Jake Bugg headlines modern-day Americana showcase at Fox Theater Oakland


Photos by Marc Fong // Written by Molly Kish //

Jake Bugg with Albert Hammond Jr., The Skins //
Fox Theater Oakland — Oakland, CA
Janaury 23, 2014 //

A stacked bill of guitar-driven talent commanded the stage at Fox Theater Oakland this past Thursday night. Opening the show Brooklyn based powerhouses, The Skins and Albert Hammond Jr. ignited the crowd for a headlining set from the nineteen-year-old British prodigy, Jake Bugg.

The McKeithan siblings tore through their set, bringing youthful energy and infectious charisma starting the night off with their five piece rock band, The Skins. Bayli McKeithan had the prowess of a front woman well beyond her years, mesmerizing the audience with her rich, soulful vocals along with an insatiable stage presence. This stellar team of underage musicians are the epitome of up-and-coming rock stars. Treating the audience to a stunning performance, this band won’t be playing the role of opening act for too much longer.

Albert Hammond Jr. took the stage next, displaying his characteristic bravado and charm. Entering amidst sea of red light with an ensemble of musicians, he immediately broke into some crowd favorites off of his 2006 debut album Yours to Keep. Filling the venue with his guitar-shredding pop-riffs and howling vocals, Hammond Jr. impressed the crowd that seemed equally in attendance for his set as the headliner.


Highlights from his hour-long performance included a rousing rendition of “Postal Blowfish”, along with the extended album version of “Hard To Live(In The City)”. Playing to the enthusiastic crowd, Hammond expressed his gratitude towards being part of such a talented bill and excitement to be playing the historic venue intermittently throughout his set. Hammond and band ended the performance, which featured nearly all the material off of his two solo releases, with a surprisingly impressive cover of East Coast punk legends the Misfits’ “Last Caress”.

Approaching Jake Bugg’s headlining set, the ‘couple-centric’ Thursday night audience filed into the main floor quickly. The crowd anxiously waited, murmuring audibly about their excitement for Bugg’s first Bay Area performance since dropping his sophomore album last November. The songwriter’s setlist was dominated by familiar favorites off his critically acclaimed debut while also offering a generous sampling of the rollicking tunes featured on 2013’s Shangri La. Impossible to not draw comparisons between his adenoidal vocals, stoic stage presence and archetypical sound, Bugg’s performance played out as a modern day tribute to various Americana legends and rhythm and blues pioneers. Beyond the general artistic nods to his genre’s predecessors and stylistic similarities of his work, Bugg also included notable tributes to Howlin’ Wolf and Neil Young, which were woven perfectly into his main set and encore. Rounding out the show with an explosive rendition of his hit single, “Lightning Bolt”, the audience bobbed around euphorically singing along through the last notes of the evening.

Ambitiously orchestrated, the evening offered an insight into three artists that should easily be booked on top of their own bill in the coming years. Providing a taste of youthful talent, exciting solo efforts and a headliner possibly hitting the peak of his creative stride, one could only hope that this type of lineup is demonstrative of the future state of modern folk.

Coachella Review: Top Sets Weekend 1


Coachella Weekend 1 came and went like a flash as it usually does. The build up is the slow part: You make your predictions, do your homework after the lineup drops, fret over the soul-crushing set times – then throw your plans in the trash and have some fucking fun.

Twas a unique weekend as each day was different from the other, and not just by which acts were on what stages at any given time. Friday, the masses showed up early and entry was a hassle due to it, and a few gate-crashing episodes due to slow security lines raised anxiety even before stepping foot in the concert venue itself. However, the majority did not stick around for the midnight action shared between highly buzzed acts. Saturday brought a more unified crowd to sing along to the Femmes classics and nervously await a certain special guest to make an appearance with Phoenix. As a whole, this was the best day for the overall experience we have come to know and love out in Indio. Sunday was a bit mild on banner moments, and the winds seemed to dominate as a theme, both for those withstanding and those retreating the gale. Goose pimples and bandana face-masks were plentiful as the event winded down, just to do it all over again next week. Even with a musically less eventful Coachella, compared to year’s past, it was the musical adventure so many long for year round.

Here are the most memorable sets we witnessed, for better or worse.


The Shouting MatchesGobi Tent, 2:05 p.m.
Coachella Weekend 1 featured a premier performance from Justin Vernon’s über-blues project. The Bon Iver frontman played it cool most of the set behind dark glasses, laying out thick, bluesy guitar riffs. Jack-of-all-trades Phil Cook took over stage banter duties for most of the set, allowing Vernon to try his hat at slow-grinding bluesman. The Shouting Matches explored a couple lengthy jams that worked well. -MF

Dillon Francis2:30 p.m.
Crowds swelled rather early compared to year’s past, and many eager youths were chomping at the bit with the lengthy entry lines trying to catch the buzzy Dillon Francis. An upgraded, arena-sized Sahara tent was packed early on with throngs of fresh attendees bouncing to “Bootleg Fireworks” and other stylistic electronic mash-ups for the primarily under-21 masses. -KQ

Jake BuggMojave Tent, 3:05 p.m. TOP SET
The teenage prodigy Jake Bugg impressed thoroughly at his early tent set, but it wasn’t only due to his excellent acoustic versions of “Two Fingers” and “Simple As This.” Bugg plugged in and let loose with his electric guitar for about half the set, and these songs proved to be the most successul and surprising. The young British singer-songwriter has already honed his live skills and is worth seeing live before his next trip through the states, when he’ll be packing theater-sized venues. -MF

Divine FitsOutdoor Theatre, 4:35 p.m.
Britt Daniel (Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade) brought their newish outfit to the Outdoor Theatre for an afternoon of power-pop rock. Coupling the unmistakable vocals of Daniel with the heavy chorded guitar romp that is Boeckner added up to an impressive performance. “My Love is Real” was a highlight as drummer Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks added thick rhythm for the sun drenched crowd to sway and stomp to. -KQ

JapandroidsGobi Tent, 5 p.m.
Vancouver-based duo Japandroids had a tough time getting started due to sound issues, something that permeated the Gobi Tent Friday (the sound at TNGHT & Earl Sweatshirt was muted, but FOALS sounded great). Finally the set appeared ready to begin, until Brian King ran off stage, most likely to take a piss. David Prowse followed him offstage, then they returned to the stage to start “Fire’s Highway,” and we all discovered the sound was as shitty as it was when they were sound-checking. I’ve heard Japandroids play with immaculate sound quality, so it was time to move on… -MF


∆(Alt-J)Mohave Tent, 5:20 p.m.
This british quintet was a highlight of the day as they charmed a large crowd with their quintessentially unique take an indie rock, playing heavily off debut album An Awesome Wave. Cartoonish may be the best way to describe the singing style of Joe Newman, but once you’ve acquired the taste, it’s no joke and it shined brightly on the Mojave Stage. “Breezblocks” received a wonderful reception as revelers shook and weaved to the hypnotic rhythm while reciting the grand chorus. -KQ

Local NativesOutdoor Theatre, 7 p.m.
A calm mellow fell over the crowd for the majority of the Local Natives sunset time slot at the Outdoor Theatre. Some enjoyed the slightly closer and better beer garden, while others neatly filled a sizable chunk of real estate in front of the stage. “Sun Hands” was the perfect shock to attendees before sending them back out into the great wild that is the Empire Polo Club. -KQ

Dog BloodSahara Tent, 7:40 p.m.
Combine Skrillex and Boys Noize and you have the two-headed EDM monster fans are getting to know as Dog Blood. This recent collaboration made waves at Ultra this year, and they blew minds in the thickly packed Sahara for a hard driving amalgamation of many of the current electronic styles. The sound resonating from the beefed up DJ booth wasn’t fully Skrillex, nor Boys Noize, which was refreshing to hear from these two superstars. -KQ

Yeah Yeah YeahsCoachella Stage, 8:40 p.m.
Karen O commands crowds with the best of them, and every big performance from Yeah Yeah Yeahs confirms her place as one of the most enigmatic bandleaders of our time. She oozed intensity and sensuality while bopping all over the largest stage during hailed tracks like “Zero” and set closer “Maps.” The new tracks sounded as artsy and danceable as ever and Mosquito is sure to catch some serious attention as they prepare for a lengthy summer season. -KQ

FOALSGobi Tent, 10:50-11:40 p.m. TOP SET
FOALS destroyed their set against tough competition, making everyone present forget they were missing Blur & Jurassic 5. “Inhaler” and “Milk & Black Spiders” from FOALS’ 2013 LP Holy Fire were set highlights, but tracks from all three of their full length records were present in the setlist. The British group is pure fire in concert, producing surprisingly technical live versions of their songs while at the same time extending or intensifying some sounds or instruments in response to the audience reaction in the moment. -MF


How to Destroy AngelsMojave Tent, 12 a.m. TOP SET
Trent Reznor’s new project took the stage for the second time ever, and the multi-dimensional presentation wowed the surprisingly sparse crowd in the Mojave Tent. “The Wake Up” began the set with the group veiled behind a curtain of white strings, creating an eerie outline of Atticus Ross, Rob Sheridan and the mystifying Marqueen Manndig. Presentation appeared to be key in the short time this act will be on the road before the return of NIN, even though the wall of sound aspect was a treat for the diehard fans of Reznor and everything he touches. -KQ


Earl SweatshirtGobi Tent, 12:05 a.m.
Sure, Friday at midnight was undoubtedly one of the most stacked schedule times, but the lack of throngs at Odd Future wunderkid Earl Sweatshirt’s banner set showed that one can’t be in more than one place at a time, which is a massive dilemma at Coachella. New single “Whoa” was delivered confidently, even if the sound was less than stellar. Tyler, the Creator aided his LA bud on old rarity “Orange Juice” and crowd favorite “AssMilk” while climbing scaffolding and generally causing a ruckus. -KQ


Danny BrownOutdoor Theater, 3 p.m.
Another moderatly hot day welcomed the wrist-banded festivilians to a more unified day and night compared to the calm finish of day 1. Detroit-born, gap-toothed hip-hop artist Danny Brown brought a feverish set of his unique brand of profane-ridden tunes to the Outdoor Theatre. His nasally delivery could be compared to Andre 3000, while his melodic flow is so neatly packed and wickedly clever it makes folks chuckle in awe. -KQ

Zane LoweYuma Tent, 3 p.m.
The BBC 1 Radio DJ hailing from New Zealand played a spirited set of electro-house in the new official sixth stage. The Yuma Tent was an air conditioned oasis for dance purists needing a respite from the elements while also not wanting to rest their dancing feet. A hard wood floor was a proper addition to this space. Lowe kept things straight ahead, pounding the sizable system with original beats and a mixed set of dance styles before the tent packed up for The 2 Bears.

The inaugural Yuma Tent was so intimate with such quality DJs that most festival-goers did not have the opportunity to see some highly anticipated shows. Many people bought tickets for Coachella this year so they could dance to their favorite progressive DJs, but ultimately you had to sacrifice lots of other shows and wait in long lines to experience the Yuma Tent. This should be remedied for 2014, as Jamie xx would have probably filled out the Mojave Tent. Make the Yuma Tent bigger. -KQ


Ben HowardOutdoor Theatre, 4:10 p.m.
Ben Howard, another Brit, brought his soft semi-folk-rock material to a scorching Outdoor Stage, and the tunes he played were pretty standard. That is until “The Fear,” which built to an explosive peak not captured on Every Kingdom. It might have made sense to put 2 Chainz on the Outdoor and Ben Howard in the Mojave Tent based on the crowds. -MF


Violent FemmesCoachella Stage, 6:05 p.m.
Many weren’t aware that this was to be the first show from the folk-punk legends in over six years. Furthermore, many of the younger patrons were likely completely unfamiliar with this act besides the occasional play on KROQ and other national alternative rock radio stations. What a surprise when they launched into their self-titled premier album, playing it in full. Classics like “Blister in the Sun,” “Add It Up,” and “Gone Daddy Gone” were passionately crooned by the majority of the crowd. -KQ

Major LazerMojave Stage, 6:25 p.m.
Why Major Lazer didn’t play the Sahara is a mystery to me, but the EDM masses made the rare pilgrimage to Mojave to lap up Diplo’s worldly party. A frenetic set kept everyone jumping to Major Lazer hits like “Pon de Floor” and the ubiquitous Baauer banger “Harlem Shake” alike. Jillionaire is one helluva hype man keeping the crowd fully engaged at every track, instructing the crowd to remove their shirts, hold them in the air, eventually demanding they be tossed into the desert air in dance ecstasy. Many bros obliged. -KQ


Hot ChipCoachella Stage, 7:35 p.m.
What a perfect sunset Saturday dance party. It was a set full of hits like “One Life Stand,” “Over and Over,” & “Ready For The Floor,” along with the amazing “Flutes.” This show conflicted with Yeasayer, Grizzly Bear, & Julio Bashmore, so there was plenty of room to shake it. Guitarist Pat Mahoney, also from LCD Soundsystem, added a busy 70’s guitar riff to many songs, including most of the new tracks from In Our Heads. -MF

The Postal ServiceCoachella Stage, 8:50 p.m. TOP SET
The Postal Service show was surely one of the best pop sets of the weekend thanks to Jennie Lewis. Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello & Jen Wood were flawless as well, but Lewis’s sultry charisma, timing and all-around perfection made this a top set for me. From the building beat in “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” to the outro of “Brand New Colony,” where “everything will change” was repeated until the session ended, the crowd was zoned in. As the last line was harmonized, I looked up to see all the Coachella spotlights meeting at a point in the sky directly above us and instantly was struck by goosebumps. -MF

DescendentsOutdoor Stage, 9:05 p.m.
Milo Aukerman and band were treated to an evening slot on the 2nd largest stage, up against the breezy Postal Service reunion. Manhattan Beach local punk legends treated their fans to classics like opener “Everything Sucks,” “Suburban Home,” and “I’m the One.” Though Aukerman’s voice is not the youthful squeal it once was, they still deliver in a pleasing way, especially to a home town-ish crowd that grew up on their classic releases. -KQ

Moby (DJ set)Sahara Tent, 9:55 p.m.
It was another tough conflict-ridden time slot, as The xx, Two Door Cinema Club, Janelle Monáe & Franz Ferdinand all rubbed up against one-another. So how the hell did I end up at Moby? It’s a good question, and one I haven’t quite figured out yet. Sometimes, after all the planning, it’s best to go by your mood and follow your friends. That’s what happened here, and I’m glad I did. I was prime for for a euphoric dance party, and this DJ set from Moby sampled from a large variety of music and pop culture to create a fun, upbeat show. -MF


PhoenixCoachella Stage, 11:35 p.m.
When Daft Punk is confirmed in the house, and they play a preview video the night before, and you consider Daft Punk showed up with Phoenix at Madison Square Garden in 2010, it’s kind of a no brainer to see the Phoenix set just in case. Well I became a sucker to the Daft Punk hype machine, but in this case I still won because I saw Phoenix perform live. R Kelly appeared as the special guest, spittin’ “Ignition” over a remixed “1901” and “Chloroform.” Thomas Mars has been finishing his recent shows by going to the back of the venue, thanking the audience, then crowd surfing back to the stage. Well, the crowd surfing didn’t quite work so well for the first festival try. Mars got hung up by grabbers multiple times, almost hung himself with his pink microphone cable, and he got knocked around on the dismount. The rest of the band had already extended the “Entertainment” reprise multiple times, and Mars was too winded to deliver the final line of the night. All he could get out was “Thank you Coachella!” I wonder if he’ll attempt this again Weekend 2. -MF

Sigur RósOutdoor Stage, 11:50 p.m. TOP SET
While a sizable chunk of the crowd awaited what potential surprise guest may come out with Phoenix on the Main Stage, a devote crowd enjoyed the sonic brain massage that is Iceland’s own Sigur Rós. Having seen this band since their first US performances, they are best enjoyed outside, whether it be in the fog swept fields of Golden Gate Park or the warm Indio evenings. The set featured a horn section, string section and a full piano, not to mention the Hopelandish, angelic singing and bowed guitar brilliance of frontman, Jónsi. Few live musical experiences can match up to the usual set closer, “Untitled #8,” and this rendition was no different. Truly one of the most transcendental builds in live music, it left most viewers floating out of the venue for the wrap to the second day. -KQ


DIIVMojave Tent, 2:30 p.m.
Zachary Cole Smith has had a busy year after departing from Beach Fossils, but his diligence has paid off in dividends as DIIV has quickly garnered critical success as they win over new fans across the country. “Sometime” and “Doused” displayed their art-gaze rock style quite nicely among other tracks off the sublime album Oshin. -KQ


Thee Oh SeesGobi Tent, 3:15 p.m. TOP SET
John Dwyer brought his disturbingly rocking flavor of psychedelic garage to the Gobi Tent for an unforgettable afternoon set. There was no let up after the first note (“The Dream”) as the pit grew and more joined in the pogo fever that swept the crowd during tracks like “Contraption/Soul Desert,” “Lupine Dominus,” and “Meat Step Lively.” Dwyer pulled Ty Segall from the VIP section to play tambourine the majority of the set, a nod to the tightness of the San Francisco garage-rock family. Look for a whirlwind summer as they release the scorching new album The Floating Coffin. -KQ

Jessie WareMojave Tent, 3:45 p.m.
Jessie Ware is a star in the making. Her pop music has a dance edge to it, but it’s her natural charisma and mannerisms that communicate so effectively to the audience, making her super likable. She has a killer smile and knows she’s hot shit. “If You’re Never Gonna Move,” “Wildest Moments” and the rest of her tracks were well received, including an impromptu new song that she performed with her slightly embarrassed drummer Dornik Leigh to end the set. -MF


Kurt Vile and the ViolatorsOutdoor Stage, 3:55 p.m.
As the winds started to relieve the weathered festival goers, Vile brought a cool breeze of his own to the Outdoor Theatre while Gaslight Anthem wailed on the big top. Vile couldn’t help but make a quip at the Springsteen-esque vocals pumping a good hundred yards from where he was churning out laid-back tunes. Opening with the title track off his recent Wakin on a Pretty Daze displayed his fondness for his new material, especially track “A Girl Named Alex,” which is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Vile and band may have been better served in one of the tents, but nothing fazed this prolific up-and-coming song writer. -KQ

Social DistortionCoachella Stage, 6 p.m.
Orange County was fully represented by the legendary punk band Social Distortion and their fondly aging frontman, Mike Ness. What an honor for them to play the Main Stage, opening with “I Was Wrong” and including their stellar version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” They nodded back to the old days with a personal fave “Mommy’s Little Monster.” I applaud Goldenvoice in their decision to spotlight music that is quintessential to this geographic region of Southern California. -KQ

Tame ImpalaOutdoor Stage, 6:25 p.m. TOP SET
As the gusty winds upgraded to blustery, Australian fuzz rockers churned up a storm of their own opening with “Solitude is Bliss.” Kevin Parker was visibly thrilled at the environment he found himself in, and this feeling was contagious to the crowd who were coming to the climax of their long weekend. This set was more exploratory than usual with an extended jam revolving around the heavy-as-lead single, “Elephant.” Palm trees swaying behind the Outdoor Theatre were all the visuals the fans needed, in total contrast to the Sahara rave, to reach even greater heights. “Enders Toi” was aborted as some of their equipment was giving the band trouble, luckily that didn’t distract the band from continuing on. “Half Glass Full of Wine” closed an impressive showing from the growing act that continues to thrill fans of rock and roll. -KQ


Pretty LightsOutdoor Stage, 7:45 p.m.
The Pretty Lights show took place out in windy, open space, but that didn’t stop one of the best dance sets of the weekend. Derek Vincent Smith curated a varying set, beginning with his patented downtempo trip-hop/dubstep cuts, but then the set transitioned into Pretty Lights remixes, including Pink Floyd’s “Time” and his tripple-threat remix of Radiohead, Nirvana & NIN. Overall, the set was geared toward the masses or for someone’s first Pretty Lights show. Of course, the open air light show was excellent, and it didn’t matter that the screens had been lowered due to the sandstorm. -MF


The FaintMojave Tent, 8:30 p.m.
Post-punk dance act the Faint have returned to the live circuit and regained their title as one of the most exciting bands to see, especially in a festival setting. Todd Fink sauntered out with his signature hat and launched into “The Conductor” before tearing through favorite “Glass Danse” off of the acclaimed album, Dance Macabre. With dance music and live rock becoming better bed fellows, one has to respect one of the originators from the last decade. “ParanoiaAttack” would be their last song, and everyone caught their breath before facing the now moderate sandstorm wreaking havoc on the polo fields. -KQ

Eric PrydzSaharah Tent, 10:40 p.m. TOP SET
Choosing Eric Prydz to end the weekend was a rather easy choice, and it was done before we knew it would be smart to hide in the Sahara Arena to avoid the weather. The LA-Based Swedish DJ is worthy of headliner status at this point, as his progressive electro house is eclectic enough, unpredictable most of the time, and beyond fun. Prydz provided a massive exclamation point to a weekend that was packed with excitement. His hyperactive M83 cover of “Midnight City” was placed perfectly, and “Call On Me” signalled the end to the weekend musically. That was until the roadies decided to prank the buzzing crowd, continuously coming back and putting their arms in the air to falsely signal one more song. -MF


What were your top sets? Leave a comment!

Coachella conflicts: 2013 set times announced


Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival //
Empire Polo Club – Indio, CA
April 12th-14th & April 19th-21st, 2013 //

Set times dropped Tuesday evening, and Coachella shared they had been battling agents all day to explain the delay. Sounds like a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary …

Although set times didn’t unleash any surprise acts (what no Lou Reed replacement?), the brand new Yuma Dome is confirmed as the 6th main performance area, not including The Do Lab or Heineken Dome. The Yuma Dome will host Seth Troxler, DJ Harvey, Four Tet, Julio Bashmore, The 2 Bears, Jamie Jones, Jamie xx and so many more. This additional platform on the outskirts of the tents and Do Lab will be the anti-Sahara Tent with a minimalist-dance edge.

Friday features one of the most brutal headline conflicts in years. The Stone Roses are on a mondo reunion tour, while How to Destroy Angels and Earl Sweatshirt are playing their first major shows. Poliça will be performing in the Gobi Tent after The Shouting Matches, Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) new project. Vernon collaborated with the members of Poliça in his side project Gaynes. You connect the dots…

Toughest Conflicts:
• The Stone Roses vs. Earl Sweatshirt vs. How to Destroy Angels
• Blur vs. Grinderman
• Modest Mouse vs. Local Natives (SUNSET)
• Japandroids vs. alt-J
• Poliça vs. Jake Bugg
• The Shouting Matches vs. Youth Lagoon vs. Beardyman vs. C2C

Saturday headliners will depend on your energy and vibe, as Phoenix, Sigur Rós, Booka Shade, New Order and Knife Party will create inner-group conflicts. Upon seeing The xx above The Postal Service and Major Lazer at 6 p.m. while Moby sub-headlines the Sahara Tent, the “been fighting with agents all day” reference starts to make sense.

It’s almost as if Goldenvoice is attempting to set a new tone in the Sahara Tent this year after house-pop like David Guetta and Calvin Harris dominated last year. Are they challenging the Sahara stalwarts to go see Franz Ferdinand, Two Door Cinema Club or The xx … or go check out the Yuma during Moby?

Toughest Conflicts:
• Phoenix vs. Sigur Rós vs. Booka Shade vs. New Order vs. Knife Party
• Hot Chip vs. Yeasayer vs. Grizzly Bear (SUNSET)
• Danny Brown vs. Baauer vs. Savages
• Wild Nothing vs. Birdy Nam Nam vs. Action Bronson

Sunday will be a tale of two scenes. Eric Prydz and Disclosure will be packed while Dead Can Dance & Red Hot Chili Peppers should be relatively spacious. Tame impala secured a Sunset-ish slot, but Roodriguez and James Blake will be playing in the tents at the same time. Pretty Lights seems odd at 7:30, but he’s the only EDM artist to get a featured slot on an outdoor stage this year.

Toughest Conflicts:
• Eric Prydz vs. Disclosure
• Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds vs. OMD vs. The Faint
• Vampire Weekend vs. Pretty Lights vs. Father John Misty vs. La Roux (SUNSET)
• Tame Impala vs. James Blake vs. Rodriguez (SUNSET-ISH)
• Kurt Vile and the Violators vs. Grimes
• Thee Oh Sees vs. Jessie Ware vs. Jamie xx

New Music Tuesday: James Blake • Jake Bugg • The Knife • Kurt Vile • The Dear Hunter • White Fence

James Blake - Overgrown

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

James BlakeOvergrown

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Digital Lion”

Album Highlights: James Blake continues his standout formula with his sophomore LP; confessional musings with vocal modulation and repetitive lyrics are matched by deconstructed R&B dub step beats and orchestral builds. The most successful tracks are the ones that discover new territory within Blunt’s sound aesthetic. “Voyeur” drops into a blissful dance track for the last third of the cut, driven by moaning synths and surprisingly, a cowbell. “Digital Lion” possesses a tribal ethos that will entice auditory climaxes at concerts all over the world throughout 2013. “Retrograde” is the quintessential track of the record – Blake’s wordless crooning grows into haunting vocal layering as the song progresses.

Album Lowlight: In the end it can be classified as moody music, in that you need to be somewhere between a mellow or drab mood to really get into Blake’s music. Lots of folks will give Overgrown a cursory listen and not notice the intricacies of the record. This would be a mistake.

Takeaway: While this record is a bit of a grower and is exponentially better upon repeat listens, it’s still hypnotic fresh out of the box. The collaboration with RZA on “Take a Fall For Me” flashes even further genre-diverse potential in Blake. With a range that extends from gospel to electronic music to hip hop, the future is blindingly bright for the young British artist. At the age of 24, Blake has crafted an impressive second record with less obvious singles than his self titled debut, yet as a whole his newest effort is more cohesive. It’s worth reiterating how impressive Blake’s writing is. Gems like “I don’t want to be a star, but a stone on the shore, no door frame to wall, when everything’s overgrown” display seriously mature songwriting skills.

~Mike Frash

Jake BuggJake Bugg

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Two Fingers”
“Lightning Bolt”

Album Highlights: It’s impossible not to sound hyperbolic in describing 19 year-old Jake Bugg. England’s finest and fastest-rising young artist has created a record exploding with exported Americana at it’s best. No shit, it sounds like Joan Baez is about to pop up and start a duet at any moment. All you have to do is listen to the first two tracks “Lightning Bolt” and “Two Fingers” to recognize the kid’s got it. These two songs would have been radio hits in the 60’s, and they should be now. “Broken” is a remarkably beautiful song, one that is lovable at first listen. The low-fi, one-take production works well, and it reinforces Bugg’s throwback sound.

Album Lowlight: Bugg’s lyrics would benefit from a bit more bite – maybe some contempt for society or a cause to rally for (or against) would give some songs more meaning. His songwriting point of view will only strengthen and mature with time.

Takeaway: He’s Dylan without the drawn out vocal exclamations, or Kristian Matsson (The Tallest Man on Earth) with less passionate howls. And I feel fine making these comparisons, as Bugg’s self-titled debut exhibits songwriting potential that could be on par with the aforementioned by the time the he finishes puberty. Plan on watching Jake Bugg’s career evolve indefinitely – he’s sure to keep gaining popularity going forward, and deservedly so.

~Mike Frash

The KnifeShaking the Habitual

2.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“A Tooth for an Eye”
“Full of Fire”
“Without You My Life Would Be Boring”

Album Highlight: “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” being the crowning achievement of their fourth studio album, this beat-driven banger exemplifies the Swedish duo’s ferocious return to the EDM scene after a seven-year hiatus. Karrin Andersson’s layered vocals pitch perfectly with the varied flute samples and southeast instrumentation. A looping rhythm section composed of tribal drum rolls and feverish tambourines keep pace throughout the entire track, and this ups the ante in respect to the band’s production quality and composition.

Album Lowlight: Clocking in at a whopping 19:52, “Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized” is more of a glorified soundscape than a corresponding track within the record. Waiting for the musical substance to kick in becomes a perilous journey through distant distortion and ambiguous song structure. I envision this piece contextually effective as a cinematic score or accompanying an art installation. Interesting as it is to listen to The Knife on an experimental level, the track placement as well as duration push the limits artistically into semi-obnoxious territory.

Takeaway: Marching to the beat of their own drum machines, Karrin Andresson and Olof Dreijer destroy the sample-laden “Full of Fire” with masterfully quirky cohesion. The Knife sibling’s chemistry, even amidst the structure of the most complicated effort on the album, can be heard and it is captivating. The song is elaborate and possesses a sound quality that at times can be overwhelming. However, true to The Knife’s form, it compels the listener’s attention and will provoke most to make an attempt at comprehending it’s complexity.

~Molly Kish

Kurt VileWakin on a Pretty Daze

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Girl Called Alex”
“Pure Rain”
“Shame Chamber”

Album Highlights: God Bless Kurt Vile. He is truly a beautifully patient writer, musician and performer whom creates some of the most genuine music of our time, not to mention he is consistent. The wait after 2011’s blisteringly magnificent Smoke Ring as My Halo was well worth it with a full, even lengthy, album packed neatly with Vile’s signature psychedelia. The title track leads off with a hazy acoustic romp that sets the tone for the majority, and this song is full of Vile’s twang-electric solos that one can easily get lost in. Vile’s everyman confessional comes through on “Too Hard” with lyrics like “Take your time/ so they say/ that’s gotta be the best way.” Displaying a lyrical maturity akin to the Walkmen would be a fair comparison.

Album Lowlight: No huge departure in sound, just a tightening of a signature style. Though “Air Bud” does add a synth layer that is a bit more contemporary for this artist. Lengthy songs may prove difficult to those whom don’t possess musical patience.

Takeaway: Upwards and onwards is a great way to describe this album, as well as Vile’s future in the industry. Banner sets at Coachella will likely prove to be a highlight, and the accompanying tour is sure to generate buzz, as has proven true in the past for the Philly native. Songs like “Girl Called Alex” sludge along in an upbeat manner, building precisely with warm organ flourishes in the background, equally a sonic thickness he has become so praised for. Wakin on a Pretty Daze is likely to be the soundtrack of the summer, and for excellent reason.

~Kevin Quandt

The Dear HunterMigrant

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Shouting in the Rain”

Album Highlights: A small indie rock band originating from Rhode Island, The Dear Hunter has been making a splash in the indie scene since 2006. Brainchild of Casey Crescenzo, The Dear Hunter’s 5th album Migrant is a departure from their previous conceptual album The Color Spectrum. Casey’s powerful and emotional lyrics, both in delivery and content, are the clear highlight of this record. Haunting at times, Crescenzo’s commanding lyrics take the listener on a euphonious journey. This lyrical adventure is something listeners have become accustomed to when listening to The Dear Hunter albums.

Album Lowlight: The same reason I praise it above, is the same reason I criticize it here. Casey’s lyrics are powerful, but at times they become effusive. I almost had lyrical fatigue a couple of times listening to this record. This criticism however, is likely a personal preference, and should not be judged until you hear this record for yourself.

Takeaway: The Dear Hunter’s music falls somewhere in the indie, progressive, post-rock genre. Mixing traditional rock instrumentation with a string accompaniment, Migrant incorporates many styles to create a unique blend of “rock.” The Dear Hunter is a band that has had great critical reception, yet they have not taken off with widespread audiences. They are a well-kept secret of the indie music scene that has earned them an extremely loyal and dedicated following. Perhaps it is the concept albums of the past that have prevented them from breaking through with the masses? The talent and star power are there, it’s just a matter of putting this music on as many ears as possible.

~Kevin Raos

White FenceCyclops Reap

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Make Them Dinner at Our Shoes”
“To the Boy I Jumped in the Hemlock Alley”

Album Highlights: Here comes another serving of Tim Presley’s patented brand of lo-fi psychedelic guitar rock. This time we are treated to a single release, as opposed to the double album that was Family Perfume. Presley re-imagines the era of trippy rock and roll that dominated the late 60s with his nasal, English-tinged vocals coupled with twangy guitars swirling to create an aural whirlwind. “New Edinburgh” fully displays the fuzzy sound that has become characteristic of this project. One can only hope to snatch up a vinyl copy of this album, as that seems to be the way it was meant to be heard.

Album Lowlight: At times the production can come across as too busy as seen in first single “Pink Gorilla.” In a live format, the band has a much crisper sound that is a little more palpable for the masses.

Takeaway: One of the more unique acts championing the lo-fi psychedelic sound at the moment, and this album shows off the production skills Presley has gained over the past decade. White Fence has garnered some solid critical success in the past few years, and will likely add-on to that even if the masses prefer the more slick take on 60s psychedelia played by the likes of Foxygen and Tame Impala.

~Kevin Quandt