters than his former work, but I heard “Eyeoneye” early on and was very intrigued. Then I learned that most of the album was captured during a week-long cabin session where most of the songs were recorded live and I couldn’t help taking Break It Yourself for a spin. I wouldn’t say that I am a complete believer yet but after several listens I’d say my relationship with Andrew Bird has certainly been taken “to the next level.”
Break It Yourself begins with the plucky sounds of “Desperation Breeds” that quietly soars while implementing all the strange and intricate sounds that make up the album as a whole. “Danse Caribe” is a stand out, balancing styles ranging from celtic to folk with ease and “Give It Away” makes for a smooth transition into the album’s best track. “Eyeoneye” combines all the things Bird does best with a straight forward rock sound, which results in one stellar tune that crescendos at just the right moment. The rest of the album plugs right along without a real stinker in the bunch – if you’re into mellow nature-bound music that employs whistling better than most, then this is the album for you. Songs like “Fatal Shore” and “Lusitania” take advantage of Annie Clark’s vocals and “Near Death Experience Experience” might just make you “dance like a cancer survivor.” A nice solid album from a veteran artist who continues to develop his sound and put out quality albums. What could be wrong with that?
Watch Bird jam out on a violin on The Colbert Report below.
Delta Spirit has been churning out hook ridden, high energy rock music for several years now. They have a knack for taking a classic sound and making it feel fresh by infusing a healthy dose of grit and some well placed screams. Their new album was the band’s “pet project” and perhaps the fact that it is self titled speaks volumes – is this the Delta Spirit they have always wanted to be or perhaps this is the Delta Spirit that will be around for the long haul. Either way the band is clearly exploring new territory and although some fans are disappointed by the new overly polished sound it’s hard to deny that there are some great tunes here.
Delta Spirit is a high energy album built for parties, summer road trips and getting pumped in general. The album kicks things right off with three great tunes: “Empty House” sets a great tone, “Tear It Up” keeps the momentum going and “California” is a clear winner. Unfortunately, right in the meat of the album is where things start to go wrong. “Home” is reminiscent of “Devil Knows You’re Dead” but not as successful, “Otherside” never really goes anywhere and my least favorite “Tellin’ The Mind’s” “RRRReeeeba” chorus is down right irritating. “Timebomb” starts to bring it all back home with an 80′s throwback feel and once you hear “Money Saves” you are happy you stuck around.
For a band that has built their career on stripped down rock music with a healthy dose of grit, it’s fairly obvious why this album has divided fans. Exploring new territory isn’t always an instant home-run and although there is plenty to love here, some of the songs just don’t work. Like the Sinead O’ Conner-esque closer “Yamaha” which may be lovely to some, but simply isn’t how I like my Delta Spirit. Give me the pure rock of “Bushwick Blues,” raw emotion of “Golden State” or infectious fun of “Trashcan” any day, but that’s just me reminiscing. Sadly things rarely stay the same forever and if this is the Delta Spirit of the future then I can adjust and even be happy about it at times. The bottom line is, Delta Spirit isn’t bad, it simply doesn’t tap back into the the reasons I liked the band in the first place. I guess at the end of the day, you have to take the good with the bad and hope that one day the band either returns to the well, or strikes a better balance between their old strengths and new sound.
Check out their official video for “California” featuring a ridiculous amount of young adult debauchery below.
The Austin based rock band Heartless Bastards has been making consistently good albums for years now but their newest attempt, Arrow, really seems to hit the mark. From the moody opener “Marathon” to the pop friendly “Parted Ways” to rock riff happy “Late In the Night” this album is chock full o’ goodness. Perhaps it’s Erika Wennerstrom’s powerful alto or how the album itself is a perfect blend of salty, sweet, rock, blues and heartbreak, but this one has been on repeat around here since it came out. “Got to Have Rock and Roll” is a full on rocker, “Only For You” is groovy as hell, “Skin and Bone” is road trip friendly folk and the album closer “Down in the Canyon” attempts to slow rock your face off. From start to finish the album draws you in, spits you out, makes you rock and never loses momentum. What can I say but, well done Heartless Bastards.
Check out the band on Letterman playing “Got to Have Rock and Roll.”
Or a studio video of the band recording “Parted Ways.”
To be completely frank, I think I liked Dr. Dog before I even heard them. Perhaps it was the over exuberant recommendation from a friend with a selective history of solid recommendations. Or maybe it was all of the lofty Band/Beatles comparisons their early records were garnering that made me like them by association. Either way, it wasn’t a fair fight – by the time I got my hands on their at the time new album, Easy Beat it was pretty much on.
Since those days, the band has put out solid album after solid album increasing the audience and the exposure slowly and steadily along the way. In the process, they’ve gone from that cool little indie band no one’s ever heard of to well traveled industry veterans. As a quirky little band like that grows over the years, there is bound to be a backlash among the overly hip among us calling for the usual “I was there first” glory day cliches, but for me – I’ve loved watching the band grow. Frankly, it’s beyond me why they didn’t blow up sooner. With album after album of accessible yet aberrant retro tinged pop tunes and one of the best live shows in the game it was only a matter of time.
Fast forward to today – four albums and a few roster shakeups since Easy Beat took over my stereo and the guys have a new disc ready before the last one even got cold. Flipping the script from last year’s Shame, Shame they took to the studio sans producer and left with, you guessed it, yet another excellent album. Somewhere in between keeping it real with the old stuff and trying something new the band continues to find great new songs that make my stereo smile. As an increased guitar presence and some phenomenal performances by new drummer Eric Slick continue to propel the always solid Leaman/McMicken songwriting tandem, I’m more than happy to be along for the ride.
Be the Void is yet another logical step in the ascension of Dr. Dog. Album after album, show after show these guys are turning out great music that is worth getting excited about. As a fan of their work – both old and new, I’m happy to report that Be the Void knocks it firmly out of the park. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Damien Jurado has more than a few albums under his belt but his newest attempt, Maraqopa, builds on the sonic sounds he dabbled in during the making of his last album, Saint Bartlett. Kicking things off with a bang “Nothing is the News” is the longest song on this short and sweet album and does a good job of preparing you for the barrage of sound you are about to experience. Although Jurado’s earlier albums were stripped down and raw, his new brand of folk is built on countless layers of instruments, random sounds, background singers and anything else you could think of – but somehow it really works. It’s rare and refreshing to see an artist make a departure from their norm that feels like such a natural progression, but Jurado pulls it off with Maraqopa. Many easy favorites here including “Life Away from the Garden,” “Reel to Reel,” “Working Titles,” “So On, Nevada,” and “Museum of Flight.” Honestly the only song that doesn’t really work is “This Time Next Year,” which is just a bit too plunky and odd.
Echoey and sweet, dreamy and earthy, mellow and unique, Maraqopa builds on Jurado’s already highly likable indie music and proves yet again that he is the type of guy who marches to the beat of his own drum. Nothing here is forced, just the same great melodic folk music Jurado has always been known for, except this time there is a lot more sound to love.
Check out Jurado playing a stripped down version of “Reel to Reel” in the Seattle Times old press room below.
After first listen Tramp seems overly droning and moody, but then it slowly creeps it’s way into your daily listening habits and before you know it, you are hooked. Sharon Van Etten’s third album Tramp has been highly anticipated since she released it’s first single “Serpents” several weeks ago that hinted at the album’s darker rock side. Although “Serpents” is a force to be reckoned with and unlike any other on the album, the rest of the songs will win you over in time.
Van Etten’s voice is sad, tortured and sweet – it makes you slightly uncomfortable but also completely mesmerizes you at the same time. “All I Can” was an early favorite and continues to please with each listen as you anticipate it’s slow climb towards a room filling crescendo. No sooner do you come down from the deep emotions of “All I Can” than Van Etten slowly strums the folky “We Are Fine,” assuring you that she’s “alright.” From the hollow and gut wrenching “I’m Wrong” to the painfully sweet “Leonard,” this album will rip your heart from your chest but you’ll probably get up and ask for more.
Tramp brings the emotion of Van Etten’s other albums to a whole new level and seems to be a sign of growth towards something really interesting. Not a party album by any stretch of the imagination, but an intriguing and lovely one nonetheless.
Check out Sharon rocking “All I Can” live in Philly recently.