Willy Mason – Carry On album review

Hearing Willy Mason for the first time reminded me of the fact that simplicity often contains the most perfect beauty. The act of reviewing this album has served as my introduction to this man and his music. The first connection I made was to Smog, but only due to the fact that Willy has a baritone sort of similar to Billy Callahan. From a songwriting standpoint, the two men deliver in different ways.

It was actually an acoustic version of the title track that I found on Youtube while searching for a viable means of perusing the music on this release. The result was haunting. A very stripped down guitar part and Willy’s baritone, one of those moments as a listener wherein your breathing slows down and your entire conscious focus is intertwined with the music. The version of Carry On I heard was from a 2010 e.p. named So Long Baby Shoes, and I find myself preferring it to the album version, which is still beautiful, with much fuller production on the guitar track and the inclusion of a cello part- but somehow, the e.p. version is more haunting.

The album traverses some very varied ground, moving through upbeat, slightly experimental songs like I’ve Got Gold and engaging atmospheric stuff like Renegade Fugitive, but my favorite aspect of Willy as a songwriter is in the acoustic songwriter department. That said, everything on this album works in one way or another- because of his ability to create magic with just his voice and an acoustic. What once was old is new again.

Run with the Kittens – Letters From Camp album review

Radiating with raw power and surfing through the air on a sound wave surging from distorted, rhythmic, tantalizing reverberations, Run With The Kittens destroys the onslaught of easily processed modern pop with new release “Letters From Camp”. As soon as “Weight of the World”, the album’s opening track, begins, the listener is shot into a separate dimension of invigorating sound, ripping through everything you’ve heard from this year’s artists.

“Life Inside a Chocolate House” begins next with a stereo-type muted intro that quickly evolves into a jungle of raging guitar riffs. With angrily shouted- or moaned, rather- vocals rising above the chaos of the stimulating electric instrumentals, Run With The Kittens portrays a down-tuned take on a world of desolate masochism.

Dig the frightening switch to alternate realities with “How Hardcore is Your Manticore?”, as the morphed voice of Nate Milk rumbles over a bizarre collaboration of downward spiraling synthesized melody taking one to the basement of the Toronto-based band’s sound.

With songs that turn from ecstasy-inducing to terrifying beyond belief in a matter of moments, Run With The Kittens have created a masterpiece of destructive, rockabilly sound with “Letters From Camp”. The album can be bought on iTunes or the band’s website www.runwiththekittens.ca

Fableglass – Fableglass album review

There is a band in Quebec City, Canada named Fableglass that recently released their self-titled debut album. For the majority of music listeners and people with ears this is news, since Fableglass is so far under the radar that their instruments just figured out they were in a band. However, obscurity isn’t always a bad thing and in this case it really just means that they need some more time to be heard. Their musical style is akin to Dashboard Confessional but with male/female vocals and this unfortunately means that their fan base is likely situated mostly in high school with some mid-life, adult-contemporary listeners tagging along.

The album keeps a good tempo from beginning to end, and most of the songs are quite catchy. There is a definite recipe to their songs which at times is a hindrance since no tracks really end up standing out as great singles from the album. The band seems a little shy to breakout from their emo formula, which is too bad considering their great vocal harmony and high-energy that easily comes through their songs.

As a debut album from a small group this will hopefully become a mere bump on their road to success.

Memory Tapes – Grace/Confusion album review

When New Jersey’s reclusive electronic songsmith, Dayve Hawke, set out to release his third album under the Memory Tapes monicker, he had some expectations to live up to. Among thriving peers Neon Indian, Washed Out, and Millionyoung (to name a few), Hawke’s debut ’09 LP, Seek Magic, established him as a force to be reckoned with among the prominent electronic sub-genre, Chillwave. But after the disappointing release of 2011’s LP, Player Piano (which applied some liberal twists to the trajectory of the Chillwave genre), some had begun to question the direction of Hawke’s project. So I have to ask then– with the release of Memory Tapes’ most recent LP, Grace/Confusion, did you honestly expect a living breathing artist with an emphasis on production and an obvious desire to branch out, to simply go back in time and give you the traditional thrills of a comfortable yet un-challenging Chillwave album? Genre purists are likely to either hail Grace/Confusion as a step toward the next new thing, or one more step backward in a series of albums that disappoint. In either case, Memory Tapes seems to have missed the mark in Grace/Confusions implementation, but perhaps the more interesting question here, is if you believe in the vision Hawke seems to be working toward.

In it’s sum, Grace/Confusion is a densely layered, synth-ladden soundscape, reverberating with chintzy effects, sprawling falsetto vocals, and ambient lo-fi backdrops among indulgent 80’s dance-pop hooks, watery traces of disco, bits of shoegaze, and even some hard-edged moments of depeche-inspired rock-tronica. As confusing as all this sounds, the album manages to satisfy moments of grace, as promised, but the messiness of the arrangements don’t seem to ever come clean enough to offer those redeeming moments of clarity that the Chillwave genre traditionally builds towards. Oddly enough, Dayve Hawke seems to be well aware of his artistic decisions in Grace/Confusion, which are what cause me to not simply dismiss this album as a valiant pioneering attempt, but an ultimate failure.

When asked about the upcoming release of Grace/Confusion, Hawke was quoted as saying, “At the time I made this record, I felt like a mess… I wanted the record to seem like a mess. I didn’t want three-minute singles; that didn’t seem appropriate… “ Apparently, this is why the album is surmised of a surprisingly transient sound encompassed within only six tracks.

The first half of the album, most likely to conjure a sense of grace, opens up with “Neighborhood Watch,” an easy breezy float through an expansive soundscape of whimsically bent guitar notes, sleepy vocals, and electro-pop fantasia. As with much of the songs, the pop-build up eventually gives way to dirtier moments of tonal aggression, that like the initial build up, become lost in a spaceless realm of transition. “Thru the Field” maintains a passive but insistent 80’s pop danceability reminiscent of a brat-pack reunion at a high school prom; eventual transitions into prominent guitar hooks overcome the initial wash of synth, and let listeners down gracefully for a pleasant end of the night kiss at the doorstep. “Safety,” running nearly 8 minutes long, sets an aggressive pace with heavy layers of textured percussion among recycled synth hooks, and abundant sound effects.

The second half of the album, beginning with “Let Me Be,” introduces a garish, hard-edged handling of effects that mirrors more of the confusion half of the album. Eerie vocals limp moodily through contorted waves of reverb, before dropping out for an eery treatment of tribally inspired steel drum. Its fun, it’s dark, but I can’t say it feels in place among the fuzzy feel of deja vu that Grace/Confusion is reminiscent of. “Sheila,” the albums unsuspecting single, takes a step back from this approach and introduces a forlorn narrative about a girl that got away. “Sheila,” is arguably the least compelling song on the album, offering a very guarded arrangement in comparison to the rest of Grace/Confusion. “Follow Me” closes the album out with a meandering synth line and a playful handful of effects to keep the vocal hook rolling smoothly. As seems to be the established formula in Grace/Confusion, arrangements spend a moment or two in place before building upward, into starry wash of reverberated harmony that only allude to the original progression.

In the end, Grace/Confusion is a wildly inventive album that might well be the foundation of an entirely new sound, one far more complex and compelling then Chillwave. But aside from the openly cluttered arrangements the album offers, Grace/Confusion is introverted, anti-social, and at times, a bit weighed down in the density of its arrangements, and the unforgivingly anxious emotional tone. Give this one a listen in your car, bedroom, or home, but by no means should anyone be forced to try and dance to it. Just sayin’…

Rebekka Karijord – We Become Ourselves album review

Scandinavian Rebekka Karijord started out making music for movies, and it shows. With her second album, We Become Ourselves, the vastly experienced musician and composer seems committed to painting pictures with the sounds she creates on her computer and beyond, offering up a collection of tracks that is highly sensory and uniquely visceral.

Whether she is punctuating the air with a careful, crisply articulated acapella lyric or howling carnally against a tribal beat, Karijord’s songs are nothing if not evocative. Each track is dramatic enough to provide the background to any film, yet they all still manage to feel organic — perhaps a testament to the fact that the album was recorded live over 8 days in December 2011. Tending to swell and shrink in the most natural of ways, the sounds Karijord creates really do paint pictures in the mind’s eye. “We Become Ourselves” draws up images of a kind of serene woodland setting, full of fairies and nymphs, while “Use My Body While It’s Still Young” sets up a scene as carnal and vivid as its name.

Though Karijord’s style is reminiscent of her more mainstream counterparts like Florence + The Machine, the visuality of her music is a characteristic all her own. The record is a demonstration of a remarkable talent that Karijord obviously possesses. With We Become Ourselves, she has accomplished the seemingly impossible — capturing something as intangible as feeling in a way that is truly representative. It is a feat most musicians aspire to achieve, but few ever actually do. The effect is like the best kind of 2-for-1 deal in that the music, which itself is beautiful in its powerful and haunting quality, leads to something even greater if you let it. With We Become Ourselves, listening goes from being a passive exercise to an active and creative one in its own right.

The Paellas – Long Night Is Gone album review

 

I will admit that I went through something of a goth phase.  Not lace gloves or eyeliner or anything.  I’ve always looked like your average moderately chubby middle American dude.  But this dude had a lotta Sisters of Mercy going on in his truck driving home from Walmart.  Or, at least, did for a short time.  Eventually, of course, I went back to more redneck appropriate fodder.

This record screamed goth at me.  It was a little weirdly happy and uptempo, or at least as happy and uptempo as goth can get.  Which was kind of cool because goth has spent far too much time flirting with metal and 95% of the stuff that has come out of that tryst is crap, crap, crap.  Given that track record of failure I think uptempo garage rock goth is an interesting avenue to follow.

It wasn’t until listening to the record a few times that I finally checked the band out on the old Internets.  Turns out they’re a  Japanese crew that thought themselves surf rock indie popsters.  Surf!  Of course!  There’s some Dick Dale in that there goth, boy.  Both sounds share that same reverb treble sound and it’s just like those adorable Japanese to confuse two Western things in a way that creates something new.

It also explains my biggest complaint with the record, the vocals.  They are monotone, echo laden and very low in the mix.  All of which annoyed the hell outta me.  Also, all of which are the kind of tricks I’d pull if I was trying to sing in a foreign language and knew I had a heavy accent.  Personally, I would have preferred confident Japanese vocals rather than muddled English ones.  But, of course, English vocals are more commercially acceptable worldwide and as an unrepentant capitalist I cannot really criticize someone for making the more saleable choice.

I can’t really recommend this album.  It is deeply flawed in both production values and songwriting.  But I think they just might have something here.  I will be happy to check out the follow up.

Lifehouse – Almeria album review

Lifehouse. It’s probably one of those names pushed aside by the contemporary. It’s true, it was the early 2000s when front-man Jason Wade pushed the group to radio salvation. If you don’t recall, their classic and arguably most successful track was “Hanging by a Moment” (which, by the way, is among the songs which represent that awkward transition from the colorful 90s to the “future” and the turn of the Twenty-First Century, don’t you think?).

However, Almeria is new. No really. It’s not just stamped with “Made in 2012”; the content is evolved compared to what you might expect from an otherwise outdated Lifehouse. The album is primarily built along pop melodies and overall pop texture, but it is more than a complete rehash of a better Lifehouse past. In fact, it seems to be a step forward. With that said, the music is respectable. The soundscapes and production give it a contemporary indie-pop/synth-pop timbre while Lifehouse’s musical tradition, primarily the work of singer/songwriter Jason Wade, gives it that old familiar 2000s taste.

Track 4, “Moveonday” is an interesting song. With elements of grunge, pop, blues, and some electronic texture, it’s a good representation of what would seem “2010s post-grunge” and a decent progression of pop-grunge since the early days. The next track, “Slow Motion” is a sing-along anthem which starts 2012, becomes 1996, and back again. It is actually a very cool concept, intended or not. Other tracks like “Where I Come From,” reminds the listener of yesteryear with corny, emotional pop-grunge ballads. Also, the final song “Rolling of the Stone” conjure images of what I would imagine a contemporary spaghetti western theme to sound like. More or less… Seriously, it’s a pretty epic and winding track.

Final verdict: listenable. These days it’s hard to keep very large-scale pop record production and keep your own artistic interests in the picture as a musician. Almeria sounds as if Lifehouse was aloud some grace to grow. Though still very poppy, the album is not just a rehash of old successful formulae (unlike Green Day, no offense). In the end, Almeria deserves a critical listen. It may not yet deter listeners more than invite them.

Mogwai – A Wrenched Virile Lore album review

Mogwai’s newest release, A Wrenched Virile Lore, is not, in fact, a new Mogwai release at all – it is a collection of 10 remixes (eight remixes, a “reworking” and a “reshape,” to be specific) of tracks from 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. And much like a game’s expansion pack, it cannot fully be understood or appreciated without the original base content, as it serves to enhance what’s already in place; it cannot stand alone.

One of the biggest concerns with any remix album (or remastering, or live album) is the very real potential of no added value. Does adding an electronic loop and echoing vocal filter really enhance a song enough to justify buying it all over again?

Luckily, the artists behind Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’s reimagining had bigger and better things in store for the post rock album. Take, for example, Cyclob’s EVP Mix of White Noise – what was once a classically-constructed Mogwai instrumental has been stripped of its traditional instruments and made fully electronic, complete with a full set of auto-toned lyrics. The song is so far removed from its roots it can barely be called a remix – but it’s good, and at the end of the day that’s what matters most.

Mexican Grand Prix, RM Hubbert’s reworking, moves to the other extreme. He stripped the beat that drove the original and replaced it with acoustic Spanish guitar, softening the song and enhancing the original’s whispery vocals.

On the other hand, tracks like The Soft Moon Remix of San Pedro and Xander Harris’ How To Be a Werewolf take a more conventional route, augmenting the originals with chillwave loops as opposed to completely overhauling the content upon which they built.

Though Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’s You’re Lionel Richie is left off the remix collection, Rano Pano makes two appearances – once as Klad Hest’s glitchy, chiptune drun ‘n’ bass “Mogwai Is My Dick” remix, and again in Tim Hecker’s much smoother (which is decidedly the further of the two from the original) version.

Overall, A Wrenched Virile Lore is a solid release. It comes nowhere near replicating the album its material was sourced from, but is appreciable in its own right. Is it Mogwai? Not really. Does that matter, though?

Go Tell The Eskimo – Smoke Signals EP review

Go Tell The Eskimo revels in danceable beauty. The U.K. indie pop group is brand new and seems very intent on promoting Smoke Signals, its debut, three song e.p. Based on the selections offered, they have a lot of potential. Championed by Spain’s Dj Hal 9000 and receiving airplay on BBC, this band is definitely poised to make some waves in 2013.

Just under nine minutes long, the e.p. contains a lot of music. The songs themselves are rife with a melodic sensibility that gives the impression of approaching songwriting as a vehicle for an expressive vocal sonority. The band part of the songwriting feels arranged to support the singing. The songs are tightly structured, with solid connecting passages developing the material nicely between verses.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this groups approach to music making is the implied balance between an accessible sensibility and a more ‘musicianly’ one. In one sense, there is nothing in the song writing that would be considered as avant garde or boundary pushing, but at the same time there is a sense that some real thought was put into how the music would actually sound. The songs are compelling and danceable. You want to listen to them while jumping around.

The first track sets the tone for the rest of the e.p., and the next two songs carry the same feeling to a nicely logical conclusion. Along the way a lot of subtle nuances make themselves felt, and it’s these subtle nuances that allow the songs to truly deliver.

Selah Sue – Rarities album review

Warm, soft, controlled…all of these are good words to describe the voice of Selah Sue. Rarities is the new full length album from Selah,and I have to say…it is pretty impressive. Filled with songs that reflect influences from soul, reggae, hip-hop and maybe even a hint of dubstep here and there,  Rarities is an album that is rich in atmosphere and style.

With the help of some other artists lending their own style and sound, the tracks sound pretty fully flushed out. Zanna (Music For Life), which is a cover of a Luc Van Acker song, has Tom Barman and The Subs joining Sue laying down a song that could happily stay on my repeat for hours. Smooth and hypnotic the song just flows effortlessly. Ragamuffin feats J. Cole and is one of Selah’s better known songs and really showcases the reggae influence earlier cited. The overall sound here is something that puts me in mind of The Roots and that is by no means a bad thing.

Selah shows, though, that she is more than capable of making great music without the support of guest artists. Fade Away is a tremendously strong song that showcases Sue’s voice well. The vocal layers are well executed and the repetitive pattern of the percussion underneath serve to support the song in a strong but not distractive way.

Break was another song that really struck me as being powerful, this time based on its simplicity. Focusing on just a single guitar and the Selah Sue’s voice it had a wonderful singer/songwriter feel that should have been at odds with the rest of the album but instead just showed the versatility and ease with which Selah can move from one sound to the next.

All in all, Selah Sue is someone worth watching. Her career is still young and fresh feeling but based upon this album, she has some serious staying power and I can’t see her fading away. Great songs, great production, and great support. I’m not sure what more a musician could ask for.