New Music: Interpol – El Pintor

Interpol - El Pintor

InterpolEl Pintor //

3.5-BamsTop Tracks: “All the Rage Back Home”
“Ancient Ways”
“Tidal Wave”

Album Highlights: As indie music continues to draw more and more from the electronic revolution that dominates the current landscape, New York post-punk revivalists Interpol have quietly fallen into veteran status while still doing it their own way. But that doesn’t mean things haven’t changed for frontman Paul Banks and his bandmates. Shortly after recording its fourth full-length, self-titled album, the band announced the departure of founding bassist Carlos Dengler. Reforming as a three-piece with Banks taking over on bass and working with well-known British producer and mix engineer Alan Moulder (Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, Nine Inch Nails), the group’s fifth studio effort El Pintor — the title serves as an anagram of the band’s name — also features guest appearances from Brandon Curtis of Secret Machines, former Beck keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. and Rob Moose of Bon Iver. And though the four years between albums stands as the longest gap to date for the band, what we hear on the 10-track LP off of Matador Records, which includes three bonus tracks via iTunes (“The Depths”) as well as Target (“Malfeasance” and a live version of “Slow Hands” from the Brixton Academy in London) after being recorded at NYC’s Electric Lady Studios and Atomic Sound, proves to be well worth the wait.

From opening rocker “All the Rage Back Home,” it’s clear that there’s still plenty of chemistry between Banks (vocals, guitar, bass, production), Daniel Kessler (guitar, piano, production) and Sam Fogarino (drums, percussion, production) since receiving critical acclaim for their 2002 debut Turn on the Bright Lights and their 2004 follow-up Antics. Punctuated by Kessler’s frenetic, yet exquisite riffs, the album’s lead single debuted at No. 37 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart last month before more recently ascending to No. 31. And as one of the best offerings we’ve heard from Interpol in quite some time, it’s undeniably deserving of such applause.

That’s not to say that the rest of El Pintor doesn’t warrant any as well, however. Rather, it boasts some other outstanding cuts, including the guitar-driven “Anywhere,” in which Banks dreams of escaping to far-away places with lyrics like “The ocean … I could go anywhere! I could go anywhere!” There’s even the ensuing “Same Town, New Story,” which sounds like nothing the band has ever written before — an exciting proposition for any longtime Interpol fan. With three more gems (“Ancient Ways,” “Tidal Wave” and “Twice As Hard”) rounding things out, El Pintor holds up from start to finish and even more, is one that Banks, Kessler and Fogarino can be proud to call their own.

Album Lowlight: There is something that remains uniquely distinct about Interpol’s sound, and while that most often has worked in their favor, you could certainly argue that their sound hasn’t evolved by leaps and bounds since Turn on the Bright Lights. At the same time, that doesn’t mean what the band brings to the table here doesn’t work. What’s impressive about Interpol is that despite the potential sonic limitations they face, each album fits suitably within the context of their overall body of work. Interpol may never top the praise and success they received in the early 2000s, but El Pintor gives us a good reason to remember why they remain an important fixture in today’s indie rock scene.

Takeaway: It will be interesting to see what comes of Interpol’s lineup after they tour this fall in the U.S. and this winter in Europe. Will their new three-piece setup in the studio work for the long haul, or will they bring a new bassist on full time and allow Banks to return to solely his rhythm guitar duties? For as integral as Dengler was to the band’s songwriting process and its public image, you wouldn’t even know on El Pintor that he’s no longer playing in the band — a true testament to the job Banks has done in filling those shoes for at least the time being.

~Josh Herwitt

The Top 10 summer anthems of 2014

Summer-COVERWritten by Kevin Quandt & Krystal Beez //

With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, the days are getting shorter and most students are heading back in school. So what better time than now to identify this year’s most iconic summer jams?

These 10 sun-drenched summer anthems run the gauntlet from pop songs you couldn’t escape to indie gems that deserve even more attention as we head toward the end of 2014.

What are your favorite summer anthems from 2014? Tell us below in the comments.


Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

Yes, we all know and love the dance moves of a one Mr. Samuel Harrington at this point. However, once that spectacle wears thin (unlikely), the music of Future Islands is truly amazing, with a lyrical depth that could be lost on a new or casual fan. “You know when people change / They gain a piece but they lose one too” is a pretty damned insightful line for a previously underground new-wave band. Yet, now that they have grown by leaps and bounds in 2014, it’s anyone guess as to how far their stock climbs. -KQ


Iggy Azalea – “Fancy” (featuring Charli XCX)

Both Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX seemed to be everywhere this summer. Charli was featured on The Fault in Our Stars soundtrack and Iggy released her newest album The New Classic — But “Fancy” was destined to be a summer anthem. With that beat and catchy lyrics like “I’m so fancy / Can’t you taste this gold?”, plus a music video throwback to the movie Clueless, it is no surprise that we all got a whole lot fancier this summer. -KB


Nico and Vinz – “Am I Wrong”

Though originally released in April 2013 when the act went by the name Envy, this track became a massive export for the Norwegian duo known as Nico & Vinz in the summer of 2014. The late success of this song was credited to it’s airy guitar vibe coupled with startling pop vocals peppered with just enough danceability to be remixed by every producer under the sun. “Am I Wrong” also holds the record for the most ‘Shazammed’ song of the summer, not to mention it’s been played on Spotify well over 100 million times. It’s hard to deny that this track was one of the most popular songs of the summer…I mean, am I wrong? -KQ


Lana Del Rey – “West Coast”

The hypnotic and moody “West Coast” is the perfect accompaniment to a bonfire on the beach on a warm summer night. And despite the fact that I’ve never heard anyone in California say, “Down on the west coast, they’ve got a saying / If you’re not drinking, then you’re not playing,” it’s still a beautifully dark song that shows off a new side to Lana Del Rey, and a moodier side to summer. -KB


Caribou – “Can’t Do Without You”

Though this summer hit wasn’t slathered all over popular airwaves, it did however, make the summer playlist of many savvy music fans. Dan Snaith’s return to the studio, and the stage, has been welcomed with enthusiasm, and this premier new track had all the elements to thrill. Rolling waves of warm, bassy synths lightly pummel the listener into one seriously psyched-out coma. Each element fits neatly into the other – a characteristic Snaith honed on his previous release, Swim. His subsequent return to stage received accolades at FYF Fest, and his devoted fans are hoping for a tour in the near future. -KQ


Sia – “Chandelier”

“Chandelier” celebrates (and regrets) those classic moments of summer debauchery, contrasting feelings of uncontrollable angst with the unconscious process slowly losing control. But if the original is too moody for you, don’t fret. The Plastic Plates remix of “Chandelier” kept us on the dance floor all summer long. And when that chorus comes in, Sia’s powerhouse vocals hit hard. This was one that we were all belting out after we’d had a few: “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier / I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t exist.” -KB


Lorde – “Tennis Court”

While Lorde’s ‘honeymoon’ in the industry is now over, the young Kiwi has proven that she is no one-hit-wonder. Once the dust from “Royals” and “Team” had settled, “Tennis Court” off of Pure Heroine took the spotlight this summer. This song found, and continues to find, a comfortable home on various FM outlets as its dreamy adult-contemprary vibe exhibits a wide range of appeal. The track was further bolstered this summer by a stellar remix by the fellow Oceanian we all know as Flume. -KQ


Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”

Sam Smith is a force to be reckoned with. “Stay With Me” starts as piano-soul and then builds to a gospel chorus that displays the British crooners powerful and soulful voice. As many have pointed out this year, “Stay With Me” has a strong resemblance to Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”, but the similarity has mattered to few as “Stay With Me” is one of those songs that can bounce around the brain for hours. It’s interesting to note that Sam Smith’s collaboration with Disclosure, “Latch”, was released in 2012, yet this was another song of the summer in 2014 due to Smith’s meteoric rise in popularity. Also, Smith lit up the airwaves as the featured voice on Naughty Boy’s “La La La”. If you hadn’t heard of Sam Smith before summer began, you know him now. -KB


Calvin Harris – “Summer”

Besides the obvious inclusion due to the the title, “Summer” quickly rose to be the club anthem of summer 2014. Similar to fellow mega-hit, “Feel So Close”, we see Harris returning to the vocal duties on his own track, which has shown to be successful. Sure, it’s not the most ambitious track of the summer, but it’s hard to ignore the far-reaching nature of the club hit, especially in a time of massive growth in popularity for the lifestyle surrounding club culture. Oh yeah, Calvin was also named as Forbes’ highest paid “Electronic Cash Kings” making some $46 million dollars in the past year. -KQ


Ariana Grande – “Problem” (featuring Iggy Azalea)

Ariana Grande is no stranger to summer anthems. Getting her start on Broadway and Nickelodeon, Grande stepped on the scene last year in a big way with “The Way”, and she’s at it again. This time she teamed up with Iggy Azalea as the two delivered “Problem”, which blends together Grande’s many influences and her Mariah-esque vocals quite smoothly. This record-breaking summer anthem of 2014 is likely the most popular song of the year. -KB

New Music: The Black Angels – Clear Lake Forest


The Black AngelsClear Lake Forest //

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Tired Eyes”
“Diamond Eyes”
“The Flop”

Album Highlights: Clear Lake Forest is a super solid album from start to finish. One gets the impression that they purposefully set up the track listing to mirror a good acid trip. The album takes you through highs and lows — both sonically and lyrically. Opening track “Sunday Evening” quickly draws you in with its poppy verses and snappy chorus. Songs like “Tired Eyes”, “Diamond Eyes” and “The Flop” bring with them a darker quality but remain infectious. As the album moves on, we come upon the drone-pop ditty “The Occurance at 4507 South Third Street”, which sets the listener up perfectly for the remainder of the album. Coming back down, we come to “The Executioner”, which advises the listener that “If it feels good, do it again!” Finally, we close the album with “Linda’s Gone”, which appropriately brings you back down to Earth gently but without completely taking you out of your haze.

Album Lowlight: Where The Black Angels excel in creating a dreamy, psychedelic wall of sound, I do believe that they tend to borrow a bit too much from their influences. As with many of the neo-psych rock bands, there is a tendency to reproduce the sonic quality of a vintage 60’s LP. Considering the strength of the songs themselves, that is all well and good, but sometimes it’s best to leave the past in the past.

Takeaway: Those familiar with The Black Angels’ body of work will be pleasantly surprised by their latest offering. It’s a quick seven-track album, with each track leaving you in acid-laced reverie. There is very little in the way of “dead air” on this album, and even with borrowing much from their forefathers, the production quality is top notch. The album starts off very strong, carries you along for a sweet ride and ends on a mellow note … just like a good bourbon.

~Andrew Pohl

New Music: ANTEMASQUE – Self-titled


ANTEMASQUEAntemasque //

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“I Got No Remorse”
“In the Lurch”
“Drown All Your Witches”

Album Highlights: Control freak or not, Omar Rodríguez-López has certainly kept himself busy since the breakup of The Mars Volta. The former TMV bandleader/guitarist teamed up with Le Butcherettes vocalist/guitarist Teri Gender Bender and former TMV drummer Deantoni Parks to form experimental alt-rock outfit Bosnian Rainbows in 2012, and earlier this year, he joined forces with former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and Swahili Blonde drummer Nicole Turley to release Kimono Kult’s debut EP Hiding in the Light (read our review here). While rumors of a TMV reunion surfaced in February when Rodríguez-López and former lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala started speaking to each other again after going their separate ways for a couple years, fans were eventually informed in early April that there would be no reunion, but instead, a new project from Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala dubbed ANTEMASQUE. Featuring RHCP’s Flea on bass, the rock ‘n’ roll legend is not considered to be an official member despite letting Rodríguez-López, Bixler-Zavala and former TMV drummer Dave Elitch use his recording studio and being included in the band’s teaser video that dropped three months ago.

What came out of those sessions at Flea’s studio is the groundwork that makes up the supergroup’s 10-track, self-titled debut, which fuses the frenetic punk-rock elements of Rodríguez-López’s and Bixler-Zavala’s first band, At the Drive-In, with the prog-rock roots of TMV. The album’s first single “4AM” kicks things off in a hurry, as Bixler-Zavala shouts his way through the upbeat, yet short-lived track that sees Rodríguez-López use a guitar effect reminiscent of The Cure’s Robert Smith during the song’s verse sections. The ensuing number, “I Got No Remorse”, picks up the pace even more thanks to Elitch’s drumming, making it easy to see why the ATDI comparisons will come fast and furious for ANTEMASQUE. “In the Lurch,” on the other hand, bridges the gap between progressive rock and punk rock better than any other tune on the LP, with a breakdown midway through that lets Flea’s groovy bass line shine through.

But unlike any song on the album that precedes it, “Drown All Your Witches” takes a much different approach, with Rodríguez-López exchanging his electric guitar for an acoustic one. Surprisingly enough, it stands as one of the album’s top tracks, even if Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics are still relatively cryptic, as he demonstrates in this verse: “All I ever done is hold a love as this / I’m used to just watching without a sound / On that day with our backs against the wall / Is that how you drown all your witches?” It’s not long, of course, before we’re transported back to the charging punk that rounds out the rest of Antemasque, as we come to discover with “People Forget” and “Rome Armed to the Teeth.”

Album Lowlight: As excited as ATDI and TMV fans should be to see Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala back together making music, Antemasque doesn’t come anywhere close to topping ground-breaking albums like 2000’s Relationship of Command and 2003’s De-Loused in the Comatorium that thrust both bands into the mainstream spotlight. That’s not to say that this record is completely unlistenable, but it’s far from complete. “Ride Like the Devil’s Son” has the potential to be one of the album’s best offerings, but it falls flat when the chorus kicks in. “50,000 Kilowatts,” meanwhile, serves as another departure from the punk-prog concoction that dominates most of Antemasque, but its pop/rock vibe and cookie-cutter formula sounds rather contrived. On the whole, it’s hard to ascertain what the band’s identity truly is, as it mixes prog, punk and alt-rock over the course of just 35 minutes.

Takeaway: Although fans of TMV will likely find Antemasque too straight-forward for their liking, more traditional punk enthusiasts may be able to get behind what Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala have put together here. It’s worth nothing that Elitch’s work on the skins is absolutely exquisite throughout, driving the music forward while also lying back at certain times when it’s appropriate. There’s no doubt that Rodríguez-López, Bixler-Zavala and Elitch are all talented musicians, but you’ll want to keep your expectations to a minimum before hitting the play button.

~Josh Herwitt

New Music: Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack White - Lazaretto

Jack WhiteLazaretto //

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Three Women”
“High Ball Stepper”
“That Black Bat Licorice”

Album Highlights: No one has been more important to the future of rock ‘n’ roll for nearly two decades than Jack White. Since the late 1990s/early 2000s, White (born John Gillis) has pushed the boundaries of rock music more than any other musician. Even with The White Stripes now a thing of the past, he’s still proving to be one of the most innovative and prolific artists in the game today — whether it’s been with The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather or his own solo project more recently. Blunderbluss, his 2012 solo debut, was evidence in of itself that White’s songwriting chops have come a long way since his days playing alongside ex-wife Meg White.

But while the Grammy-nominated Blunderbluss furthers the genre-bending sound that White discovered with the Stripes during the recording sessions for Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump, his sophomore solo effort Lazaretto manifests the current musical landscape of Nashville — where White has resided since 2006 — by intertwining a smorgasbord of styles over the course of 39 minutes and change. On the album’s opening rocker “Three Women,” White cooks up a batch of old-school blues coated with pedal steel guitar and Hammond organ as he tell us, “I got three women / Red, blonde, and brunette / It took a digital photograph to pick which one I like.” Though the narrative may appear misogynist in nature, if you know anything about White, it’s all in good fun. The eight-time Grammy winner, after all, has never been one for technology, admitting in a recent interview with NPR that he still doesn’t own a cellphone (so how could he possibly enjoy digital photography then?).

The ensuing title track, meanwhile, crosses over into another sonic realm — a brief journey into rap rock compliments of White’s fuzzed-out bass line — he hasn’t spent much time experimenting with, as he mocks modern-day emcees with rhymes like “They threw me down in the lazaretto / Born rottin’, bored rotten / Makin’ models of people I used to know / Out of coffee and cotton.” It’s definitely a departure from the garage-heavy blues rock we have come to expect from White, which he so masterfully hypnotizes us with on his initial single “High Ball Stepper.”

Of course, what makes White such a unique songwriter is his ability to transition from one high-octane cut (see “Lazaretto”) to a country-tinged folk ballad (see “Temporary Ground” featuring Nashville’s Lillie Mae Rische on fiddle and backup vocals) in the drop of a hat. There’s even a cameo appearance from one of White’s Dead Weather bandmates, Dean Fertita (also of Queens of the Stone Age fame), on the piano rock-driven “Would You Fight for My Love?” Yet, it’s clear that White’s bravado shines brightest with a guitar in his hands and a chip on his shoulder, as exhibited on the aggressive, funk-fueled anthem “That Black Bat Licorice.” “Women need to know, I play dumb like Columbo / And get my feelings hurt and move to New York like I’m Dumbo” the Detroit native raps before Ruby Amanfu’s violin work brings things to a close, demonstrating that at a moment’s notice, White is more than capable of surprising us with something we’ve never heard quite like this before.

Album Lowlight: No matter which band he’s making music for these days, White has never been one to take the easy way out. He’s even said so much in interviews. White put himself through the ringer trying to tour with two backing bands — the all-male Buzzards and all-female Peacocks — for Blunderbuss, and he struggled to write the lyrics to Lazaretto for “seven or eight months” after recording the music. While White certainly has a strange way of working, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that not every track on Lazaretto flows seamlessly right into the next. It may not suit some folks, but that’s just the way White wanted it.

Takeaway: As eccentric as he is, White remains the ultimate virtuoso in today’s music industry — and Lazaretto does nothing to disprove that notion. Over the course of 11 songs, he dabbles in rock, blues, folk and country, blending all of them together for a finished product that’s truly one of a kind. It’s not as cohesive as Blunderbluss from start to finish, but the standout songs on Lazaretto are some of the best White has ever written. At only age 38, White stands as a trailblazer in his own right, having already achieved more than some artists do in a lifetime. And with White leading the charge, the future of rock ‘n’ roll is undoubtedly in good hands.

~Josh Herwitt

New Music: The Black Keys – Turn Blue


The Black KeysTurn Blue //

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Weight of Love”
“Turn Blue”
“Bullet in the Brain”

Album Highlights: Has there been a rock album in the last three years as highly anticipated as this one? Ever since lead singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney followed up three Grammys for 2010’s Brothers with four more for 2011’s El Camino, The Black Keys have been rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest darlings. But the road hasn’t always been so smooth for these two childhood friends from Akron, Ohio. Burned out and beaten up from their 130-date El Camino tour in 2012, the duo struggled last year to find the creative juices that propelled it to churn out six full-length albums and a handful of other recordings in less than a decade. That, though, was far from the only issue that the Keys have faced recently. For Auerbach, 2013 would turn out to be the hardest year of his life after a nasty divorce took its emotional and financial toll, leaving him unfit to work on new music at one point during the recording sessions for Turn Blue.

But for all the pain and suffering Auerbach endured in the last year, it also provided him with the fire to write arguably the Keys’ best album to date. Unlike its predecessor, Turn Blue strips some of the polish that coated El Camino from top to bottom, starting with the scintillating, seven-minute opener “Weight of Love,” as Auerbach channels his best David Gilmour impression in what almost sounds like Dark Side of the Moon 2.0. The epic track, which stands as one of the record’s best, helped the Keys uncover an entirely new sound for Turn Blue, one that has Danger Mouse’s paws all over it. With that said, it should be no surprise to find that there are flashes of Broken Bells, Electric Guest and even Portugal. The Man here (see “Turn Blue” and “Year in Review”), all bands that Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) has produced albums for in the past two years.

In more than just a metaphorical sense, Turn Blue also marks a return to the garage-heavy blues that propagated some of the Keys’ earlier releases, including 2004’s Rubber Factory and 2006’s Magic Potion. Yet, while those LPs are filled largely with grit and edge, Turn Blue doesn’t pigeonhole itself in the same way. What makes Turn Blue so special is not just Auerbach’s driving guitar riffs, his soulful vocal melodies or even his laid-back grooves, but all of those coming together at once for 45 minutes of pure sonic gold.

Album Lowlight: However much hype surrounded Turn Blue prior to its release, the Keys’ eighth studio album manages to live up to it and delivers even more. It’s hard to find much wrong from start to finish, a refreshing revelation in this day and age where three-minute pop hits repeatedly cloud the airwaves. Still, there’s a lot more to get behind than just the album’s first single “Fever,” a synth-laden number that’s soon to be on every bar’s playlist (if it isn’t already). These aren’t exactly tunes grounded in true love and infinite joy, but rather in the heart-wrenching reality of breakup. For Auerbach, writing Turn Blue offered him the opportunity to therapeutically confront his personal issues head on, and he does that no better than on the album’s title track in which he soothingly mouths, “I really don’t think you know / There could be hell below, below”.

Takeaway: The Black Keys were together for almost 10 years before they hit it big, but now that they’re here, there’s no turning back. Turn Blue is everything that you would expect from a band that continues push the envelope each time it steps into the studio. From the hip-hop flavor that colors “10 Lovers” to the Hammond organ that infiltrates “In Our Prime,” there are diamonds and pearls lined up and down the 11-track LP — even if the song titles aren’t all that welcoming at times (see “Bullet in the Brain”). But as often is the case, artists produce their best work in times of turmoil, and the same can certainly be said for these two seasoned vets.

~Josh Herwitt

New Music: Lykke Li – I Never Learn


Lykke LiI Never Learn

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“No Rest For The Wicked”
“Just Like A Dream”
“Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone”

Album Highlights: Lykke Li has always been a strong songwriter, and this album is no different. In an interview with NME in January Li stated, “It’s always about me and the guilt and the shame and the hurt and the pride and the confusion of being a woman. I always feel like I’ve been slightly misunderstood. As a woman you get judged for appearances or things like that I don’t really care about. If anything I want to be seen as a singer-songwriter rather than a pop artist. I really feel like I’ve found my voice.” This album does help to establish Li as more of a singer-songwriter. The songs are well written, wonderfully produced, and at times surprisingly bare. For example, when she sings “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” she can barely get the last verse out. It’s utterly passionate and brutal. Nothing about this album is forced or manufactured. Producing again is Bjorn Yttling, of Peter, Bjorn, and John, who produced Li’s previous albums. Li herself dips into a stronger production role on this album, and Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Tegan and Sara) produced the track “Gunshot”.

Album Lowlight: This album contains less playfulness, and less of the girl group melodies that I thoroughly enjoyed from Li’s previous efforts. Perhaps it is fitting that her third album be titled I Never Learn, and be the saddest album to date. With previous efforts, Li sang of the enjoyment she felt from crying her hardest, she sang of sadness being her boyfriend, over a bittersweet melody. Part of what made these songs so amazing is Li’s ability to be both heartbroken and happy. She is extremely gifted in creating songs that express the happiness of being sad, the strength and depth that one can gain from experiencing pain. These songs are beautifully balanced, both lyrically and musically. This album, however, completely skips this theme that Li so excels at and instead wallows in its own sadness. It lacks some enthusiasm. While I’m sure this is intentional due to personal heartbreak and Li’s desire not to be regarded as a pop star, it’s not her best work.

Takeaway: Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes contains her best work. But there is something to be said about the ability of an artist like Li to be able to release a third album of this nature. On the edge of being a “pop star”, Li has released an album that doesn’t really contain any big, tribal-drums pop song. If you’re looking for another “Get Some” or “I Follow Rivers”, you will not find it here. If you’re ready for some beautifully sad music similar to what she briefly visited on Wounded Rhymes, then this is your album. Her first effort was playful naivete. Her second, more mature and more troubled. And I Never Learn is just raw heartbreak. There’s no sweet on this album, no dancing drums. It is simply the heartache that occurs when you realize you didn’t learn from your wounds, and now you must get used to sleeping alone.

~Krystal Beasley

New Music: tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack


tUnE-yArDsNikki Nack

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Water Fountain”
“Real Thing”
“Hey Life”

Album Highlights: “Oh my God I use my lungs – soft and loud, anyway feels good.” Merrill Garbus returns with Nikki Nack, the third Tune-Yards album and follow-up to 2011’s critically-adored W H O K I L L, and it’s those lungs that are again the star of the show. Over 13 tracks of playful and percussive art-pop, Garbus wrestles with self-doubt & rootlessness, and engages her social conscience through the jubilant and explosive power of her voice.

Nikki Nack excels when Garbus is focused on personal inspiration – as on the meditative opening track “Find a New Way”, about getting herself out of a creative rut, and the buoyant “Hey Life”, where she struggles with feeling overextended and unable to slow down. In lesser hands this kind of subject matter could feel trite, but Garbus’ exuberant spirit and giddy talent for genre collages make the songs feel genuinely life-affirming. It’s exhilarating to hear her belt out lines such as “I’d like to smell the roses but I’m running running all of the time,” and “I come from the land of slaves, let’s go Redskins let’s go Braves” for the first time, a sensation that is then topped on successive listens when you’re singing along at the top of your lungs with her.

Garbus’ voice once again handles the lion’s share of the melodic elements on Nikki Nack, while bass, percussion and kitschy synths provide most of the rhythmic and harmonic support (her ukelele sits on the sideline for much of the duration). The crackling eclecticism of W H O K I L L has been reigned in ever so slightly on Nikki Nack, and while Tune-Yards’ music now sounds familiar in a way that it didn’t before, there are still moments that feel genuinely fresh for this project, as on the rousing “Time of Dark” and the serene, R&B-tinged “Wait for a Minute”.

But Garbus doesn’t have to surprise in order to dazzle. Lead single “Water Fountain” is quintessential Tune-Yards – the song marries a exuberant jump-rope rhyme with lyrics about dying cities and Haiti’s food crisis, and pulls it off with aplomb. She’s at her most sassy on “Real Thing, an afro/synthpop/doo-wop/hip-hop hybrid that plays with the inherent contradiction of trying to find our true selves. And then there’s “Why Do We Dine On the Tots?” a Swiftian interlude about food ethics that provides some twisted comic relief before the album’s home stretch.

Album Lowlight: When Garbus shifts her attention on Nikki Nack to social issues, the results are mixed. “Stop That Man” attempts to address white guilt in the aftermath of Treyvon Martin/George Zimmerman, but the plea in the song’s chorus falls strangely flat. Bouncy album closer “Manchild”, takes on date-rape with the memorable refrain “I mean it – don’t beat up on my body,” and although it’s a rallying cry worth supporting, the song ultimately feels like a missed opportunity. But the album’s single certifiable dud is “Sink-O”, a busy, sugary number that wouldn’t be out of place on an irritating children’s TV show, and is only redeemed by the fact that it provides greater appreciation for how often Tune-Yards does this kind of thing right.

Takeaway: The acrobatic physicality of Garbus’ voice is, once again, complimented on Nikki Nack by songs that fully inhabit the corporeal and spiritual worlds. “There will be always something to lean your weight into,” she sings on “Look Around”. It’s a declaration of loyalty and interconnection, and it’s an act of the body. Everywhere on Nikki Nack these two concerns meet in songs that feel therapeutic – both for the listening audience and, I’m sure, Garbus herself – because of the sense of spiritual innocence, wonder, optimism and love for life manifested through her voice (and the beating of her drums). Tune-Yards will likely still remain a cult favorite, as Garbus’ unconventional femininity and outsized personality can strike some as garish and off-putting. But for listeners who are able to tune in to her wacky frequency, Tune-Yards leaves one feeling stimulated and edified, and hopefully inspired. Nikki Nack is idiosyncratic soul music, and though not without its missteps, it’s alive in a way that little music today is.

~Karl Kukta

New Music: Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots


Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots //

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Everyday Robots”
“Lonely Press Play”
“Mr. Tembo”

Album Highlights: It’s been quite some time since music fans have had a reason to pay attention to Blur or Gorillaz, but that doesn’t mean Damon Albarn has fallen off the face of the earth. In fact, over the last two years, the English singer-songwriter has collaborated with some big names: Flea and Tony Allen for starters (on 2012’s Rocket Juice & the Moon), and later the legendary Brian Eno, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, members of Metronomy and Django Django, as well as a host of Malian musicians for his Africa Express project — the result being 2013’s Maison Des Jeunes.

But Everyday Robots marks Albarn’s first official solo album, following a venture into the film and opera worlds for a short time. On the 12-track LP, he channels a slight folk-soul sound that may be best characterized by the record’s title track and first single, a deliberate social commentary on technology’s adverse effect on modern-day humanity. “We are everyday robots on our phones,” Albarn croons over hauntingly beautiful strings to open the song, setting the mood for a relatively sleepy album highlighted by other such dreary numbers as “Lonely Press Play” and “The Selfish Giant,” the latter featuring Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan on background vocals.

If there’s one outlier on Everyday Robots though, it’s the playful “Mr. Tembo,” which recounts the story of a baby elephant Albarn met in Tanzania to the tune of a joyful, ukulele-based melody. While Albarn’s experiences traveling the world serve as lyrical fodder for a large chunk of the record, he also makes a point of continuing his working relationship with Eno, joining forces with the fellow Brit on a couple of cuts, including the extensive, yet soothing, “You and Me” in which he ponders his own existence.

Album Lowlight: As seldom as Albarn’s songwriting chops require questioning, there are moments on Everyday Robots when not everything falls perfectly into place. “Hostiles” continues where “Everyday Robots” leaves off, but it doesn’t offer anything different from what we hear just minutes prior. In the meantime, “Hollow Ponds” issues a similar sentiment, leaving the listener longing for something more. And with tracks like “Parakeet” and “Seven High” serving more as filler than substance, it’s not totally surprising that Albarn’s solo debut feels short despite spanning a total of almost 47 minutes.

Takeaway: It’s clear from listening to Everyday Robots that Albarn has a lot on his mind and he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the bigger picture. That said, this isn’t an album that you’ll want to throw on before a night out on the town. These are contemplative offerings that we get from Albarn — a man trying to come to grips with the current state of society, for better or worse. As we quickly come to find out, it’s not all roses and sunshine for the 46-year-old Londoner, but this latest material shows just how insightful he still can be.

~Josh Herwitt

New Music: Death – Death III

DeathDeath III

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“North Street”
“First Snowfall in Detroit”

Album Highlights: Not very often does something come along and completely re-write the annals of music history in quite the same way as the discovery and release of …For All the World to See in 2009, an album from of the early 70’s trio named Death. Perhaps one of the most important revelations in recent musical lore, the commitment of showcasing the recordings done by three brothers from Detroit is now complete. Death III is a collection of songs recorded over a nearly three decade-long career, which for the most part, went unheard.

The best part about the discovery of Death is the raw guitar playing talent of David Hackney. The album begins with an instrumental track that features David and some of his six-string prowess. The next track, “North Street”, sounds like it just missed making the final listing of their feverish and now legendary full-length first album, and is an instant proto-punk classic. It makes you just want to get up and flail around the room to Oingo Boingo’s Who Do You Want to Be like Tom Hanks in the film Bachelor Party.

“Restlessness” provides the droning head bob that any fan of rock ‘n’ roll, of the heavier variety, is looking for out of their music. A vintage drum line opens this track, followed by a killer guitar lick that seems to birth the well-known, three-chord punk progression. David’s guitar solo speaks with the best of them and accompanies the storyline of a “poor man’s” blues by crying it’s way through the fills.

Album Lowlight: Due to the lack of popularity from big recording studios at their height as a band, many of Death’s recordings are a bit lackluster in terms of quality. It can be tough to get a bedroom or garage recording to sound good without the monetary help required for mastering. There are a few vocal segments that are tough to make out, and a few drum beats that get washed out by an over-milked guitar amp, as evidenced by “Free”. But overall, these tracks sound clean.

“We Are Only People” and “Yes He’s Coming” take the listener down a different path, a bit more of a Pink Floyd psych-rock path, almost as if they were experimenting with their own spirituality as well as their instruments, simultaneously.

As this is a collection of recordings and not a proper album release, there is no real flow involved when listening. The track listing is well put together with what there was to work with, but it’s missing a few uptempo songs in the latter half of the release.

Takeaway: Music is deeply rooted in emotion and feeling, and more often than not experimentation. The Hackney brothers of Detroit were full of all of these. Death III gives the listener insight into the minds of a young group of musicians in the 70’s transitioning out of the Flower Power era of the 60’s and into what would become the birth of punk music by bands like The Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Not only has this band been overlooked by the history books, but David Hackney’s guitar playing has been missed. Listen to “First Snowfall in Detroit” and try to not let your soul weep like it does when you listen to “Little Wing”.

~Scotland Miller

New Music: Chet Faker – Built on Glass


Chet FakerBuilt on Glass //

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Talk Is Cheap”
“Melt” feat. Kilo Kish

Album Highlights: Nicholas James Murphy, aka Chet Faker, broke onto the scene in 2011 when his cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” went viral, reaching No. 1 on the Hype Machine charts almost a year before the release of his initial EP Thinking in Textures. Since then, the 24-year-old Australian singer, songwriter and producer has worked with fellow countryman Flume — putting out their collaborative, three-song EP Lockjaw late last year — as well as dream pop duo Say Lou Lou. Thus, it should come as no surprise that there has been plenty of anticipation surrounding his full-length debut Built on Glass on Downtown Records/Future Classic.

More importantly, though, the 12-track record has all the makings for it to be considered one of this year’s best. Minimal, yet soulful, it opens with “Release Your Problems” as the Melbourne native croons about relationship heartache with lines like “I will never know / no good mind / won’t take my / I should see the break in your way / release your problems.” The song, although only a little more than three minutes in length, sets the tone for the rest of the album, which boasts hit single “Talk Is Cheap” and “Melt” — the latter featuring New York vocalist and model/actress Kilo Kish. On the ensuing “Gold,” meanwhile, Faker takes things up an octave to tell us “You gotta know / I’m feeling love / Made of gold / I’ll never love her,” pairing a simple quarter-note chord progression on his keyboard with a groove-oriented bass line to create absolute sonic gold (pun intended). It’s in these instances where Murphy channels his inner Chet Baker, meshing old-school jazz and R&B melodies with his production expertise, that make him one of the most intriguing artists to watch in 2014.

Album Lowlight: The lowlights are few and far between here, in part because Murphy varies his sound just enough that every song retains its own uniqueness. While music fans in search of an upbeat album may not find what they’re looking for on Built on Glass, that shouldn’t take away from what Faker has assembled for his first LP over the past two years. Recording on a limited budget with lo-fi equipment, Murphy not only reveals a sensitive side when it comes to addressing his subject matter, but also an appreciation for the many soul and jazz legends that came before him.

Takeaway: If you haven’t heard the name “Chet Faker” until now, you will be hearing a lot more about him quite soon. There’s a reason why he won “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” and “Best Independent Release” in his homeland a couple of years ago, after all. Built on Glass may not end quite as strong as how it starts, but that doesn’t mean tracks like “Blush” and “1998” are total throwaways. If anything, Faker shows that he’s more than capable of changing tempos while still achieving similar results. So, with Murphy’s first full-length album now finally out, it may only be a matter of time before we hear him storming the U.S. airwaves.

~Josh Herwitt

New Music Tuesday: John Frusciante • The Faint • SOHN • EMA

John Frusciante - Enclosure

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

John FruscianteEnclosure

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:

There’s no better way to put into words just how “out there” former Chili Peppers savior John Frusciante is other than to tell you the way in which he launched (quite literally) his latest album Enclosure.

Frusciante is known for his peculiarity, but took things to another level by sending his album into space on March 29 attached to a satellite called Sat-JF14. Fans could then download a tracking app that would tell them when the album was in their region, when it would then be unlocked.

Album Highlights: Lyrically, Frusciante is as out of control as ever. In the context of his music, it doesn’t manage to matter. His excellent guitar work and the production he tasks himself carries Enclosure along as one of Frusciante’s finest solo masterpieces. His strength as a vocalist is missed by the Chili Peppers, who Frusciante carried a lot of songs behind lead man Anthony Kiedis with his beautiful harmonies. Frusciante’s vocals aren’t as understated on his solo albums and he takes some chances, most of which pay off. Frusciante gives off a bit of an 80’s vibe on this album due to the heavy synth that is featured throughout. The way Frusciante builds up to his guitar solos is pretty brilliant and he does it as good as anyone out there. Check out the song “Stage” to get an idea.

Album Lowlight: A lot of the songs are rather heavy on guitar solos, so you have to be in the right frame of mind for it. Sometimes, they can feel like they drag on a bit too long, as well. As mentioned above, this album features a fair amount of synths. Most times, it sounds pretty good and gels with the rest of the arrangement, but at times it can sound like music that belongs in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the original Nintendo.

Takeaway: As with all of Frusciante’s solo work, if you came to it from being a Chili Peppers fan first before anything else, it might not suit your needs or expectations. If you are a big appreciator of Frusciante’s multi-faceted chops, Enclosure is something you can enjoy, especially if you recognize it for what it is. The release isn’t as far out there as some of these previous projects, nor is it as close to mainstream.

~Mark E. Ortega

The FaintDoom Abuse

2.5 BamsTop Tracks:
“Help in the Head”
“Dress Code”
“Lesson from the Darkness”

Album Highlights: Not that long ago, there was a point in time when fans of The Faint didn’t know if their beloved band would ever make another record. Yet, the Nebraska quartet reunited in late 2012 following a two-year hiatus not just to start touring again, but also to create new music. As frontman Todd Fink explained to me, The Faint needed to take a different approach for its sixth full-length album after overthinking the writing process when it came to 2008’s Fasciinatiion. But for an outfit that put Omaha’s growing indie scene on the map with electro-punk hits like “Agenda Suicide” in the early 2000s, Doom Abuse doesn’t even come close to touching 2001 paradigm Danse Macabre. Other than the album’s opening single “Help in the Head,” there aren’t many standout tracks for Fink and his bandmates to hang their hat on, unfortunately. While they make a concerted effort to strip things down from start to finish, that only works some of the time on Doom Abuse. The frenetic dance vibe that we get on instrumental cut “Dress Code,” for example, is one of just a few shining moments, even though The Faint save some of its best work — “Lesson from the Darkness” and the ensuing “Unseen Hand” — for last.

Album Lowlight: The Faint have never been known to write albums that extend past the 40-minute mark, so it should be no surprise to see Doom Abuse follow suit on that front. But at just over 39 minutes in length, the 12-track LP undeniably lacks depth — after all, half of its songs span less than three minutes. That’s only part of the problem with The Faint’s latest studio effort, however. Fink, keyboardist Jacob Thiele, guitarist Dapose and drummer Clark Baechle also don’t come off sounding all that imaginative on “Evil Voices,” “Animal Needs” and “Scapegoat,” failing to create distance between most of their songs.

Takeaway: It’s hard to tell what has changed for The Faint from its last release to this one. Longtime followers of the band may not take issue with what they hear on Doom Abuse, but it’s far from the four-piece’s best work. At the same time, it’s sad to see a band come out of hibernation to assemble an album that doesn’t strike the same chord as its previous offerings — because that’s ultimately the reality here. The Faint, though, still know how to put on one hell of a show, so it may just take a live setting for certain tracks on Doom Abuse to come to life.

~Josh Herwitt


4-BamsTop Tracks:

Album Highlights: SOHN is a London-born songwriter, producer and musician. He has made some noise in the electronic scene by remixing Disclosure and Lana Del Rey, as well as producing Banks’ “Waiting Game.” His debut album, Tremors, was recorded at night in Vienna. As SOHN states, “Every night I worked finished with a cold sunrise and a walk home … and to me that’s what Tremors sounds like.” And that late-night vibe is definitely captured on this album. The minimalist and intricate production make this a great album for a night drive; this album is a beautifully depressing soundscape. While single “Artifice” is the most radio friendly track, SOHN has created some very interesting and moody songs with “Paralysed” and “Lessons” and “Lights,” which all build slowly and ever so gently from a mellow track to a track with some edge, before coming to an alluring close. In fact, that somewhat describes the way the album itself progresses. The second half contains much of the moodiness and depth, it is almost flawless.

Album Lowlight: This album is a bit much to listen to in one sitting from start to finish. And maybe not many people listen to a record in that way anymore. While there are some surprises along the way, much of the first half blends together. The opener, “Tempest,” takes awhile to build and then is over too quickly. “The Wheel” is too repetitive and jerky for me, but the production is still good. I prefer the depth of SOHN on his subtler songs.

Takeaway: If you listen to this album from start to finish, there is a chance you will begin to wallow in your own misery and forget where you are going or what you were doing before you played the album. But hey, sometimes that’s necessary. And if walking home alone at 4 a.m., Tremors is a great soundtrack to have for that walk. The production of Tremors is so beautifully done. After the opening tracks, it’s easy to find yourself getting lost in some of these songs. This is a promising debut, and it will be interesting to see where SOHN will go from here.

~Krystal Beasley

EMAThe Future’s Void

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:

Album Highlights: Future’s Void is the third full-length album from South Dakota native Erika M. Anderson, more commonly known as EMA. This release brings to the table a risky mixture of genre crossing sounds that combine with a spellbinding voice to create a vast, audio experience. This is one of those recordings best heard through a pair of good brain clamps.

“Satellites” begins this journey with radio static and a bass rattle that becomes a recurring theme in some of the thicker sounding tracks featured later in the album. Released as a single, “Satellites” has a very enticing opening beat and a vocal melody that is built to last. Heavy use of distorted synths creates the feeling of a dark, industrial soundscape full of digital noises and electrical sounds that almost suck the listener down the digital rabbit hole. Tracks like “Smoulder” and “Neuromancer” use loads of vocal effects and fuzzed-out screams to further Anderson’s already haunting qualities, serving to pull us further and further into this album. She has one of those voices that is equally comforting as it is frightening which she uses brilliantly in “100 Years.”

Album Lowlight: Future’s Void album is an enjoyable listen but it lacks a consistent amount of energy and overall feel from the beginning to the end. Immediately after a great opening song (“Satellites”), “So Blonde” and “3Jane” shift gears to a more traditional guitar and drums-type track. The same thing happens in the middle of Future’s Void when the best string of tracks is halted by the slow tempoed, and folky “When She Comes.” The rest of the album kind of fizzles out after “Neuromancer,” much like when the air gets sucked out of a balloon and all that is left is a wrinkled piece of rubber. There was a lot of promise to this album, and there are many redeeming qualities that if were focused on, could really make for a more appealing sounding project.

Takeaway: I feel like I might hear this album while catching an Uber ride in cyberspace. During some songs I wanted to smash an acoustic guitar against the wall like Bluto from Animal House. But during others I couldn’t help but hear Nine Inch Nails-influenced space-beats with a wormhole-like rip of industrial fuzz that took hold of me and didn’t let go until it spit me out on the other end of the galaxy. Anderson’s guttural screams and growls are continually distorted and twisted into glitchy echos that had me wanting for more. EMA has a surprisingly fresh sound in a musical world of shifting talents, where music can be more about pushing buttons than plucking strings. If only they could decide between being a folk-based band or a synth-rock band.

~Scotland Miller

New Music Tuesday: Thievery Corporation • Band of Skulls • Nickel Creek • Cloud Nothings • JAMAICA • Mac DeMarco


Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Thievery CorporationSaudade

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Quem Me Leva”
“Sola In Citta”
“Le Couer”

Album Highlights: Saudade is a Portuguese word, difficult to define in English. Thievery’s press release defines it as “a longing for something or someone that is lost, a contented melancholy, or, simply, the presence of absence.” The vocal arrangements are gorgeously sung in Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish and English. This album features vocals by LouLou Ghelichkhani, former Bitter:Sweet singer Shana Halligan, Elin Melgarejo, Nouvelle Vague singer Karina Zeviani and Natalia Clavier. The tracks featuring LouLou and Elin stand out the most. Longtime Thievery singer LouLou’s sensual vocals are the perfect alluring compliment to the calm and jazzy Brazilian rhythms.

The album is a more conventional homage to bossa nova than previous efforts. This is their seventh full-length album and arguably their most traditional, drawing a considerable amount of influence from classic Brazilian performers, such as Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gal Costa. Clocking in at 42 minutes, the entire album is a beautifully simplistic musical time travel to 1960s Brazil. This is great news for fans of the artists that inspire Rob Garza and Eric Hilton.

Album Lowlight: After listening to a few songs, I find myself wanting to listen to my Elis & Tom album. While the songs are well-structured and the vocals can be quite enticing, the album itself leaves something to be desired. And that something is in the classic Brazilian music of yesteryear. The issue with this album is similar to the issue with defining a word like “saudade”; you can try, and people who don’t speak the language will probably understand. But there will be some aspect of the word that you can’t define, that which gets lost in translation. Many ideas cannot be recreated. This is a great effort by Thievery. But that indescribable thing is missing. Whereas other albums can fill that void with the mixing of musical genres, this album stays in one place. There are some great moments here, but as a whole, it’s a good thing that the album doesn’t go longer than 42 minutes.

Takeaway: If you are a fan of bossa nova or have been a big fan of Thievery Corporation throughout the years, definitely buy the album. If you prefer listening to a “Best Of” album, stick to the choice notes on this one. Rob Garza will be performing a DJ set and signing CDs at Amoeba SF on Friday, April 4th at 6 p.m.

~Krystal Beasley

Band of SkullsHimalayan

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Asleep at the Wheel”
“I Guess I Know You Fairly Well”
“I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying”

Album Highlights: After a successful sophomore effort that earned them the chance to tour with Muse and Queens of the Stone Age last year, these English alt-rockers didn’t waste a lot of time before they decided to jump back into the studio. Only this time, Ian Davenport, who produced both 2009’s Baby Darling Doll Face Honey and 2012’s Sweet Sour, didn’t come along for the ride. Instead, those duties were passed on to Nick Launay, one of the music industry’s most sought-after producers right now. While the change isn’t readily noticeable on Himalayan, Band of Skulls’ third full-length record still boasts plenty of firepower.

It begins in typical BOS fashion, with Russell Marsden’s fuzzed-out blues riff serving as the foundation for the album’s first single “Asleep at the Wheel”. Nevertheless, you won’t find yourself head banging to every track, whether it’s the group’s new hit “Nightmares” or the ensuing “Brothers and Sisters.” Unlike Band of Skulls’ two previous LPs, Himalayan sees it branching out sonically with songs like the surf rock-inspired “I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying” and the Spanish-flavored “Toreador” (which means “bullfighter” in English, naturally). There is no doubt there are risks being taken here, but they don’t compromise what Marsden, bassist Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward set out to do from the beginning — and that was to make one badass record. Well, mission accomplished.

Album Lowlight: It’s strange to hear Band of Skulls hold back, but when it does on Himalayan, things start to get a little flimsy for the Southampton power trio. Following three rock-heavy cuts to open the album, “Cold Sweat” features Richardson on lead vocals as the band flirts with balladry for more than four minutes. A few tracks later, “You Are All That I Am Not” follows a similar course, relying on Marsden’s soothing vocals and exquisite guitar work to save the song from being completely forgotten amongst a number of better offerings. While we won’t knock Band of Skulls for exploring different musical avenues on Himalayan, we’d be lying if we said it hit all 12 songs out of the park, too.

Takeaway: The mark of any good band these days is for it to show a steady stream of progress, and that’s certainly what Band of Skulls has done with each album it has released. At the same time, it’s hard to say which record is its best at this point. For some BOS fans, Himalayan will be it. After all, it’s pretty impressive that there is this much sound coming out of only three musicians — a real testament to how in sync Marsden, Richardson and Hayward can be with a little fine tuning thanks to Launay’s highly-coveted production skills. But for a burgeoning band that has yet to reach its ceiling, Himalayan is simply a step in the right direction.

~Josh Herwitt

Nickel CreekA Dotted Line

2.5 BamsTop Tracks:
“Rest of My Life”
“21st of May”

Album Highlights: The musicianship on this album is top-notch Americana bluegrass with a twist of progressive folk. This may seemed a bit too far-fetched for any band, but for this trio from Southern California it’s just second nature. Chris Thile is one of the best mandolin players in the scene, and matched with the brother-sister duo of Sara and Sean Watkins on fiddle and guitar, you’ve got yourself one hell of an acoustic trio. With the band’s sixth studio album and the first since 2005, they started right where they left off, playing deep emotional songs, yet they seems to keep their songs fun and lighthearted.

The first track on the album, “Rest of My Life,” showcases Sean Watkins on vocals, and he seems to have really come into his own during the hiatus. His vocals stand out on this album, and the songs truly come to life with his singing style. The Chris Thile penned folk song “You Don’t Know Whats’s Going On” is the standout track on the album, as it blends pop, folk, Americana, and all things string, which will surely be great in a live setting, as these guys have been known for outstanding live performances.

Album Lowlight: I felt the cover of Mother Mother’s “Hayloft” is an extremely odd choice for this band. Even though it features master drummer Matt Chamberlain laying down a very interesting beat, it falls into the “Why?” category to me. It definitely showcases the lighter side of this band, but I think they could have chosen a way better cover than this one.

Takeaway: Nickel Creek haven’t played together for seven years, and they’ve put out a relatively solid album with A Dotted Line, but I feel there is something lacking from this album. I fell in love with the young, gritty, and virtuoso playing that they had in their early days. They have matured through the years and now have cleaner sound, and that holds them back. These guys can outplay most of the musicians out there, but this album doesn’t fully show that. There are some gems, but overall this album lacks a lot of substance that used to be there.

~Pete Mauch

Cloud NothingsHere and Nowhere Else

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Now Here In”
“I’m Not Part Of Me”
“Pattern Walks”

Album Highlights: Some of the best albums are the ones that start and finish strong, and that’s what we have here with Cloud Nothings’ fourth LP, not to say that everything in the middle of Here And Nowhere Else is sub par — far from it. Continuing the post-hardcore noise rock Cloud Nothings carved out with their excellent 2012 album Attack on Memory, the bookend tracks, along with the album’s penultimate track, contain the best moments and most strikingly embody the core of the new effort.

Most every song begins with classic punk propulsion, with guitar, bass and drums screaming along while frontman Dylan Baldi delivers songwriting that is bent toward indie sensibilities. Although, the best part of Cloud Nothings’ output comes on the latter third of the tracks, finally breaking from chorus/verse repetition to bridge out into massive, emotive crescendos.

“Now Here In,” the first track, masterfully executes the extended bridge crescendo in the song’s last minute, but right away the song establishes hyper-hooky garage punk that feels somewhat familiar. Channeling adolescent adrenaline, the song is confrontational yet withdrawn with lyrics, “I can’t feel your pain, and I feel alright by this…And now there’s nothing left to say.” “I’m Not Part Of Me,” the last song and album lead single, hits home on the theme of Here And Nowhere Else being a breakup record. “Not telling you everything I’m going through…” opens the doorway to the squashing repetition of “I’m not you, I’m not you, you’re a part of me, you’re a part of me.”

“Pattern Walks,” the second-to-last cut, bucks the typical songwriting form to deliver a thrilling song that’s double the length of all others, while being twice as intense. Dissonant noise extends out midway through until it drops into a thunderous, driving jam, and Baldi’s voice drowns in reverb as the song builds toward a dizzying plateau. Squarely against the concept of change, the extended second and third sections, bathing in noise and Cloud Nothing’s patented outro crescendo, mimic the idea of change by shifting the sections in a quick heartbeat. Change, as it happens, often happens quickly.

Album Lowlight: Low points are rare, but some of the early tracks feel a bit generic. “Quieter Today” almost sounds like a Japandroids song at first, but sure enough it proves to be an intricate cut. It contains a tad of hope with the line “I keep telling myself love is real,” and the positively-toned guitar-led outro keeps it from being anything close to a bad song. “Psychic Trauma” is one big confrontation, and the time signature changes keep this track appealing. The screaming, hardcore singing in this song, along with “Giving Into Seeing” and “No Thoughts,” might be a bit much for some — but hey, you gotta tickle the metal/punk/rage part of your brain sometimes, right?

Takeaway: The lyrics are bitter throughout, yet the overall instrumentals create a sound that is so freeing. The more you listen, the complexity of the angst-filled eight compositions begin to reveal themselves more and more. Mashing gritty aesthetics with mostly accessible singing and guitar work, it’s hard to pigeonhole Cloud Nothings, as they’ve created a record that is progressive, both pushing and blurring the boundaries of rock into new terrain.

~Mike Frash


3-BamsTop Tracks:
“2 on 2”

JAMAICA’s “Ventura” is the second album from the French duo off the independent label Control Freak. Boasting an all-star production team spearheaded by the Grammy award-winning audio engineer/producer Peter Franco (Daft Punk, Justice), the sophomore effort follows suit with contemporary Parisian pop protocol. Although not groundbreaking, the album expands upon their synth-laden rock formula, successfully giving fans of Phoenix, The Wombats and Hot Hot Heat something to satiate their appetites in 2014.

Album Highlights: A pure pop-driven album, each song’s composition is pretty straight forward. Simple sing-along verses, catchy hooks and guitar solos repeat. It’s been a while since there has been a danceable piano rock band in the scene, so it’s nice to hear an experienced key player represented in the group. The songs that are most successful on the album focus heavily on rhythm based sections, demonstrating that this band is more than just a manufactured group altered efficaciously in post-production. Clearly established in the stand out instrumental track “Turbo,” these guys have some serious shredding capability. Advanced musicianship easily bounces back and forth between sing-along pop gems “2 on 2” and “Hello Again,” and on more complicated arrangements like the piano driven “Ricky.”

Album Lowlight: In a way, the tracks that are most effective on the album also serve as a double-edged sword. Whereas they introduce us to a newer, more cutting-edge version of JAMAICA, they cast a negative shadow over the less superior attempts on the album. The isolated ballad “Rushmore”, for instance, is completely lost amidst the steady flow of guitar-driven pop rock. Absent of much creative ingenuity, the track comes across as a half assed effort at including some type of introspective reflection jam. Falling abruptly between two of the most riveting tracks on the album, the song is highly skip-able and ultimately a waste of recording space. Both this lackluster ballad and the band’s proclivity to “play it safe” with radio friendly cuts such as “Ferris Wheeler” and “Golden Times” are a bit disappointing, especially in relation to how far they creatively pushed themselves with the rest of the album.

Takeaway: Ventura has the potential of gaining positive traction in the mainstream market. Riding off of the disco-centric French domination of modern day pop music, JAMAICA can easily coattail the success of their genre’s counterparts into some radio friendly singles and airplay. The band makes a viable effort to expand upon their sound with this second album, however they leave the listener without a clear direction of where they intend to go with their musical advances. A good album to start the summer months off with, the band is definitely club-ready. Currently sticking to solely European dates, anticipate the duo to expand their tour horizons into US territory once the live show is polished enough to jump the pond.

~Molly Kish

Mac DeMarcoSalad Days

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Salad Days”
“Passing Out The Pieces”
“Goodbye Weekend”

Album Highlights: Jangly, poppy guitar licks ring out as soon as you start-up this album. Mac DeMarco’s signature style is here, it’s still fresh, and in ways stronger than ever; it’s more pointed, focused, and accessible. His quirky guitar melodies are still cathartic and gently unsettling. The topics broached are spoken with a nonchalant attitude but deal with love, honesty in relationships, the insignificance of life and his resulting ambivalence, and the hectic solitude of being on the road. DeMarco is able to write in a way that allows the listener to easily empathize with him, as he turns his issues into ones that most of us have dealt with at some point. In “Chamber of Reflection”, it’s easy to really feel a sense of solitude. “Goodbye Weekend” sounds like a stoney Sunday afternoon coming to a soothing end. Every track has a personality of its own while holding up the overall ethos of the album.

Album Lowlight: The first few tracks start strong out of the gates but the album loses some steam after the seventh track, “Passing Out Pieces.” DeMarco has a tendency to be a tad self referential (“Far as I can tell she’s happy / Livin’ with her Maccy”). However, it doesn’t come off as overly pretentious, even leaning toward endearment. Also, it may seem a little strange taking sage advice from a 23-year-old, and some of the love songs may take on a concocted or forged feeling.

Takeaway: This is probably DeMarco’s most accessible work yet, so look out for this increasingly-rising young star. The guy is only 23 and is putting out his third fantastic album, so his future is very bright. This album is lighthearted enough for multiples listens in a row with its breezy beach vibe, but also easily induces deep thoughts with its many lyrical gems. Perfect for a Sunday morning or an afternoon drive.

~Steve Wandrey

New Music Tuesday: Future Islands • Liars • The Bad Plus • Glenn Kotche


Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Future IslandsSingles

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Seasons (Waiting On You)”
“Sun in the Morning”
“A Dream of You and Me”

Album Highlights: The fourth album from Future Islands, Singles, jumps right out of the gates, showing their cards early and presenting the listener with their trademark new-school new-wave sound. Spotlighted by Samuel Herring’s assaulting vocals, opening track “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is a quintessential slice of the emotion this band has become well known for both onstage and in the studio. Hailing from Baltimore, this three-piece band has been nestled snuggly in the bosom of the underground, playing smaller festivals such as FYF and house parties alike, over the past years. Only recently have they been launched into the ears, and eyes, of new fans and having sold out the majority of their spring tour (not to mention banner sets at Coachella).

Future Island’s music can be described as polarizing. It truly is brilliant music as bassist William Cashion’s thumping lines perfectly compliment Gerrit Welmers synth and drum sequences. Samuel Herring’s vocals are stunning as he pitches and growls through tales of the tougher side of love. It’s pretty, gripping and powerful while also holding certain pop sentiments, lending to an overall lightness while being arresting. “Doves” balances all the elements nicely, shining a light on the top-notch production featured on Singles. “Song for Our Grandfathers” is another tender example of the bands ability to transform some serious subject matter into a beam of thoughtful optimism, all delivered by Herring’s supreme baritone. Powerful stuff going on here, guys.

Album Lowlight: This music is not for everyone, though it should be respected by the vast majority of tuned-in listeners. It’s plain to see Future Islands, as a band, appeal to fans of new-wave music, so again, may not be for every taste. On that note, every inquisitive music aficionado should give this album some time and respect.

Takeaway: It’s been a long wait for the fanatic followers of Future Islands as their previous release was released in 2011, and with this wait they have all been rewarded with a full album of superb tracks to dig deep into. As previously mentioned, Future Islands are polarizing and not everyone will latch onto Singles immediately, but those who give it time and attention will be rewarded. Surely, you’ll need to see them on stage as that is a whole other beast altogether. In the meantime, settle into a pinch of 80s nostalgia with a dash of heart, and play Singles by candlelight… if that’s your thing.

~Kevin Quandt


4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Mask Maker”
“Vox Tuned D.E.D.”
“Mess on a Mission”

Album Highlights: It feels strange to talk about an album of dark electro and industrial as a band’s most mainstream work, but Liars have never been much for conforming to norms. On Mess, their 7th album, the band delivers two relatively neat halves – one for the party, and one for the dank recesses of the after party – that are unified by their straightforwardness and presence on the spectrum of electronic dance music.

After spending the majority of their career exploring different ways to create anxiety and vertiginous instability, Liars kick off Mess by saying “Fuck it, let’s dance.” Not literally, though. Literally they start the album with Angus Andrew’s detuned voice dementedly commanding the listener to “Take my pants off, use my socks, smell my socks, eat my face off” before launching into a track (“Mask Maker”) that could sit comfortably between Front 242 and Revolting Cocks.

Emboldened by their new-found mastery of electronic instrumentation (made possible by the difficult making of 2012’s WIXIW), Liars spend the first half of Mess exchanging their traditional dread and unease for debauched revelry. “Vox Tuned D.E.D.” and “I’m No Gold” flaunt an end-of-the-world-party libido, while on “Pro Anti Anti”, an eerie organ riff is pummeled by a battering ram of synths, drums and Angus Andrew’s bellowing baritone, and the song proceeds to dance all over the debris.

Following the cerebral electro of the lead single, “Mess on a Mission”, the album shifts to a muted, post-apocalyptic tone and stays there for the duration. These songs have their root in the despair of WIXIW, but are fleshed out as proper dance tracks – “Dress Walker” is a particular highlight, with its percolating percussion and bouncing yet understated techno melody. The album concludes with “Perpetual Village” and “Left Speaker Blown,” 16 minutes of hypnotic murk.

Album Lowlight: Front-loading Mess with all of the album’s muscular & tuneful numbers was a gamble, and though it succeeds in providing a visceral rush, the dramatic about-face (never to return) will no doubt result in many jettisoned listeners. To be sure, there are interesting ideas throughout Mess‘ second half, but it does takes a few listens for them to reveal themselves. Liars earned a reputation early on as being difficult; one infamous review in Spin called them “unlistenable.” Through their sequencing choices in the second half of Mess, the band comes dangerously close to sounding boring.

Takeaway: Every Liars album is a transitional one, and Mess feels especially liminal. In pre-release interviews, the band has discussed how they wanted to break from the habit of over-analyzing every detail during the recording process, and this desire to cleanse the palate is palpable throughout Mess. And it suits them well: as a vocalist, Andrew is as dynamic as he’s ever been, and Aaron Hemphill has now fully transformed himself from a guitarist to a synth wizard. After resisting it for so long, Liars have finally opened themselves up to the musical possibilities of catharsis on Mess, and in doing so they’ve created a bonafide goth album. Whether it reaches the Hot Topic crowd is another matter entirely, but either way – don’t expect Liars to concern themselves with it the next time around.

~Karl Kukta

The Bad PlusThe Rite of Spring

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“The Augors of Spring”
“The Sage/Dance of the Earth”
“Glorification of the Chosen One”

Album Highlights: With the ninth album by the avant-garde jazz trio The Bad Plus, they decided to record Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, and they absolutely nailed it. This classical piece is widely considered one of the most moving and important works of the twentieth century, and even started a small riot when it first premiered in 1913 Paris, France. Leave it to this trio to transform a historical musical masterpiece, most recently recognized in Disney’s “Fantasia”, into a work that is very much their own. Although this is essentially a cover album, The Bad Plus only use drums, bass, and piano to cover all the instruments that the original piece uses, so it is quite the task for these three talented men. If the original premiere was anything like this band’s version, then one can fully understand why a riot broke out over a century ago when listening to “The Augors of Spring”.

The beginning piano pounding off this song is extremely dramatic and could easily cause the mild-tempered to become crazed with anger. “The Glorification of the Chosen One” is my personal favorite piece from the whole ballet, mainly because of the many fast and swift time changes throughout, especially on piano. Another highlight is the amazing section of “The Sage/Dance of the Earth”. This piece starts quietly, as if trying to portray the morning stillness, then suddenly erupts into a bouncy, glorious afternoon of dance rhythms, primarily played by Dave King on Drums and pianist Ethan Iverson.

Album Lowlight: It’s quite hard to give a lowlight on this album because it is, after all, considered one the most important pieces in ballet or classical music. One lowlight would be that The Bad Plus took this long to put out a recording they have been playing live since 2011.

Takeaway: The Bad Plus took a chance with recording this masterpiece, and I feel that they succeeded with what they were setting out to do, which is to record an important piece of history while putting their own unique twist on it. Any fan of avant-garde jazz would enjoy this album immensely, while the traditionalist might find it hard to connect with such a wild style of play. I challenge anyone to listen to the original composition and then throw on The Bad Plus’s version and tell me that they’re not impressed with the group’s musical ability.

~Pete Mauch

Glenn KotcheAdventureland

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Anomaly: Mvt. I”
“Anomaly: Mvt. II”
“Anomaly: Mvt. VII”

Album Highlights: Glenn Kotche has found great success as Wilco’s drummer since the release of the classic Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. Throughout his tenure with Wilco, Kotche’s playful exploration of word percussion has become apparent with the implementation of unique items, such as hubcaps, to his drumset. And so it comes as no surprise his latest solo effort, Adventureland, is exactly that; an exploration in percussion that is both deep and diverse.

After hearing Kotche’s initial release Mobile, David Harrington of Kronos Quartet fame (a San Francisco based string quartet) asked Kotche to compose a piece for them. The result was Anomaly, a seven movement piece which provides the structure to Adventureland. The electronics-heavy album opener “Anomaly: Mvt. I” is the first signal of Kotche’s compositional talents in contemporary music. Static introduces perfect textures to this movement, creating a soundscape which simultaneously entrances and orients the listener to the ensuing movements.

“Anomaly: Mvt II” might be considered the only track that mimics a more conventional structure. The strings of the Kronos Quartet blend beautifully with the driving bass of the drums, creating melodic moments that are hard to come by throughout the rest of the album.

Anomaly, on the whole, is the true meat of Adventureland. The progressive nature of each of it’s movements creates a nice arc, leaving us with the more subdued “Anomaly: Mvt: VII” and one last taste of the Kronos Quartet’s gorgeous string melodies.

Album Lowlight: The intention behind contemporary works is to create aural environments that tell stories or relate feelings. Kotche’s compositions are certainly successful at this throughout Adventureland. However, some of the compositions such as “The Haunted” selections feel as though they lack the cohesion that is present in the “Anomaly” movements, as though a thread is missing between a few of the movements.

Takeaway: While Wilco may be on Glenn Kotche’s list of credentials, only the foolish would expect to hear anything reminiscent of Sky Blue Sky from this album. Adventureland is Kotche’s escape from all things Wilco. This album is an exploration into the loose musical structure only contemporary works will allow for, a modern take on an ancient form of musical expression. While it may be likely this album finds it’s audience with Berklee School of Music grads, I would like to bet with the right ear, many can come to appreciate Glenn Kotche’s ability to create such intricate compositions.

~Kory Thibeault

New Music Tuesday: Foster the People • Tycho • Black Lips • Freddie Gibbs and Madlib • The War on Drugs

New Music Tuesday: Foster the People, Tycho, The War on Drugs, Black Lips, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Foster the PeopleSupermodel

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Are You What You Want to Be?”
“Coming of Age”
“Pseudologia Fantastica”

Album Highlights: It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since Foster the People released its Grammy-nominated debut Torches on Isaac Green’s Startime International. Since then, bandleader Mark Foster and his sidekicks — bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius — have become some of music’s biggest road warriors, playing as many as 295 shows in a 16-month span, thanks, in large part, to the buzz that surrounded the group’s breakthrough single “Pumped Up Kicks.” While the breezy, yet gloomy song would quickly pave the road to success for Foster the People, it was only natural to wonder if the trio would hit another home run the next time it went into the studio. But on Supermodel, there are no “Pumped Up Kicks” to hype — even the album’s first single “Coming of Age” doesn’t compare.

Instead, Foster opted to take the concept album route this time around, using society’s obsession with pop culture as his songwriting vehicle for Supermodel. What results is a 12-track LP that may not rise to the top of the Billboard charts this year, but certainly still has its moments. “Are You What You Want to Be?” opens the record with a strong chorus hook, and “Pseudologia Fantastica” a few songs later shows Foster expanding his horizons as he flirts with psychedelic rock. Although the rest of the album doesn’t offer much in the way of highlights, Supermodel has enough to keep some FTP fans mildly interested.

Album Lowlight: While you have to give Foster the People credit for not writing the same album all over again, not every song works here. On “Nevermind,” Foster reflects on life with lines like “Yeah it’s hard to know the truth / in this post-modernist view / where absolutes are seen as relics / and laughed out of the room,” but the song never builds into much more than a commentary on modern-day materialism.

“A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon,” meanwhile, sees Foster the People delve deeper into its electronic roots, but this time, it’s Foster’s falsetto that feels out of place — just as his acoustic offerings “Goats in Trees” and “Fire Escape” do later, too. We won’t necessarily go so far to say that these tracks are downright unlistenable, but it’s also clear that Supermodel doesn’t finish the same way it starts.

Takeaway: Foster the People most likely won’t be earning any Grammy nominations for Supermodel, but that doesn’t mean its sophomore effort should be considered a complete failure, either. Writing an exceptional concept album is not an easy task to accomplish (just ask The Who or Pink Floyd), and the band undoubtedly took a major risk in trying to do so. Nevertheless, Foster has shown recently that he’s more than a capable songwriter, and Supermodel should only help him continue to grow and mature as one.

~Josh Herwitt


3.5-BamsTop Tracks:

Album Highlights: Tycho used to solely be the moniker of audiovisual musician, designer & performer Scott Hansen, but now the name also applies to the entire three-piece based out of San Francisco/Sacramento. Bassist Zac Brown helped create initial ideas and develop songs for Awake, and Rory O’Connor helped percussions flourish in the studio, but Hansen produces it all as he did before. This group coalescing has made Tycho’s music more powerful and efficient, successfully creating a record that is “about an arc of energy and emotion across the record.

Song titles are simple, expressive and always a single word, with positive connotations that aptly reflect the music. “Awake” begins the album with uplifting ease, staying steady while conveying a harmonious tone that lasts throughout. “Apogee” certainly mimics the feeling of reaching a high point, and “Plains” puts the record to bed with the first true dose of ambiance, imagineering a magnificent open terrain. There is a healthy balance with this record that threads kinetic propulsion and exploratory, euphoric plateaus, both separately and most thrillingly at the same time.

The overall tone and much of the auditory formula is similar to Tycho’s previous album Dive, as it marries ambient euphoria and a driving beat. This new effort is more straightforward and less meandering, and it is more immediate with stronger moments of contrast. There are virtually no “downtempo” sections on Awake, yet it is minimalist in some key ways — there are no more samples, female vocals, or distractions from Hansen’s stated focus.

What’s new this time is, first and foremost, clapping. That organic hand sound is found on most tracks, which provides much of the leading energy on the record. “See” begins with a reverbed hand-clap for almost eight measures, setting up one of the album’s finest songs. The penultimate track “Spectre” utilizes all the best parts of Tycho’s new sound, with a roller coaster of highs and lows, both in volume and intensity. “Montana”, so cinematic in nature, also represents the new album fittingly with its intense beats per minute while still projecting a soothing, pleasurable sound.

Album Lowlight: Fans of lyrics and singing of said lyrics will likely be disappointed. But as Hansen said in one of his Reddit IAMAs, the lack of lyrics “doesn’t define, it implies.” Some might call it repetitious, but the record thrives as if Hansen found a pressure point of sound that extracts overwhelming auditory pleasure, then he honed and expanded on it, allowing the listener to bathe in it while not allowing moments to pass ephemerally. That established, two more tracks could have even made Awake even more enjoyable.

Takeaway: Awake is a cohesive effort, one with an accessible goal that is achieved in breathtaking fashion. This output continues the path Tycho was on, yet Hansen takes it to the next level at the same time. Somehow effectively having his cake and eating it too, Hansen’s new sound isn’t a right or left turn, but an upward one, showcasing a band in full bloom. It’s pretty special for an album to be so peaceful in its tone yet still upbeat, forward-moving and constantly inspiring, creating a window to a world that magnifies your own state of mind. Music that’s accessible to electronic, post-rock and jam band fans is rare, and it’s fair to say this feat is accomplished with Tycho’s fourth LP. Yet, if you like all three of these musical categories, prepare for a visceral treat.

Tycho is performing Thursday at the Fillmore in SF, but it’s been sold out for months. Fear not! Hansen, Brown and O’Connor will be performing at Amoeba in San Francisco on Saturday at 2 p.m. PT for free.

~Mike Frash

Black LipsUnderneath the Rainbow

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Drive-by Buddy”
“Boys in the Wood”

Album Highlights: Black Lips’ new album Underneath the Rainbow continues in the band’s punk rock tradition but shows a great new direction. Considered Atlanta’s bad boys for the last 15 years, the band has now crafted a unique blend of garage-punk rock with blues-y undertones. The new album is partially produced by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney as well as Tommy Brenneck and Ed Rawls. Carney’s influence is apparent in an album that incorporates a strong blues feel and a bit of a pop element.

Album Lowlight: The album is short. Just over 30 minutes, it’s quick and fun but concise. The album also feels torn at moments, somewhat unsure of what it is. While surprises are welcome, at moments its hard to imagine how some of the tracks are on the same album.

Takeaway: It’s exciting to watch the band grow in this new direction. The album feels very “Black Lips” southern twang right off the bat with “Drive-by Buddy” and lo-fi affectation throughout the album. But we see a departure from what we know Black Lips to be — the band has become more refined, more playful with this album that’s more grounded in roots & country music than before. It’s a great blend from a band that is in a cradle of mishmash themselves, being punk rockers from the South.

~Katy Meacham

Freddie Gibbs and MadlibPiñata

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“High” featuring Danny Brown

Album Highlights: Gary, Indiana, rapper Freddie Gibbs and California hip-hop producer and musician Madlib have collaborated on a 17-track behemoth of an album that has many highs and lows while calling on the talents of some of today’s hottest MCs. Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, Domo Genesis, Scarface, and BJ the Chicago Kid are just a few of the guests to appear on this album. And they bring the goods.

Entirely produced by Madlib, this album is filled to the brim with some of the freshest hip-hop beats I’ve heard in a while. Nearly every track on this album has a beat so raw, so thick, that you can’t help but bob your head, despite some of the lackluster rhymes that are being spit. More on that later…

The guest spots on this album are incredibly strong. Danny Brown, Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis all kill it. “High” featuring Danny Brown is an instant classic and belongs on everyone’s green-friendly playlist.

Album Lowlight: I like my hip-hop with intelligence behind it. There are a few times when this album gets a little too “gangster” for me. You can only drop so many n-bombs before it becomes excessive. You can only rap about bitches and hoes so many times before it loses its luster. “Scarface” as the second track completely takes the wind out of the sails, and it’s too bad because of the greatness that is to come later on Piñata.

Takeaway: This is a very strong record, despite a few bumpy patches. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib would have a strong record even if you removed the numerous guest appearances. However, it is the guest spots that make this record. Check this album out if you are digging hip-hop these days — you may just love it.

~Kevin Raos

The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Red Eyes”
“Eyes to the Wind”
“In Reverse”

Album Highlights: It’s refreshing to know you are listening to a top album of the year within a dozen listens, and that’s what we have here, folks. There truly is a lot to say about Adam Granduciel and The War on Drugs as following up the 2011 release Slave Ambient was no easy task, yet Lost in the Dream takes us deeper into the rabbit hole via blindingly lush arrangements, among other notable attributes. A cornucopia of influences (see: Bruce, Petty and Dylan) are perfectly melded here, as nods to truly great classic rock are abound, utilized in a contemporary manner which only The War On Drugs seem to constantly achieve.

Granduciel knows how to structure albums with the best of them – this acutely demonstrated via the nine-minute, sprawling opener “Under the Pressure”. This opener showcases a strong, constructive aspect through a plethora of synths that may temporarily transport you to a few decades past. First single “Red Eyes” keeps on a similar path as we sink deeper in, bobbing along to the pounding drum machine that has been a constant over the years for the Philly-based band. “Disappearing” takes us soaring above the clouds as we hear new, thrilling piano instrumentation with warm bass lines, creating a sense of weightlessness and flight. An extremely strong finishing track, “In Reverse,” perfectly captures the fleeting minutes on this release before jarring us back into a slightly crueler reality. I’ll leave you with this lyric off the closer, “We’re just living in the moment / Making our path / losing our grasp / through the grand parade.”

Album Lowlight: Honestly, there isn’t much to report about in this department. There was a little more edginess to Slave Ambient that could have had a place somewhere in this handful of tracks, but the cleaned-up facade lends to the act’s maturity. It’s kinda the WOD style to include a filler track, “The Haunting Idle,” but there’s plenty to stick your teeth into with the other nine standout tracks.

Takeaway: Lost in the Dream has garnered much buzz before it’s true release, and for good reason, as The War on Drugs are ready to take the next step into the spotlight, creeping out of the darkness. This next step was achieved by former member, Kurt Vile, so it was only a matter of time before The War On Drugs broke to the next level; they’ve sold out the major demographics on this upcoming spring tour weeks in advance. When a truly inspired artist borrows from the past while looking to the future, the outcome can be something fully new and exciting, which is what we have here.

The brilliance in Granduciel lies in his delivery, both musically and lyrically, crooning about the sometimes-not-so-simple intricacies of existence. Life, love and everything else in between can be tricky, yet Granduciel calmly assures us that things can work out. The long play of this record is so rewarding and grows with hopes that more can be brought into the light. Oh, and that the state rock and roll is just fine.

~Kevin Quandt

New Music Tuesday: Metronomy • Elbow


Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

MetronomyLove Letters

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“I’m Aquarius”
“Boy Racers”
“The Most Immaculate Haircut”

Album Highlights: Metronomy’s fourth album is strikingly less electronic than prior efforts, taking wonky pop toward the doo-wop, soulful rock and roll of the 70’s. The group’s prior effort, English Riviera, found success in its swirling layers and sophisticated production. This time, Metronomy founder and frontman Joseph Mount uses lyrical repetition to the point that the vocal loops become mantras, driving home the point of confessional simplicity.

For example, album single “I’m Aquarius” repeats the song’s title for about one-third of the song, but that’s not why the song works. Sparkling melodic undertones enriched the track, allowing the mantra to take hold. “The Most Immaculate Haircut” is slightly deceptive in it’s form, which makes it interesting. It dies down, feigning the song is coming to an end, only to revive stronger than before with “Oh hush now” becoming the vocal center-point. “Boy Racers,” an instrumental that inspires a cinematic detective feel is the first song that shifts the tonal attitude of apathy, suitably without lyrics. The dynamic nature of this song, along with no lyrics or mantra, helps it to stick out, in a good way.

The best songs on the record are the ones that diverge slightly from the Metronomy’s consistent approach.

Album Lowlight: This simple approach reduces instrumentation in favor of a measured pace and homogenous tone, therefore making it feel bland. Under a throwback, soulful rock aesthetic, the album’s title Love Letters drips in irony. More of a makeup letter, or a breakup letter, there isn’t much love to be found lyrically. Hell, in the first two tracks, Mount sings about relationship apathy, taking rings back and threatening to leave.

The lyrical mantras are so repetitious that they can become meaningless at times. “I keep on writing love letters”, “We can get better / We can do anything” and “Does it get better?” on the final cut “Never Wanted” does tell a basic, ongoing tale about the pains of love. In the end, Metronomy’s record feels monotonous, both lyrically and in its overall production.

Takeaway: Love Letters has a handful of memorable songs, but as a whole, it doesn’t inspire much feeling or a need to replay. Lyrics from the album’s best song “I’m Aquarius” say it best — “I can love it, or I can leave it.” A forgettable, permeating aura of apathy does Metronomy’s latest no great service.

~Mike Frash

ElbowThe Take Off and Landing of Everything

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Fly Boy Blue/Lunette”
“New York Morning”

Album Highlights: After a three-year layoff, the British indie rockers are back with their sixth full-length album and their third on UK label Fiction Records. The last five years, after all, have been as rewarding as they come for the Manchester band. Its last two albums were both nominated for the Mercury Prize, with 2008’s Seldom Seen Kid edging out Radiohead’s In Rainbows as well as Adele’s 19 to take home the prestigious honor. And even though 2011 follow-up Build a Rocket Boys! would fall short to PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, such critical acclaim in such a short span set quite the precedent for the quintet.

Still, as tough as those albums are to follow, The Take Off and Landing of Everything isn’t a total dud by any means. Lead singer/guitarist Guy Garvey’s soothing voice sounds as good as it ever has, while the rest of the band — Craig Potter (keyboards, piano), Mark Potter (guitar, vocals), Pete Turner (bass, vocals) and Richard Jupp (drums, percussion) — shows an urge to experiment more than in the past.

With almost eight songs over the five-minute mark, The Take Off and Landing of Everything has plenty of meat to it. “This Blue World” opens the 10-track LP with seven minutes of balladry, but it’s the ensuing “Charge” where things start to click for Elbow, as Garvey immediately tells us how he really feels when he has more than just a few drinks in him: “I am electric with a bottle in me / Got a bottle in me / And glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me / I’m from another century.” Though it’s clear that Garvey has a thing for the sauce — he proclaims “What can be said of the whiskey and wine / Random abandon or ballast for joy” on the subsequent “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette” — he also can be heard professing his love for the Big Apple on new single “New York Morning.” The other tracks, meanwhile, follow suit in continuing at a rather deliberate pace, highlighted by Garvey sharing memories during “My Sad Captains” and later waxing poetic on “Colour Fields” when he offers a young, attractive woman some words to live by.

Album Lowlight: Living up to its past two records wasn’t going to be easy for Elbow to accomplish, and there’s no question that The Take Off and Landing of Everything doesn’t deserve the same praise as either. That’s not to say it isn’t worth listening to more than once or twice, but it also doesn’t carry the same sort of repeatability that some of Elbow’s previous albums maintain. Part of that has to do with the overall lack of tempo we get from start to finish — the nature of Garvey’s lyrics often overwhelms the musicianship. Yet, part of it also has to do with the fact that some songs just don’t hold up as well as others. “Real Life (Angel)” and the album’s title track, for instance, meander along for quite a while without ever reaching a climax, and the spaced-out finale “The Blanket of Night” could easily lull you to sleep after the first two minutes.

Takeaway: There may not be a lot of standout songs here to speak of, but this is still solid work from a band that is trying to push boundaries and test itself. Sure, Elbow could merely have taken the easy way out by filling up an album with conventional, three-minute pop hits, but this band — the same one that was named “Best British Group” at the 2009 Brit Awards — is a lot better than that. There is plenty of thought and reflection that can be heard in Garvey’s lyrics, and Elbow has certainly spread its wings between working with the Hallé orchestra and exploring an interest in minimalistic electronica.

~Josh Herwitt

New Music Tuesday: Pharrell • The Men • Drive-By Truckers • Real Estate • Eagulls • Kimono Kult


Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Pharrell WilliamsG I R L

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Brand New”
“Come Get It Bae”

Album Highlights: It’s been eight years since Pharrell delivered his first solo effort, In My Mind, though he has been plenty busy in the meantime. Whether it’s his falsetto contributions to “Get Lucky” or backing Robin Thicke on his breakout single, Williams really has had the best year out of anyone in music. We all know and love (for now) the lead single off of G I R L, “Happy,” but the other nine tracks on this release will be new gems as we push into springtime.

Obviously this is a feel-good album, playing heavily on Williams’ pop neo-soul sound that he has been cultivated after his time with alternative hip-hop act N.E.R.D. Musically, nods to Jamiroquai, Jackson 5 and Prince are distinguishable while Hans Zimmer’s string arrangements add elements of sophisticated disco. Pharrell’s presence in the industry combined with his understanding of contemporary pop-music lend to a ton of standout tracks that really feel different from one another. Miley Cyrus guests on the funk banger “Come Get It Bae,” and is disgustingly infectious, sure to be a fan favorite. Though Daft Punk was officially left off the track list, “Gust of Wind” is the song they are featured on as Nile Rodgers-esque guitar sections lead to the manipulated vocals we have come to love from these French robots. Another standout appearance comes from Alicia Keys on the girl-power, reggae tinged track, “Know Who You Are.” Her sultry vocals do offer a nice respite before the auto-tuned closer “It Girl.”

Album Lowlight: Though the album is admirably considered to be a slight concept album, focusing on a more positive outlook on females in music (slightly motivated by “Blurred Lines” backlash), it really doesn’t need agenda. Also, the lyrics Pharrell penned don’t shine brightly, especially compared to the music that accompanies. One wonders how long Pharrell had been working on the production side while he should have been spending some time with pen and paper.

Takeaway: Pure, unadulterated enjoyment at it’s freshest and finest. Seems like we should start calling him Midas as Williams has the golden touch these days, so it’s no surprise that G I R L is sure to be a success on multiple levels. Pharrell is still rising stock after 2013, and he’s likely doubled his fan base in 12 months whether it was the 24-hour music video to “Happy” or even, dare I mention, his now-owned-by-Arbys Grammy headwear. Williams has also seemed to further his popular falsetto singing, and really shines alongside, equally falsetto-heavy singer, Justin Timberlake on “Brand New.” With that said, this may be the final piece in what will be dubbed the ‘Pharrell Williams sound.’

~Kevin Quandt

Drive-By TruckersEnglish Oceans


Top Tracks:
“Grand Canyon”
“When Walter Went Crazy”
“Pauline Hawkins”

Album Highlights: The Drive-By Truckers did something they never do for their 10th studio album, English Oceans — they split song-writing duties between long time band members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Generally, Hood has been the primary songwriter of all the Truckers’ material. The results of this shared duty is a contrasting album ripe with vivid lyrics and story-telling. My favorite part of the record comes in the final two minutes of the album, during “Grand Canyon,” when the band finds a great psychedelic groove to close out the record.

Album Lowlight: The lyrics shine on this record. However, there is much left to be desired in the instrumental department. Most of the songs are straight up alt-country rock songs that struggle to capture listener attention. The storytelling, however, makes up for the pedestrian musicianship. I think this is more a product of their genre and style than their actual musical ability, because it is quite apparent the Drive-By Truckers are extremely comfortable and accomplished musicians.

Takeaway: Fans of the Drive-By Truckers, and alt-country rock fans in general, will probably love this album. As great as the storytelling is on this record, I simply get bored by the musicianship. The Drive-By Truckers have been around since the 90’s and are clearly trying to mix things up — the dual voice quality to this record give it a very interesting perspective that many of the previous DBT albums lacked.

~Kevin Raos

Real EstateAtlas

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Had to Hear”
“Past Lives”
“The Bend”

Album Highlights: Real Estate are still one of the best purveyors of breezy, chill rock that is perfect for a day at the beach or a drive down the coast. Unlike Days and Real Estate, this day at the beach has a few clouds hanging overhead as the New Jersey crew begins to mature lyrically and look more inward. Though the subject matters have shifted, the sound has stayed true to their roots as swirly guitars are still the ‘king of the beach’.

“Primitive” is one standout track that features a slightly adventuresome guitar romp towards the end. “Horizon” is a late gift on Atlas as it features a more-catchy, upbeat vibe, and likely would have benefitted from an earlier spot on the album. In true Real Estate fashion, there is one instrumental “April’s Song,” as well as one song sung by bassist Alex Bleeker entitled, “How Might I Live.” One aspect of Real Estate which is different this time around is the addition of Girls’ keyboardist, Matt Kallman. This latest member is subdued in the mix, adding subtle elements and figuring his place in this once string-oriented act. An added density of sound is also present which will add to sustained replay value, hopefully long enough to reach those sunny months ahead.

Album Lowlight: I suppose if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Real Estate have crafted an empire off their laid-back sound years ago, and though the sound hasn’t really progressed it’s still entirely enjoyable. Basically, they are good at what they do, however this writer has to wonder if, and when, this trend will break to display an evolving sound and maturing musicianship that isn’t afraid to take a chance once in a while.

Takeaway: Fans of the group are sure to be thrilled to have another 10 tracks of lazy tunes to toss on during an early afternoon BBQ or an exodus to some body of water. Maybe it’s a surprise that there are really no surprises in Atlas, even if the lyrical content has moved towards something more personal than benign. Real Estate make great records, and Atlas continues this trend as they continue to break from the underground to something viable to a larger audience.

~Kevin Quandt


3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Tough Luck”
“Nerve Endings”

Album Highlights: This English quintet get down and dirty in their self-titled release, delivering one hell of a rock album. The sheer grittiness of each song makes you eager to hear what the next one will bring to the table. “Tough Luck” is the standout song that pairs an extremely catchy hook, colossal guitar work, and a thunderous bass line. This song is a straight rocker that leads its way to a different, slower direction by the time the song ends, which worked perfectly. The next highlight is the swirling guitar work and the gritty snarls of George Mitchell belting out the lyrics to “Possessed.” This song is extremely catchy, but still brings that certain edginess that these guys are going to be known for.

Album Lowlight: There’s not a whole lot that I would call lowlights, but the album seems to melt together, so its hard to pick out songs. Many of the chorus’ are just the repetition of a single word, but there’s a side of me that likes that simplicity, so that could go either way.

Takeaway: These rockers from across the pond made a very solid and concise album that is sure to catch momentum, and I’m sure I will be playing this album quite a few times this year. This release makes me want to catch these guys live as it’s sure to be an energetic, raucous show. If you’re a fan of gritty English rock, or Brooklyn’s own Parquet Courts, then I highly recommend this album. BAM!

~Pete Mauch

Kimono KultHiding in the Light

2.5 BamsTop Tracks:
“Todo Menos El Dolor”
“La Cancion De Alejandra”

Album Highlights: Any die-hard fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers or The Mars Volta likely knows that both bands were tied to one another in the past. Former RHCP bandmates Flea and John Frusciante, after all, were key contributors during the recording sessions for TMV’s De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003) and Amputechture (2006), and the two outfits spent quite a bit of time together on the road. So, it should be no surprise to see Frusciante, who left RCHP in 2008 to focus on his solo career, hooking back up with fellow axe man Omar Rodríguez-López, who put TMV on hiatus in 2012 (despite the band dissolving four months later) to start Bosnian Rainbows with Le Butcherettes vocalist/guitarist Teri Gender Bender.

While Frusciante and Rodríguez-López provide Kimono Kult with the star power most new bands dream of having, the project is really Swahili Blonde drummer Nicole Turley’s baby. Turley, who recorded and produced the sextet’s debut EP Hiding in the Light on her own label Neurotic Yell Records, has described the record as “four songs of electro/dub/afro-beat/avant-freak/jazz-like conversations of instrumental ecstasy.” If that means sounding like a more electronic version of TMV, then she might actually be on to something. With Gender Bender on board, it’s pretty easy to see the similarities. Between her Spanish lyrics and high-pitched vocals, you could easily mistake Gender Bender for former TMV frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala. That’s about where the comparisons end, though. With the longest song on Hiding in the Light clocking in at 3:23, these aren’t exactly the 25-minute sonic explorations that many longtime TMV fans grew accustomed to hearing.

Album Lowlight: After Turley cooks up a groovy backbeat on the opening track “Todo Menos El Dolor,” the ensuing “Las Esposas” is where things start to get weird — the kind of weird that we’re used to hearing from Rodríguez-López by now. Unfortunately, a lot of times that can also be Rodríguez-López’s biggest downfall when it comes to his songwriting ability, and in Kimono Kult’s case, sounding weird just for the sake of sounding weird doesn’t work all that well. Consequently, most of Hiding in the Light lacks much of the same listen-ability that “Todo Menos El Dolor” retains, making it easy to understand why it was the first track the band released.

Let’s also be honest — it’s not easy to make a rock band that sings almost entirely in Spanish accessible to a U.S. audience. But it’s not just the language barrier on Hiding in the Light that presents a challenge for listeners. The jangly organ line that overwhelms the beginning of “La Vida Es Una Caja Hermosa” grows tiresome rather quickly, and although the Latin guitar effect offers a nice twist on ballad finale “La Cancion De Alejandra,” the song is too short for it to build any momentum. If Hiding in the Light is only a slice of what Kimono Kult has to offer, it may just be one of this supergroup’s early growing pains.

Takeaway: It’s hard to say anything definitive about a band that only has four songs to its name right now, so it’s probably best to take the wait-and-see approach with Kimono Kult — it just might require a bit of your patience. With Frusciante and Rodríguez-López bringing on board other talented musicians like instrumentalists Dante White (Dante Vs. Zombies) and Laena Geronimo (Raw Geronimo), you’d like to think that there’s bound to be some magic made in the studio. Still, there are no guarantees that will happen.

On the whole, Kimono Kult feels very much like an experiment at this point, and that’s probably fitting considering that all of these songs sound quite experimental at their core. Yet, by the same token, that’s also how Rodríguez-López has been looking at all of his endeavors lately, which means there’s no way of knowing what Kimono Kult’s lifespan will be.

~Josh Herwitt

New Music Tuesday: Beck • Schoolboy Q • St. Vincent • Wild Beasts • Mike Gordon • The Notwist

Beck - Morning Phase

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

BeckMorning Phase

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Heart Is a Drum”
“Country Down”
“Blackbird Chain”

Album Highlights: As indicated in the title, Morning Phase acts as a slow opening of ones eyes into a sunny bedroom on any given morning. Slow and sensual, each song ebbs into the next without a moment’s hesitation. It feels inherently Beck, touching on all his sensibilities without driving any of them home. The single, “Blue Moon,” is the most assertive track, naturally being featured as the debut single and showcases intensively audible lyrics. Other standout tracks are “Heart is a Drum” and “Country Down.” They are different from one another, but both highlight Beck’s ability to straddle genres, though he coins Morning Phase as “California music.” “Heart Is a Drum” is soft and comforting with twinkles of piano, portraying an ambient feel. “Country Down” shines with harmonica and acoustic guitar play, we see a glimpse of Beck in his younger years, if only briefly.

Album Lowlight: As mentioned previously, the album acts a slow opening of the eyes into a sunny bedroom. But, one couldn’t assume we would get something along the lines of Midnite Vultures, or even Guero. Songs like “Wave” really lay on the Zen moments pretty thick, and at times you want to shake the man and serve him a strong cup of coffee. Alas, as Beck, and we all, mature, we can’t come to expect music videos with kitchen appliances humping anymore as he turns more inward and lovely with age.

Takeaway: Beck is now a grown-ass man, and he is coming to accept this cruel fact, as demonstrated in Morning Phase. It fully carries similarities to Sea Change, or rather its ‘companion’ as stated by Mr. Hansen himself. Hearing this influence is undeniable while lowering the general feeling of gloominess that came with that emotional release in 2002. Yes, it’s slow, but its contemplative, it’s personal. The range that Beck has exhibited is impressive, but the focus he can bring is uncanny, drawing comparisons to legends of yesteryear. There are moments of string and brass, written by his father, David Campbell, that add another reason to simply fall in love with this album. The album feels highly emotional at times, but it also retains a certain lightheartedness that will lend to its replay value. Beck is confidently striding with his career and sound, building on all that has past while looking forward to the next step.

~Katy Meacham

Schoolboy QOxymoron

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Collared Greens” feat. Kendrick Lamar
“Blind Threats” feat. Raekwon
“Break the Bank”

Album Highlights: One quarter of the Black Hippy collective, Schoolboy Q has returned with a follow-up to his 2012 release Habits & Contradiction, equally impressive and oozing with tales of all-things-gangsta. Let’s not beat around the bush and call this album what it is: gangsta rap. Quincy Hanley grew up a Crip in Los Angeles, pushing Oxy and a little crack and weed, so it’s only natural that he rhymes about his life and past experiences.

Oxymoron is well-rounded in it’s shifting vibe, polished production and healthy roster of guests, while not relying on star power or other gimmicks to try to make this album compete with Drake or other mega-MCs.

One surprise that Oxymoron does present is a handful of (more) radio-friendly, club anthems that weren’t present on Habits. “Hell of a Night” is a prime example as the obvious lyrical content paired with trap drums and sensual overtones are sure to equate to repeated play at hip-hop clubs across the country. Out of the club, Oxymoron is simply an enjoyable slice of West Coast rap that sustains its enjoyment, throughout.

Album Lowlight: Some of the guest MCs on Oxymoron are massively talented, and in the case of “Collard Greens,” you can’t help but focus on Kendrick as Q’s vocals can leave a little to be desired when stacked against the unofficial Black Hippy leader. Songs like “Hoover Street” come off overly produced and overworked at times, especially when trying to be dark and brooding. Tyler, the Creator should also limit his guesting, as his oddball antics fit best in the confines of one of the dozen Odd Future acts.

Takeaway: Black Hippy have restored faith to West Coast hip-hop over the past few years, and now that the honeymoon has wrapped up, it’s nice to see where its respective members will go from there. Q carries the torch confidently into the darker side of the streets for us, re-emerging full of urban tales of sexual conquest and narco-life. His honesty in this realm is what makes this genre of the 90’s sound so fresh, 20 years after B.I.G and Pac.

~Kevin Quandt

St. VincentSt. Vincent

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Bring Me Your Loves”
“Huey Newton”

Album Highlights: Annie Clark ups the electronic ante on her fourth studio album and self-titled debut on Republic Records, St. Vincent. Branching out of her typically experimental indie pop compositions, she embraces more cohesive arrangements in which she focuses her creativity on deconstructed production and sound obstruction. Her ethereal vocals remain at the forefront of her songs and are complemented by the elements of distortion and reverb she plays with through the use of predominantly analog instrumentation. Annie hits you hard with her new sound right off the bat, fiercely unapologetic in the first two tracks, “Rattlesnake” and “Birth in Reverse.” Both equally impressive in sound quality and sass, these opening tracks set the tone for the rest of the records’ exciting stylistic shifts and the intriguing unveiling of Annie’s gritty rock goddess persona.

Album Lowlight: It’s difficult to find much wrong with this album, which undoubtedly is one of Clark’s most ambitious efforts to date. Filled with beautifully searing vocal tracks, robust beat-driven compositions and impeccably funky pop gems, Clark truly knocked this album out of the park. The weaker songs on the album aren’t even bad necessarily, but just lack the transitional effectiveness into the graduated St. Vincent sound that make the record so utterly impressive. Although beautiful in their own right, songs like “Severed Cross Fingers” and “I Prefer Your Love” follow suit more with Clark’s previous work and subsequently lose the edginess this album delightfully brings to the table.

Takeaway: Annie Clark has always been a captivating artist, pushing creative boundaries and taking risks most would deem too dicey for any generic pop songstress. Her delicate vocals and theatrical soundscapes have deceivingly kept her compartmentalized in this type of fringe-pop genre and unfortunate state of limbo that has yet to allow her to fully breakthrough as the powerful female artist she is. She has had a successful career in respect to most of her indie-pop counterparts, enhanced by last year’s collaboration with creative giant David Byrne, amongst others, acquiring a dedicated fan base amidst her creative journey thus far. Clark is continuously growing as an artist, now with an incredibly impressive body of work, highlighted by this pivotal fourth album which will undoubtedly put her on the mainstream radar. Unapologetic, raw and addictively genius, St. Vincent is going to make Annie Clark the star she has always been and deservedly should be recognized as.

~Molly Kish

Wild BeastsPresent Tense

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Sweet Spot”

Album Highlights: With co-producers Leo Abrahams and Alex “Lexxx” Droomgoole hopping on board, the members of Wild Beasts — childhood friends Hayden Thorpe, Ben Little, Tom Fleming and Chris Talbot — spent last year methodically piecing together its fourth full-length record that “was built on computers rather than played first,” according to Talbot. And that’s pretty evident from the very beginning of Present Tense, as synthesizers replace guitars on the album’s opening track “Wanderlust.” The beat of a drum machine pulsates behind Thorpe, who repeatedly delivers his ghoulish message of “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck / Funny how that little gold can buy a lot of luck,” setting the mood for the rest of the album. But even though gloom and despair also fuel the band’s vocals on ensuing tracks “Nature Boy” and “Mecca,” Present Tense doesn’t grow stale amidst its melancholy disposition. For as dreamy as the 11-track LP gets, Wild Beasts refuse to lull you to sleep before Present Tense comes to an end. There are clearly some intriguing resemblances here, not only to their fellow Brits of Elbow — Fleming, who shares singing duties with Thorpe, does his own Guy Garvey impression quite well on “New Life” for example — but also when it comes to the eeriness that George Lewis Jr. exudes as Twin Shadow. On “Sweet Spot,” carefully-plucked guitars pave the way for an opening verse that sees Thorpe waste no time revealing his heart ache to the world, crooning “The sweetest spot / When it’s gone, it’s gone / Don’t make me suffer for that / Just to love me / A final dividend.” The tone isn’t all that different from what follows it shortly thereafter, but it’s hard to say there’s another song on Present Tense that conveys as dark of an image as “Daughters.” It isn’t until we catch Thorpe’s patented falsetto colliding with Fleming’s contrasting baritone on “A Simple Beautiful Truth” that things start to turn around. So, by the time “Parade” closes out Present Tense with lines like “We may be savage and raw but at the core / We’ve higher needs,” there’s still a sliver of hope left. This is Wild Beasts at its best, a sobering exploration into human emotion without all the sappiness that one dreads hearing.

Album Lowlight: If there’s one drawback more obvious than any other, it’s the change of pace that’s lacking between songs. As unique as Present Tense sounds, there’s an accessibility factor that’s missing altogether. Is this the newest chapter in new wave music or just your typical indie rock flair? In reality, it’s neither. On the one hand, Present Tense is a record that’s uniquely Wild Beasts — one that doesn’t sound like it’s ever been made before. But on the other hand, it’s also an album that you would be hard-pressed to discover through mainstream radio even months from now. That’s certainly not always the mark of a good record, but with little to no pop element to speak of, Present Tense most likely won’t be headed for any major commercial success stateside.

Takeaway: Though almost five years passed before Wild Beasts ever earned critical acclaim back home, it wasn’t until a Mercury Prize nomination in 2010 that had music critics outside of the UK taking note. Since then, the big question for the London-based quartet has been whether its morose tunes can carry the same weight among listeners across the pond. But on Present Tense, it remains determined to finally break that trend. Compared to their three previous offerings, Wild Beasts makes a conscientious effort to show that its interests extend into the realm of electronic music — one that certainly passes the ear test after a couple of listens. This album may not end up on any “Best of the Year” lists in December, but it’s one that still deserves to be commended.

~Josh Herwitt

Mike GordonOverstep

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Say Something”

Album Highlights: Everyone’s favorite Phish bassist is back for his 4th studio album, titled Overstep. Mike Gordon brings back long-time guitarist Scott Murawski for an even closer collaboration than past projects. For Overstep, the song writing process was a true collaborative effort as Gordon and Murawaski wrote many of the songs together on writing retreats in the north east part of the States. What results is a very loose and light album that encapsulates everything from grunge to reggae.

Gordon takes a “less is more” philosophy with Overstep. In a recent interview with, he spoke about giving the notes room to breath, and wanting to peel back layers of the music. It’s not “simple” he says, but “specific.” This philosophy can be heard both literally and figuratively with one of the most interesting songs on the album “Peel”.

Phish fans will recognize a few of the tracks. Both “Yarmouth Road” and “Say Something” made their live debut with Phish last summer. It will be very interesting the hear how these songs are different when the Mike Gordon Band hits the road Friday.

Album Lowlight: This album makes me thirsty to see this band live. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Gordo said Overstep “is not an album of long jams or anything like that. I like to be kind of song-y on albums.” As great as that is, I can’t wait to see how these songs are performed in a live setting. Gordon’s desire to give songs more room to breath can be ultimately realized when they are jammed out in a live setting.

Takeaway: It might be still too early to say where this lands in the hierarchy of albums in Mike Gordon’s solo portfolio, I’m a big fan of his first output, Inside In. However, I think some his strongest songs of his career are on this record. “Say Something” is an instant classic that will be spun for ages.

Overstep is a very deliberate record. It is very simple, filled with Gordo’s trademark bass and quirky lyrics. For a man who is only a couple short years away from 50, and having the comfort of a musical giant with Phish, it is refreshing to hear an effort like this. Mike Gordon is not afraid to do something different, and on his own terms, and for that, you must respect it.

~Kevin Raos

The NotwistClose to the Glass

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Run Run Run”

Album Highlights: For their 25th anniversary, German indie group The Notwist have produced a wonderfully addictive record, one that could only be created by artists that have constantly kept busy reinventing themselves. They’ve always strived for an evolving sound; first the Notwist were heavy metal-dominant, then foreboding indie rock became their hallmark — now electronic music is at their core with their eighth long player, a record that blossoms with a perfect balance of experimental gusto and melodic restraint.

While the record mixes and mashes many styles of music from drone to indie rock to shoegaze, the ethos of electronic music is the centerpiece. The future-forward production balances out mostly through Markus Acher’s grounding voice, but the record is also sequenced masterfully, allowing acoustic-based numbers like “Casino” and “Steppin’ In” to change the pace and offer peaceful transition to help break the tension. While a proclivity toward electronic music dominates sonically, it’s the idea of being confined, stuck, boxed in (read “Close to the Glass”) that is messaged through lyrics.

The first two tracks set a bouncy, drone-filled soundscape that inspires brooding imagery through Thom York-like voice-used-as-instrument background vocals. Immediately it’s clear everything is leaning more towards the digitized than the organic, that is until “Kong,” a song that would be a radio hit single if there was justice in this world. It’s a big, bold song that’s upbeat in it’s tone and lyrics, accompanied by orchestrated elements —- it wouldn’t be crazy if someone thought it was a new song from the Strokes.

“Run Run Run” wholly signifies the the marriage of tense electronic sounds and structure to express the idea of confinement. “Run run run till the alley comes …” sets the stage, only to morph from an ominous existential sounding track into one that flourishes into house-driven, pulsating excitement, mimicking the fleeing feeling of sprinting away while being hunted. “7-Hour-Drive” drives the point home with a shoe-gaze approach, using power-chord wailing wall-of sound urgency to convey love that was never meant to be, certainly a situation that can feel restricting.

Album Lowlight: This is electronic noise-pop at it’s finest, and one must be willing to listen to drone-filled music that wallops the space between your ears into submission, just to the point that some kind of right turn with a pleasant release or a peaceful transition track shifts the mood. Accessible to everyone it is not.

Takeaway: Close to the Glass thrives in its intensity, allowing the softer, more intimate moments to shine brighter. A roller coaster ride in tone and volume, it’s a must-listen headphone album, yet it’s one that is plenty good from viable speakers too. The instrumentals and digitized sounds work together to create tension and anxiety, but always with the point of some auditory payoff. The Notwist will have a big year now that they’ve delivered their masterpiece, Close to the Glass.

~Mike Frash

New Music Tuesday: Phantogram • Shocking Pinks


Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.


4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Black Out Days”
“Fall in Love”
“The Day You Died”

Album Highlights: Almost exactly four years after dropping Eyelid Movies, the upstate New York duo returns with its long-anticipated, second full-length album. Lead singer/keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist/producer Josh Carter, of course, haven’t slowed down since then, releasing two EPs — Nightlife (2011) and Phantogram (2013) — and collaborating with such big-name artists as The Flaming Lips and Big Boi of Outkast over that stretch. But as the band’s major label debut, Voices proves that Phantogram is ready for the big leagues. While singles like “Nothing But Trouble” and “Fall in Love” have taken the airwaves by storm over the past month, “Black Out Days” stands as arguably the album’s top track. With Barthel’s haunting vocals fluttering over one of Carter’s subtle trip-hop beats, it may not be long before the song is running up the Billboard charts, in fact. There’s also the gloomy, yet airy “Bill Murray,” which could foreseeably find its way into a Wes Anderson flick someday — he does have a knack for casting the award-winning actor in his movies, after all. As good as it gets, Voices is more fitted for a particular mood, one you might feel when you’re lying in bed on a lazy Sunday morning with a hangover. These definitely aren’t the LMFAO party bangers you heard at the club the night before, but there remains a certain dance-ability to them, too.

Album Lowlight: Voices peaks early with three of the album’s best offerings to start, but it eventually hits a speed bump on “Never Going Home.” Featuring Carter on the mic, the tune takes a page out of Phil Collins’ early Genesis days, yet never quite hits the right notes. It’s not the only one. “I Don’t Blame You” lacks a melody hook, falling flat from the very outset, as Carter’s distorted vocals wear thin before not too long. Maybe there’s a trend here when it comes to singing duties, although it’s hard to say that all of Barthel’s work is spot-on, either. “Celebrating Nothing” and “My Only Friend” help pick things up back before it’s all over, but Voices fails to regain the momentum it conjures up toward the beginning. Though the lowlights stand few and far between on Voices, Barthel and Carter certainly don’t knock every song out of the park.

Takeaway: When Phantogram left Barsuk Records and signed on to Universal Republic last year, you knew there was a good chance that the band’s sound would offer even more mainstream appeal than 2009’s Eyelid Movies. And while that certainly is true here, Voices still manages not to come off as contrived or shallow. Sure, the beats are catchy — take the one Carter draws up on “Bad Dreams” for instance — but it’s the band’s lyrical content that remains genuine, as Barthel tackles difficult topics like loneliness, breakup and death over nearly 45 minutes.

-Josh Herwitt

Shocking PinksGuilt Mirrors

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Love Projection (Dedicated to Jerry Fuchs)”
“St. Louis” featuring Gemma Syme
“Beyond Dreams”

Album Highlights: It’s been one helluva long wait for fans of New Zealand’s king of off-kilter dance-punk, Nick Harte. And those who call themselves fans of Shocking Pinks got not one LP worth of material to delve into, rather a triple album full of his skewed creations. Yes, I said triple album. Even more insane is the fact that Harte said he surfaced from this lengthy recording session with over 300 demos, all products of a tumultuous time dealing with repeated earthquakes in his hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand (even claiming you can hear them in certain songs). 

As a whole, this release is really impressive, and it’s somewhat easy to see the genius which lies in Harte. His dedication to both his craft and his sound is something to admire, not to mention his pentient for doing things his own way, even if it takes 7 years to get it in the public’s hands. What Harte has made is a expansive, and conceptual, dance-punk album that feels better suited for a pair of audiophile headphones than the club or a venue. The first LP, Guilt Mirrors I, is a great acclamation into this mammoth recording, showing off dancey beats, shoe-gazesque guitar sections and industrial elements piled on top of each other neatly. A few guest appearances (Designer Violence, Arkitype and Ashlin Frances Raymond) scattered throughout help to shift in some varied influences and sounds. From there, the subsequent albums retain a similar feel, with a few noise opuses, “Beyond Dreams,” tossed in for good measure. 

Album Lowlights: Sure, this release isn’t for everyone, but I imagine you already know that. Fans of legendary old New Zealand act, the Bats, part of the Dunedin sound, will already be familiar with Harte and Shocking Pinks, and will subsequently be playing Guilt Mirrors for a week, even month, straight. I have little doubt that this act will attract a newer generation to appreciate the darker, shoegaze aura that accompanies. The resurgence of My Bloody Valentine last year could bode well, too. I suppose what I am trying to say is that this music is not or everyone, as it broods and slugs along in it’s avant-garde nature. Some of the filler, like “Hardfuck,” is extreme and will likely be skipped over after a few listens, as well.

Takeaway: In a nutshell, an entirely satisfying aural experience by a true, under-the-radar artist who takes no prisoners in his creative process. There are questions of  the effectiveness(physical release and touring) of this release and Shocking Pinks, but it’s clear that is not this acts intention, so we should just sit back and listen. Standout single, “St. Louis,” is one of the gems that will be singularly gleaned by some listeners, as others will worship this massive suite of tunes for a long time to come.

-Kevin Quandt

New Music Tuesday: Crosses (†††) • Temples • Tinariwen • Sun Kil Moon

Crosses - Crosses

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Crosses (†††)Crosses (†††)

2-BamsTop Tracks:
“This is a Trick”
“Bitches Brew”

Album Highlights: The side project of Chino Moreno of The Deftones, Shaun Lopez of Far, and producer Chuck Doom form the industrial, electronic-rock band Crosses or (+++). With first releasing their work in the form of two EP’s back in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The band used those songs with the addition of five new ones to put together a long playing album. The self-titled debut starts strong with “This is a Trick”, previously featured on EP1, has a hip-hop feel before transforming into a dirty industrial beat that is very well done, but unfortunately the album doesn’t really become more fulfilling than that. One other song grabbed my attention and that was “Frontiers”. I really liked the overall mood and flow of this song, which has an interesting middle section that sounds like a voicemail that connects the two parts of the song. I’m usually not a fan of random people talking in songs, but this seems to be fine.

Album Lowlights: Surprisingly, the song they chose as their single is my lowlight of the entire album. “The Epilogue” actually starts out great for the first minute with a neat little hip-hop beat, but then the chorus comes in the form of a really bad electro drum fill that is matched with extremely cheesy lyrics that remind me of top Billboard pop song. The album also has terrible flow which probably stems from the fact that this is really just three EP’s put into one LP. I feel they would have been better off if they either released another EP or wait until you have enough new material to make a more cohesive album.

Takeaway: If your’e a diehard Chino Moreno fan or you must have all things industrial then this album is for you, but I just cannot get past the blend of pop-rock with industrial, it just does not work except for the few songs I mentioned. I also feel like they might be trying a bit too hard in wanting to be mysterious of some sort. Every song purposely has a “T” in the shape of a cross, which feels like a gimmick and of course their name is a symbol. This is trend I’m not a fan of. With all this being said, I bet they put on one hell of a live show. All three of these musicians are very talented, but I think they should go back to their main projects. Do yourself a favor and go see them live.

~Pete Mauch

TemplesSun Structures

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Sun Structures”
“Move With the Season”

Album Highlights: Temples’ debut has been one of the more buzzed about releases to drop in 2014, and the hype has seemed to have connected on this strong slice of English psychedelia. Sun Structures is a sonic romp through mystical lands that beckons back to decades past while breathing a breath of fresh air into a popular genre for the moment at hand. Some fear it could be written off as overtly derivative, but there is a depth to this release that even this writer still anxiously awaits to see how it all unfolds in the coming months.

This project, originally a duo helmed by singer/guitarist James Bagshaw and bassist Thomas Warmsley in 2012, steadily evolved from a bedroom studio effort into a full blown band within just a year. From there, Temples and Sun Structures has blossomed into a wicked ride, opening with harp-laden, psych-pop track, “Shelter Song”, which sets the stage nicely for what lies ahead. “Sun Structures” flexes multiple muscles in regards to both catchy songwriting coupled with instrumental explorations; succeeding as an ambitious second track. Pacing and length(55 minutes) are two other strong suits, as the peppering of extremely strong tracks aids to the likelihood of not only casual replay, but full-album revisits.

A bulk of the punch comes in the middle of the album where a variety of psychedelic styles are confidently presented. “Mesmerise” is straight blistering in all its swirly glory and soaring vocals which are hard to ignore as a power-single, destined to be blaring over college radios across the hemisphere. “Move with the Season” is the perfect cut to allow you to catch your breath from the maelstrom that hath just ensued. This more subdued entry combines tidbits of British rock history with the harmonious sentiment of acts like Fleet Foxes. I could go on in describing each songs strong qualities, but I’ll leave some of that to you.

Album Lowlights: Comparisons to a certain Australian psych-rock band are gonna be made, but I beg you to listen to Temples without such bias.

The production is solid overall, but one can’t help wonder if they went a little overboard with all the effects, massive organ flourishes, harp sweeps and pretty little nuisances.

Lastly, some of Bagshaw’s lyrical subjects comes off as cliché in all it’s dark mysticism and fantasmical elements. I mean, I’m down for this journey, just not sure I need the lyrics to paint TOO much of the picture for me.

Takeaway: Sun Structures is one helluva debut effort, simply put. Nods to retro-pop are evident early on, yet fade off quickly, leaving the listener with the adequate tools to join these lads on a mysterious exploration. In this voyage their are many musical elements present, and the vast majority fit neatly in their respective place as a young English band takes on a formidable genre.

~Kevin Quandt


3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Arhegh Danagh”
“Koud Edhaz Emin”
“Timadrit in Sahara”

Album Highlights: Tinariwen, a critically acclaimed Tuareg band from the Sahara Desert of northern Mali, return for a followup to their Grammy Award winning 2011 album Tassili. Formed in 1979, Tinariwen is more than a band of musicians, they have lived through war and political unrest in northern Africa, reflecting the pulse of the people in Mali, Algeria and Libya. Their latest release Emmaar, is the 7th studio output from this band of Tuareg musicians best known for their unique blend of politically driven Tichumaren, rock and blues music stryle. Emmaar is driven by the signature guitar sound common in West African music, and the rhythmic percussion of the findé, which can oftentimes sound like a bongo drum. This album might not live up to it’s predecessor but it is still an immensely enjoyable sound from this band from the desert.

Album Lowlight: Unlike Tassili, there are no guest appearances from western musicians on Emmaar. Nels Cline and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band both make an appearances on the Tassili, winner of a Grammy for “Best World Music” in 2011. Emmaar does not not have any guest appearances, and does not stray far from their roots as Tuareg musicians. However, that is not to say this is a bad thing, I just love collaborations between masters of different genres.

Takeaway: Tinariwen have a fascinating and complex past. Their music is more than music, it is the voice of an entire group of people known as The Tuareg, a nomadic people from the Saharan Desert in North Africa. Formed in a military training camp organized by former Libyan ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi, Tinariwen was formed to voice the consciousness of the Tuareg people. Emmaar is another in a long line of music that represents the voice of their people. And for that it is beautiful. You might not be able to understand the words they are saying, but you can feel the emotion in their voices and instruments. Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with this inspirational story.

~Kevin Raos

Sun Kil MoonBenji

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Pray For Newtown”
“I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same”

Album Highlights: Mark Kozelek’s work is prolific, especially of late — the singer/songwriter has released over 40 records fronting Red House Painters throughout the 90’s, solo under his own name and with his current band Sun Kil Moon. Since the group’s superb 2012 record Among the Leaves, Kozelek released a record of covers called Like Rats along with collaborations with Jimmy LaValle & Desertshore. But in this brief period of time, something significant has changed in Kozelek’s songwriting process. 

Benji must be interpreted as a concept album about death. Every track touches on human demise, mostly in wretched, vivid ways but also poetically and therapeutically. There are the victims of accidental explosions & gun violence, friends & acquaintances passing on and most harrowingly, the fear of close family members not being alive in the near future. What’s new is Kozelek’s consistent approach to direct storytelling.

“I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same”, the 10-minute album thesis, really digs into the emotions of coping with death through poignant lyrics and layered acoustic guitar that sets a cascading tone. Kozelek admits, “…from my earliest memories I was a very melancholy kid. When anything close to me at all in the world died, to my heart forever it would be tied.” “Micheline”, perhaps Benji’s most touching track, soars as it picks up steam. Kozelek looks back at at a childhood acquaintance, a close friend he used to perform with and his grandmother in such sad, descriptive detail. The song also includes the album’s title in passing — when visiting his dying grandma, he also remembers seeing the ocean for the first time and watching the movie Benji in the theater — offering an iota of contrast against the records’ heavy content. 

Kozelek’s lyrics are the centerpiece of the listening experience  — they are so deep and resonant that the instrumentals and production are absorbed secondarily, although the stripped down approach is intentional and noteworthy. “Dogs” and “Ben’s My Friend” utilize a delayed echo effect on vocals to make critical segments more jarring. Standard balladry along with symbolism and metaphors take the back seat in favor of straightforward expressions throughout. 

Album Lowlight: The replay value will likely not be strong for many, unless depression or morbidity takes center stage one’s life. It’s a contemplative record that is more fit for rainy days than celebratory moments. That said, Benji is an essential 2014 album. 

Takeaway: Benji is an album that makes you feel. The death topic makes for a sincere Kozelek album, this from a man whose lyrics usually drip in sarcasm and wit — of course the wit is alive and well here. It’s powerful, visceral storytelling that is self-reflexive and biographical, yet so relatable that it compels personal introspection from the listener’s own experiences. Built around obsessing about the state of human demise, and the randomness of it, it’s easy to join Kozelek’s dire state of mind hours or days after listening. 

~Mike Frash