The Walkmen: Lisbon Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Lisbon by The Walkmen.
Howard W. Hamilton III (Red Pens)
I feel like the Walkmen lost me around the time of their Dylan covers cd. I have to say I have always wanted to write something about these guys just to mention Jonathan Fire*Eater who the band had obviously made the press put a gag-order on the mere mention of their earlier incarnation. I loved Fire*Eater and the notion at the time of the possibility of a band like them blowing up on a major label and them being great live and commercial too. When I first heard about the Walkmen I was reluctant to hear they replaced the singer with a new guy. Over the course of a more than a handful of releases the Walkmen have come up with very satisfying but slightly under-whelming efforts never really living up to their first album’s greatness.
The new album Lisbon has it’s moments but for the most part it’s loaded with your typical over-ochestrating on songs that don’t deserve the royal treatment. There are alot of Pogues-esque drinking songs and borderline sea shanties. I can only imagine how boring some of this material would be live. I do however love the more rocking songs which come about every third or fourth song. If you loved their last album you will love this one, if you have been waiting for a break out rocking Walkmen release this isn’t it. These guys are about as talented as it comes they just need something wild to happen in their lives to write some songs about. Until then I will check every release until it happens.
Raghav Mehta (MN Daily)
I’ve always been at this perpetual disconnect with the Walkmen. Something about the albums never clicked with me and I always just ended up passively listening to them while occupied with something else – it was like my indie go-to for background music. That said, I was wary, if not uninterested, before listening to Lisbon. Musically, there’s nothing on the album that seemed strikingly different from the Walkmen’s signature fare of reverb-soaked garage rock. But when you get down to the mechanics of it all, Lisbon just sounds so much more ambitious and, well, bigger. Replete and neatly arranged with rousing horn sections and elegiac string, the Walkmen don’t settle for anything less than grandiose. From Leithauser’s stirring wail in the opener “Juveniles” to the gorgeous ballroom waltz of “Torch Song,” the band has never sounded so focused and engaging at the same time. The album carries the same atmospherics as You & Me but the tracks don’t sound rushed and lack some of the punch that made their previous efforts so accessible to listeners. And while Lisbon delivers more pop than punk, tracks like the aptly titled “Angela Surf City” and “Woe is Me,” serve as a nostalgic throwback to the band’s surf heyday. If you’re Walkmenfaithful you’ll probably enjoy Lisbon. And if you were skeptic like me, give it a spin. Its just damn good pop music and we can all dig that right?
The Walkmen, much like the National, have seemingly matured in the public eye (at least as far as the public eye cares about indie rock bands). Both bands have transitioned from boisterous rock and roll of their early albums, with lead singers not averse to shredding their vocal chords, to more lush, orchestrated sounds. Like their last album You and Me, their latest album Lisbon is a restrained, pretty album that finds lead singer Hamilton Leithauser crooning over mostly mellow songs, many featuring the horns the band began prominently using on the last album. The album is cool and easy to like, although near the end (especially the final two songs “While I Shovel the Snow” and “Lisbon”) it gets a little sleepy. For a band who burst into many peoples radar with the scalding single “The Rat” (although many of those people missed their amazing debut album Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone), the group has shown their more mature side while not succumbing to becoming a “adult contemporary” act.
C. Hontana (Food Pyramid)
Lisbon is one of the best albums of the year. The Walkmen have yet to misstep (as long as we don’t count the fun but uninspiring Pussycats as part of their proper oeuvre) and Lisbon expands, and reiterates what makes the Walkmen one of my favorite bands playing today: an evocative and genuine voice that is at odds with so many younger, fresher, and more self-important musicians that populate our current musical terrain. You & Me was a mellower and more sentimental album – a side of the band that was only brushed upon on earlier albums. Lisbon successfully embraces the autumnal themes of that album but is altogether sunnier (think A Hundred Miles Off) and sadder. It’s the most mature record they’ve made. Tracks like Angela Surf City and Woe Is Me are among the best songs they’ve ever written. I look forward (and presumably so do they) to when those songs will replace The Rat as the must-play crowd pleaser. There’s no need for a band with as much depth as The Walkmen to revisit old themes or individual songs. There’s nothing better than a new Walkmen album just in time for fall.
No Age: Everything In Between Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Everything In Between by No Age.
Jon Schober (Radio K)
Dean Spunt and Randy Randall are at it again: continuously pushing the boundaries of noise rock, they’ve now turned to a sort of sonic escapism on the new album “Everything In Between.” Their biography on Sub Pop explains their method; “they are on a constant journey to explore the furthest reaches of sound.” This effort is easily their most listenable, and I won’t lie, I was not a big fan of “Weirdo Rippers” because it was so unbelievably choppy, perhaps now in retrospect because it was collection of 7”s instead of a cohesive set. The accessibility comes at a time when their opening tour for Pavement is going to create thousands of new fans and potentially turn the band into one of the leaders on Sub Pop’s roster. Could it be they will surpass Beach House’s popularity?
This thing is totally solid. Lead single “Glitter” was great, but it’s nothing compared to the rest of the album. The hook on “Fever Dreaming” is catchy as hell, fast and breathless, and the vox are somewhat more coherent than previous efforts. The duoare playing with as much energy as they can muster; it’s no surprise they hurt themselves during their shows. In general there are just more melodies to remember on the album and things are sounding a little more surf-rocky (“Valley Hump Crash”). My only complaint here is a personal preference- when it comes to this type of sound, I can’t handle it for too long before the fuzziness overloads my head. It’s only a roughly 40-minute album, but 13 tracks is a lot to process, especially when I’m used to the 25-30 minute influx of garage rock albums that have come out this year.
John Grimley (Radio K, Green Shoelace)
Fuzz-popsters No Age have been at this for a while, having risen from the ashes of the seminal punk outfit Wives back in 2005. Their newest record, “Everything In Between” has much of the hazy pop that No-Age fans may be used to but it also includes instrumentals and somewhat paradoxically, ambient punk.
The first half of the album refuses to be predictable, setting the tone with the opener “Life Prowler”, a slow burning and melodic song that comes at you in waves, eventually retreating into silence. The album then abruptly mixes up the pace with the third song, “Fever Dreaming,” which sounds like tamer, gentler Oblivians.
With “Everything In Between” No Age has basically, like many other bands before them, proved that punk rockers are “real” musicians not confined to power chords. From the instrumental “Katerpillar” to the gloomy electro-pop of “Sorts” No Age delights in showing off the different ways they can present material.
“Everything In Between” tends to fade toward the end (they could have done with one instrumental instead of three) but the band should be commended for experimenting. Even though the results aren’t all positive, the first half of the album shows a band that can switch skins easily and still be distinctly No Age.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
Skuzzy, skuzzy, skuzzy. Damn, The Ramones and The Stooges and would be very proud grandfathers if they heard the third full length from the lo-fi punk revivalists No Age. So much of what these two guys are able to accomplish is indebted to their punk forefathers and they wear that fact readily on their sleeves. And much like their previous efforts, it’s an ongoing mystery as to how only two men can make a wall of sound this immense. But unlike Nouns and Weird Rippers, from the onset of Everything In Between, it’s apparent that the duo have kicked in a few extra bucks for production and hushed up the swaths of reverb a bit. They are still whirling in their lo-fi haze, as frantically as ever, and with enough energy to start a mosh pit at an old folks home – See: the chaos that ensues on “Fever Dreaming.” But there is a change is their songwriting approach, which sees the band calculating the vocal hooks to make catchier pop gems. “Skinned,” for instance, is one of the most straight forward pop punk songs the band has written and could see repeated radio play while “Depletion” is steeped in 90s alternative nostalgia. But six tracks in is where things go from as traditional as traditional can go with No Age to the wall of noise that I mentioned above. Once “Skinned” fades out the two meander through tracks filled to the brim with glitchy riffs, ambient noise, crunchy reverb and almost no vocals – save for the banger “Valley Hump Crash” and the shrouded vocals on “Sorts.” “Dusted” is the perfect No Age trademark that shows the guys creating something from nearly nothing as they loop one washed out guitar over another. After wandering they kick back in with two strong tracks with “Shred and Trasend” and brilliant driving closer “Chem Trails.” While Everything In Between probably has a few of my favorite single tracks from No Age, I don’t think it lived up to Nouns as a whole. For me, I would like to see the band bang out 10-11 tracks of songs rather than dedicating half of an album to pure noise. That being said, the guys deliver on their new LP and fans of the band are going to fall in frenzied, spazztic love all over again.
For me, it doesn’t get much better than when a band is able to deftly mix noise-y, punk ethos with some solid pop songwriting. One of the best bands doing that right now is No Age, and they provide more evidence with their latest record Everything In Between, which follows up last years excellent Nouns. Starting with the straightforward (at least for them) “Life Prowler” and “Glitter,” the production and execution on Everything in Between is as good as anything the group has ever recorded. The first half of the album is more pop focused, with the back half turning the groups attention to more noisy aspect of their songwriting. The group walks a tightrope of dissonecence and beautify just about better than anyone these days, and Everything in Between is another example of their readily evident talents. From the slacker rock of “Common Heat” to the wild dissonence of “Shred and Transcend,” No Age prove again with Everything In Between to be a band that is hard to pin down, but very easy to like.
The Thermals: Personal Life Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Personal Life by The Thermals.
Chris Besinger (STNNNG)
Prior to listening to this record all I knew about the Thermals was that they had terrible album covers. Now I can report that they also play bland and by-the-numbers “punk music”. Every song is hooky in that vague, abstract way all pop-punk is, that slips into your brain like a virus and later you find yourself humming it without being able to recall where you heard it. Every song the singer guy bares his emotions in plain lyrics that are ultimately unaffecting. Every song has the same flat production value. And every single damn song on this thing has the title for the chorus.
Nothing on this record is egregiously terrible, it’s just boring and in a way that’s even worse. Because, if the music isn’t life-affirming or life-negating or nasty or giddy or embarrassing or incredible or whatever, then why bother wasting anyone’s time? No one would be offended by this record, my mom could probably get down with this album, which is fine, but I don’t really want my mom to be digging on the same rock albums that I do. And I’m not suggesting that offending the listener should be a goal, but if no one is offended, then no one is excited either.
At the very least it is short, so that’s something.
Mojo Marshall (Switchblade Comb)
The Thermals aren’t exactly breaking the mold on their sound for Personal Life. But with a winning formula maybe that’s a good thing. The Thermals reminds me of the Ramones’ in that way: High energy, fast, fuzzy, simple, fun, and most of all pretty consistent over their discography. The main noticeable change I hear on Personal Life over their previous albums is the songs sound more, uh, well, personal. Hutch Harris appears wiser and more patient as he sings about love, success, loss, betrayal, triumph, failure, and growth. Personal Life is a solid record that shouldn’t disappoint most Thermals fans and may just pick up a few new ones along the way.
Kyle Matteson (Twitter)
The Thermal’s fifth album ‘Personal Life’ won’t come as a big surprise to anyone who is familiar with their back catalog. It’s a tight collection of 10 pop/punk songs with their usual incredibly catchy refrains. They brought Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla back to produce the record, just as he did their sophomore album ‘Fuckin A’, but overall the production doesn’t really deviate from their past few records much. I can’t imagine this album winning over too many people who haven’t cared for them in the past or finding too many new fans, but I also feel like if you like what The Thermals do then chances are you’ll enjoy this record to varying degrees.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
With four frenzied, simplistic and youthful albums under their belt, did you really expect the Portland-based punkers The Thermals to drastically change up their formula on their newest offering Personal Life? At this point, if they were to tone it down it would just be a slap in the face. When you hear about a new album from The Thermals you know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s not to say that the band doesn’t throw a few curveballs in the mix here, but for the most part these tracks are served up just the way we like them: fast-as-hell, full of big hooks and delivered with an enlarged heart-on-sleeve. But for front man Hutch Harris, as indicated in the album’s name, this outing is, well, a more personal affair on more levels than their last two efforts. The first being the concept album about a couple fleeing the U.S. from fascist faux-Christians on The Body, The Blood, The Machine and then the philosophical-leaning Now We Can See. The lyrical content on Personal Lifecertainly stems from experiences Harris has gone through in the past, present and probable future. This is clear in song titles like album opener “I’m Gonna Change Your Life” as well as “Never Listen to Me,” “Not Life Any Other Feeling” and “You Changed My Life.” The most notable difference in the band’s overall sound is a more subtle approach instead of banging out tracks as hard and fast as they possibly can. They show a little more restraint and allow Harris’ lyricism come to the forefront – which is may not mesh well with fans of their earlier work. There is a softer, gentler side to this record that takes precedent, whereas on early albums we would only see glimpses of that said style. “Your Love is So Strong,” though, backed by its classic Thermal “Ohh-wee-ohhs” is a true to form one-off. For me, The Thermal’s are the kind of band that are very likeable because they are completely free of pretensions. They aren’t simple for simple’s sake nor do they try and stuff their statements down any throats. They take what they see, lay it out in front of us and let us borrow whatever we wish. And it’s their take-it-or-leave-it attitude that makes The Thermals so refreshing and needed in today’s indie scene – a scene where it sometimes seems like sweating the small stuff is the only thing we have to live for. If you can dig that, you’ll dig this record. And everything will be just fine.
The Thermals- I Don’t Believe You
Screaming Females: Castle Talk Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Castle Talk by the Screaming Females.
Dana Raidt (Radio K’s Girl Germs)
When Screaming Females’ Power Move came out in 2009, I was not impressed. In fact, I was really turned off by it. It seemed too something: basement-y, bar band-y…Jersey-y? It gave me what I (affectionately) call “the Springsteen shudders,” visions of sweaty, shirtless guys pumping a fist in the air with the other hand either cradling a plastic cup of Budweiser or wrapped around a bikini-topped woman’s waist.
With that said, singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster’s debut solo release under the Noun moniker, Holy Hell (which we’ve played on Girl Germs) is—without exaggeration—absolutely fantastic. As much as the members of Screaming Females would probably beg to differ, Paternoster is the band’s not-so-secret weapon. After hearing Holy Hell’s stellar songwriting and witnessing her, ahem, shredding, in person, I was hopeful about Castle Talk, the band’s fourth release. And Castle Talk, bless its heart, did not disappoint.
The Screaming Females story seems straightforward enough: Pick up a guitar, find a couple of likeminded friends, form a rock band and play some basement shows in your Jersey town. The album does have its share of no-frills moments that seem to be born of that simple formula. But listen closely to songs like “Fall Asleep,” “A New Kid” and “Laura & Marty” (and—seriously, listen to Holy Hell) and you’ll find songs that aren’t just basement-show good; they’re good good.
Zack McCormick (Radio K’s Culture Queue)
Screaming Females have the kind of bratty charm and basement-scene credentials that make them especially endearing to those of us living on the border line between Punk and Indie. Their blasting guitar riffs and alternately sweet and infectious hooks make them an excellent tool for opening horn-rim covered eyes and the minds of shaved heads alike. Castle Talk is a great little record, in no small part thanks to the band’s strong playing and a canny ability to know when to throw their listeners a curve ball. The Screaming Females have a great power-trio dynamic: guitarist and singer Marissa Paternoster rips out the riffs and has a voice that can run the gamut from a sneering growl to a chanteuse’s croon, while King Mike weaves agile melodic basslines that border on virtuosity. The record feels pleasantly organic in its lo-fi production style, the ‘Females sound like they’re having a blast in the studio and their confidence shines through on the songs. “I Don’t Mind It” is a Buzzcoxian little slice of pop-punk that showcases the band’s knack for catchy choruses and engaging instrumentation. Paternoster kicks some asses and melts some faces on the incisive “Normal” (she spits the title like it’s a dirty word) but also shows she can do pretty on the warped pop of “Deluxe”. Other standouts include the funky post-punk jam “Fall Asleep” where King Mike’s popping octaves make the track downright danceable, and garage stomper “Nothing at All”. The perfect fall record for indie rockers with a few Social D skeletons left in their closets.
I am generally a fan of scuzzy female fronted rock and roll, but for some reason the new album Castle Talk by the Screaming Females just doesn’t do it for me. I remember hearing a while back about this group and thinking that they should be right up my alley, but I couldn’t help but having a itchy finger wanting to hit skip on my visits to the 11 song, 36 minute album. When front women Marissa Paternoster sings “it’s easy and generic,” on the track “I Don’t Mind It,” I couldn’t help but think that the statement mirrors my thoughts on the album. Paternoster’s vocals are fine, but the riffs (especially the cheesy solos littered throughout the album) sound like they were written to pump up a crowd at a timeout of a sporting event. There are a few of the tracks I enjoyed (namely the angular fuzz out rock of “Wild”), but for the most part the album made me realize it takes more than guitars soaked in fuzz and solid female vocals to make an album that I really like.
Melissa Paternoster is a great guitarist. She is talented to the point that it has almost become a problem in her music. In fact my least favorite thing about the new Screaming Females record Castle Talk is that Paternoster seems to have crammed two albums worth of eye-rolling guitar solos into it – enough that occasionally the songs start to seem like vehicles whose’ sole purpose is to give Paternoster a stage to jam on. Still, to the band’s credit the overall sound is still good.
Jamming notwithstanding, Paternoster’s consistent fingerplay and Grace Slick evoking vocals sound as inspired as ever, with bassist King Mike’s throbbing bass lending everything a early – mid nineties bombast. When the band comes together they would fit comfortably between Dinosaur Jr. and Babes in Toyland’s sets at the ’93 Lollapalooza (or Sleater Kinney, had they been there). The best parts of Screaming Females come out strong in the record’s first five tracks, notably “I Don’t Mind It,” and “Normal,” both of which minimalize the guitar shredding to a tasteful level. Quite a bit of Castle Talk’s back half suffers though, especially when the Females try to morph into something more Van Halen oriented. Still, with just a tiny bit of restraint this could have been a really fantastic record. As it is it is just pretty good.
Castle Talk will be available on September 14th on Don Giovanni Records
Screaming Females: Myspace
Interpol: Interpol Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Interpol by Interpol.
Mike Watton (Haunted House)
For a lot of people, the music is a secondary concern when it comes to Interpol. There’s good reason for that. As a collection of dudes in a New York City rock band, they are really, really amusing. I can attest to this. I saw them not long after their debut “Turn On The Bright Lights” came out. While I really enjoyed a good portion of that album, a friend and I both came away from that show laughing at how funny their Interpol-ness was. Just four dudes in suits and slick hair, flaunting their rainy-Manhattan-in-autumn life forces for big crowds around the world. Plus a keyboard player whose amp appeared to be turned off. That’s basically all I remember about the show. Which is too bad. They made two very solid albums, their debut and the follow-up, “Antics.” After an unsuccessful attempt at making an enjoyable record the third time around, they’re back. And they still only have one vibe. But darn it if they don’t wear it quite well. And this time, they really have put forth some effort into switching up the formula. There’s minimalism, songs based off simple piano lines. It happens to result in the exact same emotional energy as everything else they’ve done, but it’s nice that they’re trying to make something more than just the same simple rock song they’ve been doing for years. Nothing seems to rise to the level of their best songs, but it’s well worth a listen.
John Grimley (Radio K, Green Shoelace)
Interpol have stuck with what they do well for quite some time, on this self-titled album they tend to branch out a little more than in years past but it’s nothing revelatory. The band still sounds for the most part like they did when they burst onto the scene with “Turn On The Bright Lights.” Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up for debate.
Songs like “Success” show these guys have a grasp of their instruments and know how to throw down a driving beat, but it seems like the band is a little too lackadaisical at times. Some of the songs leave the impression that the band is almost focused on something else. Like having a conversation where the other person keeps glancing over your shoulder. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why “Interpol” gives off this vibe. It could be the slow, steady reliable rhythms or the constant tone front man Paul Banks assumes.
“Interpol” isn’t a bad album, but it’s nothing revolutionary either. You get what you expect: a solid album from a very solid band that has been doing this for over 10 years. Just don’t expect to be blown away.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
We can always be honest: Our Love To Admire kind of let us down a lot, didn’t it? For a band who put out the critically acclaimed and unexpected Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics, Interpol as a band sounded like they were running fresh out of ideas. So what thoughts should run through your head when popping in the sonically, no-frills self-titled release? Sonically, this has been a tight band, the low ends of guitars and synths running almost gutter-like on “Memory Serves”, drums running sporadically light then crashing in on such songs as “Summer Well”, but for the most part you can’t really say Interpol has been a band trying hard to reclaim its old successes. More or less, this self-titled fourth effort from the band plays more or less like The Cure-lite, it’s sounds are appeasing to the ear, the low end sounds appealing more at emotion than energy, and the lyrics serve more on the Bowie side of things, which can be heard expressively throughout the album. Look no further than “Always Malaise (The Man I Am)” where the synths and pianos creep in more like harpsichords. If anything, Interpol plays more like the uncle who got grown up on you at foolish decisions, where you quizzically asked “What happened? You used to be cool. You changed.” Consider this more or less an uncle’s reply of “Hey, I’m still cool!”
Interpol are back, both literally and figuratively. At least that is what you want to think. The group has returned with their fourth album, which is self titled, and have gone back to the sound that helped propel them to the upper echelon of indie rock early in the last decade. Their last album, the lackluster Our Love to Admire, was panned by pretty much everyone and by all accounts was a failure. The unfortunate thing is that the return to the sharp, dark, Joy Division sound that peppered their first two albums (the really strong Turn on the Bright Lights & Antics) feels like too little, too late. The songs lumber along and sound like a tired, re-hashed version of the band that was really gripping and exciting a few years back. From the sluggish opening notes of “Success” to the over indulgent “The Undoing” that closes the record, Interpol feels like an old band that got back together to re live the glory days. The band prove clearly that simply using the same songwriting template that brought success before isn’t a surefire way to bring back past success.
Prince Rama: Shadow Temple Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Shadow Temple by Prince Rama.
Erica Krumm(Sharp Teeth)
Synthy tribal dance jams, chanting breakdowns, and a spiritual, stoner rock vibe makes Prince Rama’s “Shadow Temple” a cool fucking record. My favorite song, “Thunderstorms”, leads with a sweetly distorted guitar riff, and vocals reminiscent of Cocteau Twins’ vocalist, Elizabeth Fraser. This song seriously stands out as a beautiful and extremely full sounding, emotional cult manifesto.
While keyboard loops and simple, heavy drums act as the main backdrop for the album’s overall sound, the sparse and distant vocals, along with the occasional fuzzy guitar keep the sound in the realm of rock, and out of new age-y, easy listening category. Do listen to this album while drinking wine, having sex, doing yoga, or going for a leisurely walk around a picturesque lake. Don’t listen to this record while paying bills, cleaning your apartment, or drinking whiskey.
Because some might think of this record as having a hipster, hippy chick vibe, (which I could understand), I would recommend opening your mind to the possibility that these dudes are here to create a sincere sound scape to pleasure you and aid in mind expansion. I believe Prince Rama just wants you to enjoy some great, weird music and I have a feeling that there are no pretentious strings attached.
For a band “from Brooklyn”, Prince Rama seems to have it’s heart somewhere further east. The band’s three musicians all have backgrounds in the Hare Krishna movement and at best Shadow Temple feels like spaced out tribal gospel; a sort of psychedelic religious music with surprisingly strong pop hooks. Make that “damned near-inaccessible” pop hooks thanks to layers of alternately keening and bellowing incomprehensible vocals and jarring electronic effects. It’s a thoroughly conflicting record, one that’s bizarre mishmash of genres can either feel harmonious or completely alien. During it’s stronger moments the band builds a trippy, eclectic blend of multicultural noise on top of driving tribal percussion. If you suspend your disbelief far enough, these “brooklynites” make an engaging worldly racket with strong spiritual underpinnings, otherwise prepare for a difficult nine tracks of wails, synths and toms.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
Did you know that if you play Prince Rama’s album Shadow Temple backwards at a speed of 33 and a third it will reveal a thirteen step map to the hidden tomb of Ravana, in which is secreted all the mystical rites of an ancient lost Ramayana addendum? Seriously. Check it out soon before Tom Hanks beats you to it in his new adventure.
…But seriously folks. Actually the immediate thing that jumped out to me upon first listening to Prince Rama’s fourth record is the band’s aesthetic similarity to our own Minneapolis stars Brute Heart and Mother of Fire. Prince Rama bring a synthier element to their brooding, psychedelic incantations, but neverless, the parallel is evident (leading me to believe that if Prince Rama can “make it” then our local bands have a good chance as well).
And I wouldn’t be surprised if Shadow Templedid indeed push Prince Rama into the national spotlight. The jams on the new record are well executed, fat slabs of sound that are equal parts eastern mysticism and psychedelic rock. Each song has a haunting, moody element to it as if it were meant to be performed alongside some sort of dark occult ritual. The all encompassing reverb helps to push that effect – making everything sound like it was recorded in a secret cave underneath your house. And that recording style both helps and hurts the band: at times it works perfectly to affect that distant, otherworldliness that they are obviously trying to achieve (“Om Namo Shivaya” and “Lightning Fossil” both being excellent examples). However it can also be a little overwhelming, making songs like “Thunderdrums” sound like they were just really poorly produced. It generally works more than it doesn’t though making most of Shadow Temple a bizarre and pleasurable listen.
The new Prince Rama record Shadow Temple, their new record and first on Paw Tracks, starts out with the sound of rattling chains. It doesn’t get too much more accessible over the subsequent 8 song, 34 minute record. Recorded/advocated for by Animal Collective member in exile Deakin (who also will be on a solo tour soon with the band opening), Shadow Temple is a study in tribal drums, mystical chants and abstract songwriting that Deakin and his friends helped to make very famous in the last few years. For people who think Animal Collective is the pen in the back yard where your uncle keeps the chickens, this album is going to freak you out. For the rest of us, it is a refreshingly original document that is both challenging and engaging. Shadow Temple shows a band willing to take chances but still focused and talented enough to deliver a final product that is one of the best surprises I have had this year.
Megafaun: Heretofore Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Heretofore by Megafaun.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
Building upon their forward-thinking 2009 freak folk release Gather, Form and Fly, North Carolina’s Megafaun continue their organic growth on their “mini” album Heretofore. Ever since brothers Brad and Phil Cook and Joe Westerlund created Megafaun out of the demise of DeYarmond Edison (with Bon Iver’s Justing Vernon), they have been getting better, tighter and more accessible. Unlike Gather, Form and Fly, which showcased a folk band in the most untraditional sense of the word and very few “single”-type moments save for “The Fade,” Heretofore has the band bringing together a collection of songs that, for the most part, could garner them attention from a broader crowd. That’s not to say that the numerous layers, strange key changes and meandering song structures aren’t here, because they certainly are. Megafaun just seems to be tightening the reigns to bring tracks that follow a more traditional structure. And although the band has dubbed Heretofore a “mini-LP” it comes to a healthy 34 minutes and even boasts a 12-minurte instrumental track “Comprovisation for Connor Pass.” And with another promised LP by the end of the year and a constant touring schedule, the dudes of Megafaun may be one of the most prolific groups around. I was a big fan of Gather, Form and Fly, but by comparison, the collection of songs offered on the mini album far outweigh their predecessor. The album’s opener and namesake, “Heretofore,” showcases the band’s incredible ear for organic harmonies. While “Eagle” is a perfect example of the band’s rollicking down home influence equipped with gang vocals and added horn work from Slaraffenland. Country twang fuels the band’s first single “Volunteers” while “Bonnie’s Song” may be one of the band’s most beautiful songs to date. Whatever you want to end up calling Heretofore, there’s no denying its staying power. This record has been on repeat since I got it and I plan on wearing the thing out.
Jon Schober (Radio K)
Megafaun epitomizes much about the Midwest, and at this point in their career, not many folks need an explanation of where they come from and whom they have collaborated with throughout the years. It has taken a while for this out-of-region reviewer to warm up to the “Midwest sound” which as much as we might not want to admit it, falls humbly and snuggly in the realm of varying degrees of folk music.
What’s great about this band though is that they make some of the most memorable music within the genre compared to the fleeting sounds of so many imitations. It’s easy to get stuck in a style that people come to expect without much surprise, but Megafaun continually pushes past it, incorporating unexpected instrumental experimentation whenever possible, electronic blips amongst layered guitar and banjo melodies, or 13-minute lulling soundscapes like “Comprovisation for Connor Pass” off their new mini-LP “Heretofore.” It also helps when you have members of the Danish band Slaraffenland on horns whose own album went dramatically unexamined last year.
This new collection of 6-songs isn’t as immediately strong as their last album “Gather, Form & Fly,” but it’s still a commendable effort. It starts off strong with the sprawling title track which introduces us to some wild key changes- a very dark way to begin things. But by the time things roll around to “Volunteers,” it’s a little too backwoods country and makes me feel like I’m home in Texas. The aforementioned 13-minute track feels very out-of-place as the next song, but the last three minutes of it are explosive, and the wait is worth it. Unfortunately, the previous 10 minutes don’t keep you captivated enough without wanting to fast forward.
This is probably one of those albums where Megafaun had a ton of outtakes and wanted to release them to the world in at least some capacity which is fine by me. Any material by them is going to be good; if anything, the flow of tuneage is a great way to see a band attempting to continually expand their reach and ideas to a place that extends beyond the Midwest.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
Megafaun’s new mini-album Heretofore seems to be a bit of a litmus test for the band’s desire to take their sound in a more experimental/jazz-oriented direction. In a recent interview Brad Cook said of the new album: “it…has the most far-reaching stuff we’ve ever put on a record,” and that definitely shows on several of the new tracks. Titular “Heretofore” as well as “Eagle” are both great examples of Megafaun’s continuing musical evolution. The former underlines the group’s country/folk sound with some minimal and nicely worked digital doodling. The latter incorporates a huge variety of instrumentation as well as sampling, placing barrelhouse piano alongside toy piano, banjo with saxophone, and a host of other musical elements (the sum total sounding a bit like a jazzier Odelay single). If “Eagle” is Megafaun’s future than it’s a future I can get on board with. On the other hand tracks like “Carolina Days” and “Volunteers” seem to represent the more iconic country stylings of Megafaun’s less forward thinking past. They are nice if not terribly interesting. And then there is “Comprovisation for Connor Pass,” a twelve and a half minute jazz ramble that seems like a self-indulgence best gotten out of the system before the band’s next full length. Overall there is some good with the bad, but I am inclined to take the bad with a grain of salt since Heretofore seems more like the band is just putting its toe in the water to test out some new ideas.
One thing I really like about Megafaun is that they seem like they are constantly growing and trying out new things. The first time I saw them, a few years back with Bon Iver at the old Uptown Bar, they played uninhibited, noisy alt country that reminded me of a more unhinged Wilco. Over the years, they have softened the edges of their songwriting and expanded the scope of their outlook, to the point where their new album, Heretofore, is only 6 songs long, but stretches out over 35 minutes. This isn’t to say that they have become a jam band, but they definitely aren’t afraid to “explore” with their sound (see the 12 minute long Comprovisation for Connor Pass). Heretofore is a rich, organic “mini” album that shows the band in their continued musical journey. The record comes across to me as a bridge record, a not quite as great but still good follow up to their last LP, 2009’s Gather, Form and Fly. The album showcases the groups ever increasing harmonies and is the type of record that seems to be equally simple and complex, the kind of record only a band who is in a continuous state of evolution could make. Although it isn’t my favorite output from the group, it is another solid entry in the catalog of a group who I am always excited to hear new material from.
S. Carey: All We Grow Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on the new live album All We Grow by S. Carey.
Kyle Matteson (Twitter)
I’ll admit I wasn’t very surprised when I’d heard that Sean Carey (aka S. Carey) was releasing a solo record this fall. The reason being, in the 2+ years that I followed Bon Iver start from a solo project of Justin Vernon’s into a full fledged 3 and then 4-piece live band, it was clear that Sean had plenty of talent musically & vocally to strike out on his own. That said, it’s not always a given that great musical talent equates one to being a strong songwriter, but in the case of S. Carey, I think a bit of the songwriting magic of his friend has rubbed off on him. That’s not to say I absolutely love everything about ‘All We Grow’, as parts of it are a bit too drone-y for my usual tastes, but it’s a very impressive debut nonetheless. Songs like ‘In The Dirt’ and ‘In The Stream’ certainly prove his songwriting chops and have me anxious to hear what he has to offer in the future.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
It doesn’t take long to realize that S. Carey has been in Bon Iver since Justin Vernon recruited a touring band back in 2008. And even less time can be devoted into answering why Vernon thought that he would be a good asset. The classically trained musician is in no way a knockoff of his Eau Claire brethren, but being bred in the same northern chill, the same brand of hushed folk has obviously rubbed off on him over his last few years traveling around as the drummer for Bon Iver. All We Growis Sean Carey’s first offering as a solo artist and with a full tour ahead it will without a doubt transform S. Carey into established folk musician from “one of the other dudes in Bon Iver.” With only guitar, drums, keys and terrific vocals, Carey puts forth a collection a heartfelt folk songs that are a bit loftier, sonically, than that of For Emma.This really is, though, a very delicate record; one that unfolds and lightly cascades. Musically, this album is about as close as you can get to a solo artist crafting and capturing the exact aesthetic they are going for. The arrangements and melodies are wholly Carey’s and he builds around each layer and new instrument beautifully. Repetitive keys and vocal bounces on “We Fell” and the handclaps and drum clicks on “In The Dirt” are ultimately mesmerizing. Listening through the albums numerous times, I couldn’t help but think of the sprawling nature of Volcano Choir’s Unmap – as Carey may have also taken bits of Collections of Colonies of Bees unwinding instrumentation. As far as the “singer-songwriter” category is concerned in 2010, we have finally been exposed to the most unique and original release in All We Grow. And much like the songs he has been performing for the past few years, the tracks on All We Grow will be better suited for a cooler, more desolate climate.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
S. Carey’s All We Grow will definitely appeal to few different types of listener. On one hand highbrow, music school types will doubtlessly recognize and appreciate the level of detail etched into Carey’s intricate, minimalist compositions. On the other, casual listeners will also like the fact that with little to no rough edges, pitches, or color – All We Grow makes for good easy-listening background music. In fact I find it very interesting that Carey name drops Mark Rothko in one of his songs (“Rothko Fields”) since the surrealist artist tends to affect a similar aesthetic – demanding serious artistic contemplation while simultaneously remaining innocuously attractive to the philistine (“ooh, look at the pretty colors!”).
And while I certainly wouldn’t argue with someone for appreciating Carey for the more high-minded reasons, I just find All We Grow a bit too easy to tune out. His tunes tend towards a subtlety that borders on stagnation, an issue that seems to stem largely from Carey’s unwillingness to step outside his comfort range vocally. And it’s a shame because he is obviously a very talented musician as well as a composer. I would be extremely keen to hear what he could do by allowing a little more roughness into his music. As it stands now the utter smoothness of Carey’s sound borders on being bland.
It is never easy to make a “solo” album when you are in a band with a member as talented and magnetic as Justin Vernon. That is the challenge that faces Sean (S.) Carey, previously known as “the guy who drums in Bon Iver,” who more than lives up to the challenge with his debut record All We Grow. The record sounds like a mix of Bon Iver like haunted, ethereal folk and Dosh’s melodic mixing of sputtering drums and keys. A good portion of the album is the kind of dreamscapes that are great accompaniments to long walks on fall days. There are a few moments of clarity, especially the single “In the Dirt,” “Mother” and “We Fell,” where Carey’s pop songwriting chops are shown to be well beyond what I expected. It isn’t often that records surprise you in a good way, but I can say for sure that All We Grow surprised me. I expected a throw away side project, someone riding the waves of their band mate, but instead I got a subtle, gorgeous CD that continues to grow on me with each listen.
Of Montreal: False Priest Review (Four Takes)
John G (Radio K)
On their last album, Skeletal Lamping, of Montreal unleashed their flamboyant alter-frontman Georgie Fruit. On False Priest, Georgie continues to run amok and the result is a fun, emotional album that delivers lots of glamorous pop hooks and falsettos.
The band is not looking to reinvent themselves here, choosing instead to extend their Skeletal Lamping focus with melodies that lodge themselves in your brain and lyrics that flit between genius and nonsensical.
The album establishes the mood immediately with the opener Feel Ya Strutter, a sparkling pop piece about Georgie picking up a girl way out of his league. “I got so lucky with you, I feel ya strutter I got so lucky with you” he explains in a high falsetto over a beat that’s half disco and half hip-hop.
The band jumps from one carefully constructed piece of pop to the next, and while the standouts are amazing, the relentless focus on creating sugary gems makes the album feel a bit long towards the end. Songs like A Girl Named Hello and Casualty of You feel too similar to the fare that came before and they could have easily been removed.
That is not to take away from what of Montreal has managed to do on this album, which is construct an incredibly catchy and fun piece that is so polished you can practically see it sparkle. Some of the standouts include the aforementioned Feel Ya Strutter, Crazy Girl, Coquet, Coquette, and Enemy Gene.
Mike Watton (Haunted House)
I have a number of problems with Of Montreal. Maybe at the top of that list is lead poseur Kevin Barnes’ tendency to use rock chiefly as a vehicle to show the world that he’s clever and that he’s in love with his quirky personality. Barnes could have saved himself, his bandmates and the world a great deal of time if he had just driven to B.B. King’s house and punched him in the face. Hard. It’s not a matter of lacking old-timey rock energy, or of being too weird. The annals of music is littered with bands who have made great albums without stumbing on those issues. Of Montreal simply lack anything resembling soul. They define how boring rock can be. They keep me up at night wondering why people don’t demand more from bands. It’s fine that their music is wimpy. It’s not impossible to make a great rock album while waving a stuffed kitten in the listener’s face. But the hand holding that kitten absolutely has to be made of granite. In the case of “False Priest,” the hand is a piñata filled with urine. The fact that this band had the nerve to cover Royal Trux’s classic track “Back To School” a couple years back will haunt me to my grave. The more pretenses they put on about being arty or strange the further they get from being anything anyone should be legally allowed to listen to.
Kevin Barnes seems to be on a mission to become the George Clinton of indie rock. Not only has his group Of Montreal consistently stepped up the funk over the years, they have also started to personify the famous Clinton quote “Funk is fun. And it’s also a state of mind.” It’s a mindset Barnes and company had begun to embrace with 2007’s Hissing Fauna, and by this year’s False Priesthave fully come to accept. This isn’t just indie rock stabs at funkiness – its full immersion into a bizarre, bass throbbing, synth pounding, rainbow colored world. It’s a world that Barnes has chosen to navigate in the guise of a young man who over the course of False Priest experiences all the highs and lows of heartache – with a heavy slice of sexual sadism to make things more interesting. Mostly the new record works, even if Barnes’ highly literate wordiness and bizarre left turns occasionally annoy, a fact that Barnes neatly sums up in the “Hydra Fancies” line: “it’s hard to deal with my dementia and stuff”. Indeed.
Guest vocalist Janelle Monae is unsurprisingly a fantastic influence in standout “Enemy Gene,” and basically everything from “Coquet Coquette” to “Famine Affair” is tremendous. False Priest also turns out what is, for me, perhaps the most poignant lyric of the year in “Enemy Gene’s” question: “How can we ever evolve when our Gods are so primitive?” Of course not much later Barnes gleefully yells “female erection!” so one occasionally wonders if such high-minded philosophy was intentional. Still, good, bad, bizarre, there is enough crammed into False Priest to keep me interested, I think, for a long time.
I was a little disappointed when Kevin Barnes switched up his style for the album Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer? I thought his sun kissed, garage psychedelica of Gay Parade was really amazing stuff, but I came around to the new sound when I unpacked the album and now find it to be one of my favorite records by the group. Unfortunately the Prince meets Bowie backed by a P-Funk geared electronic orchestra sound of the last three albums has worn thin over time. Their last album, Skeletal Lamping, was a record that felt slightly pretentious to me, and the new album False Priest pretty much jumps the shark. The first run through was interesting, with the slinky music and Kevin Barnes witty, if slightly self absorbed, lyrics providing some smile inducing moments. The subsequent listens proved less fruitful, even when accompanied by hipster queen bee Janelle Monae and pop royalty Solange Knowles, who have become foils/mainstream cheerleaders for the group on their 10th album. The highlight for me is the funky and funny “Our Riotous Defects,” which find Barnes and crew in tip top form, going from spoken word verses to a bombastic chorus of Barnes singing about a “crazy girl.” The song shows how, at their best, the band can combine incendiary music with Frank Zappa like content that is so wild and smart that you can’t help but smile and laugh. Unfortunately most of the album feels forced and too thought out, and I can’t help but feel that this phase of Barnes musical growth has finally run its course. I, for one, wouldn’t be disappointed with Gay Parade II.
Download the single “Coquet Coquette” from their website.