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Grimes – Visions album review

I always have a hard time trying to describe groups like Grimes. For me, Visions lies somewhere between A Sunny Day in Glasgow and Apex Twin, or maybe it’s more along the lines of Fever Ray and Berlin (the 80’s band, not the country). Either way, it’s obvious that Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, has crafted her own unique sound, which at 23 is an accomplishment that far supersedes any accolades I could give this album.

Hailing from Montreal, Visions is Grimes’ third and most acclaimed album. There’s a certain “pop” feeling that’s stronger and more realized here than on her previous releases. Perhaps it’s the amalgamation of the various beats and sounds, or the amazing vocal range in which Boucher displays, which bring to mind the glitter-pop age of the 80’s. Songs like “Circumambient” and “Nightmusic” sound as if they came straight of a John Hughes movie, yet they, as well as every other song, sound perplexingly fresh.

Boucher has said that she approaches music the same way Phil Spector does; constantly creating and emulating different styles and making them her own. Boucher’s voice is the best weapon in her arsenal, and though most of her lyrics are pretty unintelligible, her climbing and sliding vocals are understood more universally than written words.

That being said, my favorite song on the album is undoubtedly “Skin”, not because of what she’s saying, but how I interpret what she’s saying. For me, the song’s about change, moving from one comfort to the next. It’s one of the most genuine songs on the album.

Visions is a record that is the product of the streaming age. There are so many different juxtaposed genres and styles in every song that it could only come from someone who has grown up being privy to a wide array of music. Boucher’s diverse appreciation of music, both past and present, is the centrifugal force on Visions, and perhaps the reason why the album has gained notoriety.

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Tender Mercies – Tender Mercies review

An album that’s been 20 years in the making, Tender Mercies’ debut has finally come to fruition. Consisting of Counting Crows members Jim Bogios and Dan Vickrey, along with Patrick Winningham and Kurt Stevenson, the Tender Mercies have released an alt/country album that is rich in both substance and style.

Actually formed before his time with the Crows, Tender Mercies took a backseat after guitarist Dan Vickrey was recruited to play alongside Duritz and co., and even though the seeds were planted, a proper release from them wouldn’t emerge for another two decades. Given how consistently busy the Counting Crows are it’s a miracle this record was even made.  Though the Crows have made a career traveling  all over the world, that laid back San Fran feeling is definitely still here, and at times the vocal styling’s sound eerily reminiscent of other California contemporaries, most notably David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven.

Unlike the Counting Crows, Tender Mercies sports more of a country twang, which in no small doubt is due to Vickrey’s incredible guitar skills. The solos here are amazing, and his gentle bluesy feeling fits the arrangements perfectly. Everything’s in the right place, and even though 20 years is a damn long time to wait, the juxtaposition between Vickrey’s and Winningham’s guitars equal a very rewarding, if not solely relaxing, release.

The best thing about this album isn’t its pristine production, or excellent musicianship, it’s the stark honesty that it conveys. At times Tender Mercies can seem dull, and at others at can seem quite moving. There really isn’t anything special, nothing momentous, just honest, melodic rock n’ roll from a group that’s been a long time coming. Tender Mercies is the product of seasoned musicians that like to make music and have a knack for crafting a tune, which is something that’s always welcome in today’s muddled musical environment.

A hidden gem lost amidst the self-promotion and commercialism, Tender Mercies is a quiet homage to the classic Americana style. At the core of this album there is something beautiful, innocent and brutally honest. A subtle group with a powerful release, Tender Mercies is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise smoggy street.

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Still Corners – Creatures of an Hour review

I first heard “Cuckoo” while casually listening to my favorite college radio station, and, needless to say, I was instantly hooked.  Creatures of an Hour is a very alluring album: it’s beautiful, haunting, gorgeous and enticing all at once. The reverb and echo that is persistent throughout bring to mind some old, mossy, 14th century cathedral;  with its rusty  pipe organs, a beautiful-yet typical stain-glass Madonna and child, and of course the old, venerable, and admittedly scary Catholic Priest.

Best described as a mix between Broadcast and Mazzy Star, which coincidentally are two of my all time favorite, desert island bands, Creatures of an Hour is seductive in all the right places.  Singer Tessy Murray is the perfect Dream Pop Chanteuse and Greg Hughes’ sometimes somber, sometimes psychedelic, but always dreamy arrangements fit her atmospheric style perfectly.

If you’re looking for something that will stylistically blow your mind then Creatures of an Hour may not be your cup of tea.  Instead, the simple arrangements are brought forward with much greater intensity by the group’s beautiful lulling melodies, enchanting organs, and, of course, Murray’s amazing voice.  Creatures is a very concise, very developed album, which isn’t usually a denotation of debut LP’s.

“Cuckoo”, the first single off the album, is perhaps the best intro to this group, but certainly not the best song here.  Songs like “The White Season”, with its beautiful harmonics, and “Demons”, which is so pretty that 2:14 is simply not long enough, are arguably the strongest tracks here.  “Endless Summer”, which has been re-mastered from its previous release, is another highlight and succeeds where lesser bands fail by creating a subtle potency. Amazingly, while the aforementioned songs sound great on their own, they sound even better in conjunction with the rest of the album.

Listening to Creatures of an Hour will make you want to call in sick, close your blinds, dim the lights, make some tea, turn the stereo up to eleven, and crawl back into bed.  Still Corners have bewitched me, and I couldn’t be more delighted. I was worried that the songs wouldn’t be able to match what I felt with “Cuckoo”, but this is one enchanting album.  Creatures of an Hour has given me hope that Still Corners may be able to pick off where Broadcast tragically left off.

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Atlas Sound – Parallax review

Atlas Sound, the acclaimed solo project of outrageously prolific Bradford Cox, has been causing a clamor of eargasms recently with snippets of his highly anticipated new album, Parallax.   For those afraid it won’t live up to the hype, rest assured; Cox makes being sad beautiful.

This is the album where Cox appears to be at his most intimate. On the aptly titled “Doldrums”, Cox sings “there is a story no one likes to tell, it is the story of a little boy who went to hell,” and on “Parallax”, he sings “give me love, give me promises, never go away.” There’s definitely a darker lacquer coating this album. While Cox was never the most jovial of singers, Parallax is perhaps the first album where you can see the doorway that leads to his heart.

While most of the songs are lethargic and beautiful, there is enough swagger here for it to not be pigeonholed. Time and again Cox has proven he has a deep appreciation for different avenues of music and here is no exception; Parallax is a work of art. While Logos was more sporadic and Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See Cannot Feel was more pastoral, Parallax is by far his most compelling and cohesive album to date.

As the album cover suggests, Cox’s singing style is more akin to a crooner and less as a shoegazer.  Unlike before, Cox’s voice is the focal point on Parallax, and he uses it to great advantage.  Instead of extensivly relying on effects and reverb, Cox guides his voice through a scale of diverse vocal ranges and hits different chords that were almost alien before. There is a certain Baroque feeling to the album, which is cemented with songs like “Terra Incognita” and “Flagstaff”, where the potency of idleness, loss and beauty are deceptively effortlessly conveyed.

There are no soothingly seductive songs like “Quick Canal”, or instantly catchy ones like “Walk About”. Instead, what you have is Cox’s own perfected style that is both painstakingly delicate and oftentimes maudlin.  Parallax is not only Cox’s best, but also an easy contender for album of the year.

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MUTEMATH – Odd Soul review

MUTEMATH’S Odd Soul is a cornucopia of adverse musical genres. Never failing to conjure up any given emotion, MUTEMATH have the innate musical ability to create something that simultaneously sounds old and new. Surprisingly, Odd Soul was my intro into the MUTEMATH catalog which, given the constant positive press I’ve both read and heard by word of mouth, has been a long time coming.

Like previous albums, the rhythm section is always spot-on. Throughout Odd Soul’s various chord, time and tempo changes, the B and D combo always seem congeniality connected, which is something that not only gives the band the extra ‘omph’ to set it apart from the rest, but also allows the other members much more room to exercise their versatility.

“All or Nothing” was the first song that really caught me, with its 80’s synths and wave-like momentum. It’s the first marker on the album where lead vocalist Paul Meany sheds his rock n’ roll mantra and cushions into an earthier and more somber attitude. His voice changes from that of a soulful blues rock archetype, which is one of the main motifs that’s visited on the album, to resembling Thom York, which is something he has every right to boast about.

The album’s closer, “In No Time”, ends on a very high note as Meany sings “where’s your heart gone and where’s your soul, we’ll find it in to time at all.” A very beautiful piece, it’s amazing to see the contrast between that and songs like “Odd Soul” and “Prytania.” If these songs weren’t contained in the same album I’d bet they were two different bands.

Odd Soul is a terrific album, and MUTEMATH are an incredible band. The only possible problem is that there is no one particular song that really pops out, meaning the inconsistency can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. After being able to properly digest Odd Soul, I’m very interested in obtaining the bands other albums, if not only for the fact that this band is so damn talented that I can’t wait to hear what else they’ve come up with. After properly listening to MUTEMATH, I can safely say that the all the positive press was in the right place.

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Cerebral Ballzy – Cerebral Ballzy review

Cerebral Ballzy’s self-titled debut is less like a homage to the NYHC scene and more like an imitation of it.  Formed in 2008 and based out of Brooklyn NY, Cerebral Ballzy is an energetic, fast paced and precipitously mundane album from start to finish.

There is a fine line between being influenced by a certain movement and trying to imitate one, and Cerebral Ballzy are constantly teetering on the edge.  With a name like theirs, and song titles like “Puke Song”, “Sk8 All Day”, and “Cutting Class”, it’s quite obvious that this band is trying to convey a more flippant attitude, which ironically is perhaps their only saving grace.

Not taking this album seriously is the best possible way to enjoy it.  Cerebral Ballzy aren’t trying to achieve greatness, in fact, they probably loathe the idea.  Instead, the group seems to idealize the sort of brazen, careless and naive feeling that dominated the 80’s punk scene and yearn to capitalize on it. By showing less composure and more crass, Cerebral Ballzy aim to canonize themselves along such similar-minded bands like Circle Jerks and The Meatmen.  For all the slack and banality, Cerebral Ballzy is surprisingly well produced, which, given their certain style and circumstance, is something that seems out of place.

The problem with making an album like this isn’t that it’s already been done,  there are plenty of instances where bands have copied a scene to great reception, it‘s that they simply don’t have anything substantial to offer. Cerebral Ballzy have gained a sizable cult following due to their energetic live performances. Unfortunately, that energy doesn’t transfer too well on this recording, as the overall feeling falls abruptly short of their intended mark.

The worst thing about Cerebral Ballzy isn’t their name; it’s the fact that their songs have no substance.  Trying to take yourself less seriously is one thing, but being completely bland and unaffected is another.  A talented group, but a mediocre first release, there may be some potential for this group in the future, though it’s hidden amidst all the forgettable songs.

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Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Witchhunt Suite for WWIII EP review

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti gained a fair amount of attention with their wonderful 2010 release, Before Today, which sounds simultaneously fresh and familiar.  Pink has a knack for bringing the past into the present, and the result is something that is both poppy and ethereal.  Unlike some of his more popular work, Witchhunt Suite for WWIII is less like an EP and more like one long, convoluted song that is infused with samples of both a political and historical nature.

Witchhunt serves as a social commentary, a bleak view of the future, and, fortunately for us, a very entertaining recording.  Ariel Pink is the moniker of Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, whose nostalgic and often beautiful sound can best be described as a New Wave revivalist with obvious psychedelic and gothic overtones.  Pink also released a video to accompany the EP, which is equally as oracular and intensifies his message.

Pink started creating Witchhunt shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and in the opening lines you can hear an audio sample of former President George W. advocating the war on terror and subsequently promising the imminent capture of Bin Laden.  There is a school of thought that believes that artists- whether they are musicians, actors, painters, etc. – should stick to their craft and stay out of politics and socio-economic issues because, at best, they only succeed in muddying the waters. However, it’s Pink’s subtle use of wit, persuasion and alliteration that make this a much more potent piece.

One could literally write an entire essay pertaining to the variety of references and implications that are included throughout Witchhunt.  A few that need mention are: Pink’s murmuring critiques of McDonalds, the implication that the human race is an invention of the West, the global domination of the U.S., and the whole idea of terrorism and how it relates to one’s perception.

Witchhunt can be seen in two different ways: as an entertaining one-off piece, or as a poignant social commentary that also happens to be a solid recording. While the EP is very catchy, it may be a bit disconcerting that the entire recording is one song that clocks in at a little under 16 minutes. There’s definitely a lot to take in, especially with the amount of time that’s given. While Witchhunt isn’t as groundbreaking or as accessible as Before Today, it’s still a very interesting, entertaining, and original piece.

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Twin Sister – In Heaven review

In Heaven, the first proper full length from the ever so dynamic Twin Sister, is a goodie bag full of dreamy melodies and entrancing loops and grooves.  Never afraid to let their influences shine, the Brookhaven NY five-piece have created a sporadic yet beautiful album that incorporates all sorts of musical varieties pulling from various decades.

While In Heaven feels more like a mix comp than a debut LP, Twin Sister definitely have a knack for creating a catchy tune. Andrea Estella has the perfect voice to accompany the song structures; rich but never raspy, her outstanding vocal range is unchallengeable, and with each song she seems to resemble someone else. Eric Cardona, who also sings on a few tracks,  harmonizes quite with Estella, and it’s a shame he doesn’t sing more often.  On “Eastern Green”, the last and possibly dreamiest track, Estella and Cardona’s voices become intertwined and it adds another depth to a group that seem to have no bounds.

There’s no doubt Twin Sister have improved since their last EP, Color Your Life.  The string arrangements on “Stop” are just one example and really show the group’s meticulous ability to craft a song. “Bad Street” sounds like an 80’s glam rock song with its Bowie-esque beats and “Space Babe” almost resembles a lost 90’s era Magnetic Fields song.  “Kimmi in a Rice Field”, one of the definitive highlights, sounds like a cross between M83 and the Deprecation Guild, with its alluring drones and 8-bit synths.

A very universal album, In Heaven contains a piece for almost any moment. “Gene Ciampi” sounds like it belongs in a Sergio Leone film and “Luna’s Theme” sounds like something that you’d hear during the credits of a Gregg Araki movie.

As pretty as the album is, the songs are often cursed by being too fluffy; the melodies float out of your head just as quickly as they came in.  Though In Heaven is a beautifully produced affair, it’s easy for it to be lost amongst the uncountable other bands that share a similar aim.  Possibly due to the sporadic nature of the album, there is no particular discerning factor for which they would be recognizable. Instead, In Heaven is an album that is both invocative and genre-hopping; both are things they do incredibly well.

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Wild Flag – Wild Flag review

Based out of Portland and D.C., Wild Flag is the supergroup which includes members from Sleater-Kinney, Helium and The Minders.  While their debut sounds less like a new release and more like that 90’s album you’ve never heard, the sound is perplexingly fresh and is the exact tongue-in-cheek style of rock that’s been terribly idle in the post-modern age.

The first single, “Romance”, came and went within a blink of an eye, which is a shame because it’s poppy, edgy, and serves as a perfect vantage point to gauge the group’s sound. The interwoven vocal lines of Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony are the real heart and soul of this group, both singers have unique yet similar styles that mesh perfectly. The other members are equally as crucial, creating a synergistic effect with the vocals and backing band.

On “Something Came Over Me”, both singers interlude back and forth, creating a very catchy song that barely shares any resemblance to prior riot grrrl groups. Wild Flag has a knack for playing captivating hooks and creating really catchy songs, nothing ever too serious, the album is a result of something that was created in very generous and open environment. On “Glass Tambourine”, Timony sings “Listen to the music, to the music, before it passes you by, if you don’t lose it, you’re gonna use it,” as if alluring to something else entirely.

Even though “Racehorse” is perhaps the black sheep, and the only notable instance where the lyrics sound trite, the amazing chemistry of the group make it into one of the catchiest songs on the album.  “I am a race horse, put your money on me” Brownstein repeats over grooving guitar lines and Timony’s backing vocals.

There is a venerable feeling to Wild Flag; it’s as if this band has been playing together for years. The formation of all the different members have culminated into something quite special, resulting in an album that simultaneously sounds refreshing and familiar. Usually supergroups fail to be anything greater than the sum of its parts, but Wild Flag, however, may be one of the few exceptions.

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The Field – Looping State of Mind review

The Field is the stage name of Swedish born Axel Willner, who started making music under said moniker with his 2005 demo Things Keep Falling Down.   Looping State of Mind, his third release, expands on previous albums by adding a tighter level of pace and movement, undoubtedly the result of a learned producer.

Unlike previous albums, Looping State of Mind makes a return to a more classic, by classic I mean authentic-not classical, style of ambient techno.  While there’s nothing overly fancy, every song on here incorporates seemingly infinite loops and layers, resulting in a refreshingly genuine experience.

“Is this Power”, the first song on the album, opens with awkward synths and evolves into an unexpectedly captivating piece.  Perhaps the best song on here, its biggest rival may be the title track and its vivid sense of motion.  The album is riddled with fleeting moments of evocative work, with an example being “It’s Up There” and it’s emerging bass line, which cascades through the final minutes of the song and almost sounds like a souped-up version of the Night Rider theme. It works.

There is a certain space that this music creates, which at times can be captivating and at times lulling. You definitely have to be in the right frame of mind when listening to this, as a change in attitude could make all the difference between interpreting it as pretentious disco-club elevator music, or the perfect overcast late night back porch chill album.

Looping State of Mind never strives to be something greater than it is, which is perhaps is strongest point.  Willner puts his experience as a producer and craftsman to good use, by perfectly being able to place which part goes where, and exactly when to transition.  While every song on here is a repetition of sounds and synths, sometimes with little or no variation, the inclusion of different instruments and melodies elevate it from an ordinary house album to something much more affectionate.

While not a milestone in the genre, Looping State of Mind serves as a perfect example for how this type of music should be made. Willner must have read Dr. Leo Marvin’s book because, with every new release, he’s taken baby steps in the right direction.