Placebo – B3 EP review

Placebo, the London alt-rock trio who are rounding up on 20 years as a group, dropped an EP last week foreshadowing their forthcoming full-fledged 7th studio album next year. Titled B3, the EP is intended to give fans an enticing nibble at what’s still to come.

Tried and true Placebo fans won’t be disappointed, as it’s evident even on a first-listen of the 5-song collection that the band hasn’t abandoned their moody, awkwardly-futuristic-yet-grunge-inspired core sound. They’ve merely injected it with rolling drums, and switching intervals of mellow then pummeling riffs.

Most notable is the lead vocalist and lyrical genius work of Brian Molko. Frontman Molko meshes his wit into a provocatively nasal assault of meaning, drawing on themes of good old fashioned anti-authoritarian recklessness, inability to be oneself in society, and Nirvana-esque mires of love and loss. While admittedly incohesive, the subject matter he discusses gives him the profound ability to provoke fans. Hopefully Molko doesn’t find himself soon, because the angsty trapped-soul vibe works with the confinements of his voice, making his outburts even more loaded and powerful.

This EP is a battleground; drummer Steve Forrest demands the listener’s acknowledgement with a noticeable thrashing of the drums in every track, which he absolutely nails. Nonetheless, Placebo has gone for a cleaner, less-glam sound with this EP. The opening track, namesake “B3,” is surprisingly harsh at first listen- but warms you up as the chorus rolls out, hitting hard and inevitably yielding a few head bobs. The rebellious “I.K.W.Y.L” (I Know Where You Live) is a riotous jest at authority, again with Forrest’s drums a demanding a constant presence that won’t go unappreciated. “I Know You Want To Stop” is one of the more melodic tracks of the set, exhibiting a fusion of new and old that’s sure to grab a few young ears. “Time is Money,” is a slow-paced, rugged afterthought of a track that allows you to drink your fill without being over saturated; it blankets the other songs in harmony.

“Will your paranoia keep you warm?” Molko drawls.

Placebo, no need to be paranoid. B3 will surely placate followers until the release of your album- until then, this EP will serve as the action-flick component to life’s soundtrack.

Buffalo Killers – Dig. Sow. Love. Grow. album review

Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers hail psychedelic blues rock in their fourth labor of love, “Dig. Sow. Love. Grow.” The trio of bearded rockers pump out some fantastic midwestern swagger in this release, drawing on rock legends but never coming close to a copycat band. Their sound is authentic, raw, unashamed, and at times gritty.

At first listen, I instantly thought of the Black Keys, and likes of The Dead Weather or Band of Skulls. The first song on the album, “Get it,” is pure grunge-y goodness at its finest; it’s powerful, raucous, and commanding. Next up is “Hey Girl,” which sounds like it’s rolling off of a record player in some southern lounge in the 70’s. It’s the most authentic sounding song on the album, which as a whole is organic in moody splendor.

Buffalo Killers seem to have found themselves a time machine, because “Dig. Sow. Love. Grow.” is a rocker’s gem from the hippie days of old.

Angus Stone – Broken Brights album review

Angus Stone uncloaks all with his solo release of “Broken Brights,” choosing to ditch the moniker “Lady of the Sunshine” he opted for with his last piece in 2009. This is Stone’s second album devoid of his sister, who joins him in forming “Angus & Julia Stone,” a collaboration that topped the charts multiple times in the pair’s homeland, Australia.

In “Broken Brights,” Angus confronts the mass audiences who know him as half of a whole and presents the first work under his true namesake. Truthfully, he hasn’t strayed from the formula that earned he and his sister a following, bringing back the infallible combination of love, loss, and lust in his lyricism and playing up a heavy reliance on strings with faintly distinguishable (yet much appreciated) bursts of electronic. The result is that he’s churned out a semblance of his prior work, rather than heading the mainstream route with more laboring of production.

It’s back to basics from the first track, with River Love offering an uncomplicated drifting between string instruments and harmonic touches. Stone’s untarnished vocals are undeniably bluesy, yet fluid in the emotion-heavy tone he uses to debate where his love has it’s origins. Ultimately he asks, “Will she bring roses when I’m dead?” There’s a smattering of tracks with the same feel, like Wooden Chair and Apprentice of the Rocket Man.

A few standout tracks hit a little harder, notably Bird on the Buffalo, which embodies the same foot-tapping quality indie listeners hold dear, yet is not as quenched with heartfelt revelry. It was Blue is similar, with Stone’s vocals echoing in a cavelike nostalgia, “It was over when we got there.”

Aside from the slightly misplaced Blue Door, which speaks an unmistakably southern, almost home-on-the-range feel, “Broken Brights” is a solid folk album. It’s simultaneously a gesture in a new direction on Stone’s part in his solo effort, which his sister is likewise attempting, and an offering to loyal audiences who can count on the Stone duo for some classic, emotional acoustic compositions.

Citizen Cope – One Lovely Day album review

Are you ready to be drenched in an emotional waterfall?

If not, grab an umbrella. Because that’s exactly what Citizen Cope’s newest release, One Lovely Day, brings to the table.

If you haven’t heard of him, Citizen Cope is the stage name for Clarence Greenwood, singer and songwriter hailing from D.C. with a background in hip hop, blues and folk. You may recognize his sound subconsciously, having heard his work on various television shows ranging from Entourage and Criminal Minds to One Tree Hill and Scrubs, as well as a handful of popular films. However, considering all of this exposure via other media outlets, one finds it perplexing as to why Citizen Cope hasn’t become a familiar name.

Greenwood’s music is palpable, mostly due to his bluesy, twanging, rambling voice. It catches your attention, yet only fleetingly unless backed by tantalizing harmonics. The proof lies in One Lovely Day, which many fans have deemed a departure from his earlier efforts to push the limits of creativity, only to be replaced by what some consider a safe audience pleaser.

If you listen to Greenwood’s earlier work, you might agree. Take tracks like “Let the Drummer Kick,” which went gold off of the 2002 album Citizen Cope and draws on hip-hop influences, resulting in a sound similar to Fort Minor. A year later we have “Sideways,” a popular collaboration with Santana in which Greenwood croons, “these feelings won’t go away…” for a sobering, shuddering elude to having strong, helpless feelings about someone.

Well, apparently the feelings still haven’t gone anywhere, but Greenwood’s sound has on this fifth addition. One Lovely Day takes a more relaxed approach to musical expression, joining the ranks of soulful pop figures like Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Jack Johnson, a transition that’s noticeable without even listening to his previous work. It’s almost as if he’s chosen to present his soulful lyrics under the guise of the mainstream aesthetic.

The ten-track album opens with it’s namesake. “One Lovely Day” is a meandering dream, it’s an easy listen lacking in the raw character that Greenwood is more than capable of embodying. “Something to Believe In” gives off a surprisingly nice reggae vibe, contrasting with its message of collapse and exhaustion. “Back Then” holds true to its title, giving off a distinctly 90’s feel, and “DFW” flows considerably better than the other tracks from the very first strums of the bass guitar. We have a lot of different influences here, culminating in the most notable track, “Peace River.” Drum snares add to the more symphonic, catastrophic beauty of the song, giving us a taste of just how well Greenwood can harness his raw talent.

One Lovely Day, to put it simply, is an aptly fitting title for this album in two ways. For one, if you take a listen through, it comes in waves, undulating from blues to reggae influences as easily as one day fluctuates from the next. Second, it’s a good listen for a lazy, pleasant afternoon, and I wouldn’t expect much more from Citizen Cope anytime soon.

Husky – Forever So album review

Melbourne’s Husky, a four piece indie quartet rooted in classic pop, dropped their breakout album “Forever So” on July 10, ushering in a fan base arcing from California all the way to Australia, their home. The band signed to the Sub Pop label- the guys who launched Nirvana’s career- in 2011, finding their strengths in stirring live performances and the provocative, emotional nature of their creations.

“Forever So” is, in all seriousness, a craft the foursome hacked together in a bungalow in lead vocalist Husky Gawenda’s backyard. After mingling their mutual love for classic pop bands like the Beach Boys and Crosby Stills & Nash, Husky labored out a fledgling album of earnest intention and nostalgic eminence, leading them to an array of sold out tour dates and sidelines with big names like Devendra Banhart and new chart-topper Gotye.

The delicate layers of sound on this album make it an intriguing listen with an almost ghostly feel. Gawenda explains that it “recalls times gone by, dreams, and people who no longer exist in your life but exist in your memory.” That being said, don’t expect any run-of-the mill, shuffle-inducing acoustic humming, because the gentle percussions and light use of brass yield a sound that is best described as a melancholy version of the Fleet Foxes. Gawenda’s raw, unique voice shudders a breathy intimacy in every note, adding to the album’s ominous sincerity.

It opens up with Tidal Wave, an organically indie track lacking any outstanding quality save for Gawenda’s looping vocals that seem to stroke the eardrums. Fake Moustache is a quirky, slightly more poppy offering that falters slightly in it’s core, leaving an awkward gap in the otherwise smooth flow of its melody. History’s Door is the standout track that swept Husky into their first footsteps toward fame, and as the album progresses it seems to concave internally, wrapping up with Farewell in 3 Parts, a tingling, Bon-Iver-esque track that would seem directionless on its own.

To truly appreciate this album’s youthful beauty, you have to give it a full listen in the order intended. “Forever So” is patchy yet flows undeterred, at times flaring up with an angst that croons through Gawenda’s lyrics and the occasional psychedelic sidearm. For a debut piece, it displays every ounce of sweat that the group drove into it’s composition, as it should. You can’t expect a gem of an album from Husky yet, but hopefully the passion that emanates from their first work of art won’t get lost amidst the long months of touring.

Beachwood Sparks – The Tarnished Gold album review

Beachwood Sparks reinvent the mellow 60’s and 70’s folky aura with their newest, The Tarnished Gold, boasting a 14-track ode to whimsical, carefree music. The quartet, based in LA, have been wiped off the map for a shade over a decade, only to emerge once again with their third album.

The Tarnished Gold is southern California in a nutshell, with a sprinkling of electric guitars and wailing notes that shimmer on the ears and paint a vision of sunlit snoozes and carouses through nature. Hardly a modern twist on their prior work, The Tarnished Gold basks in dreamy melodies and softly muted vocals, looping around the mind in what can only be described as a country-esque lullaby.

Standout tracks are Earl Jean, Mollusk, and Sparks Fly Again, bringing west coast casualty and openness to light in a harmonious blend of “cosmic country-pop.” The entire album is nature-based, as it should be, hearkening to the likes of Bon Iver and The Byrds. Three of the four members of the band sing intermittently throughout the album, invoking a pleasant variation in pitch that will keep your head from otherwise nodding off in utter zen. The Tarnished Gold demands a sunny, Sunday afternoon as a backdrop, so let the tingle of light and the tweak of strings take you straight to the shores of Los Angeles.

Zulu Winter – Language album review

Up and coming London five-some Zulu Winter have released their infant album, “Language,” this May, blending the ever-growing niche of electro-indie with undulating vocals even a mainstream listener could appreciate.

The band has released three singles prior to dropping their album, grabbing the attention of many with “We Should Be Swimming” and “Silver Tongue” earning the title of Hottest Record in the World on Zane Lowe’s BBC radio show. The established UK band, Keane, even offered the band a spot on tour with them for 2012 Strangeland, which Zulu Winter obviously accepted. After spending a year working on “Language” before approaching labels, there have been expectations for a finely honed piece of artistry, reflecting the band’s influences (including FC Judd and Georges Méliès) and insight towards their survival in a scene with a somewhat limited but dedicated fan base.

To say the least, the album is pleasant to listen to, at purely a surface level. A more attentive ear could appreciate lead singer and guitarist Will Daunt’s falsetto and the swooping rise and fall of each track’s offering, laid with sensuality at the inseam and a figurative beauty that is hard to come by.

In the footsteps of the many London indie bands that have outcropped in recent years, they have a generic stomping shuffle in the background as a near constant element, along with a thrumming bass chord, essentially hoping to stimulate the masses into free-spirited dance. Tracks like “We Should Be Swimming” and “Lets Move Back To Front” have this potential, but other tracks are beautifully deep as Daunt’s voice drops to an icy static in “People We Must Remember,” one of the most notable tracks on the album.

Rather than the influences described on the band’s blog, their sound falls more in line with the likes of Coldplay, Two Door Cinema Club, and Band of Horses, with Daunt’s vocals ringing like Chris Martin’s in “Words I Wield” and the intro to “Lets Move Back to Front” sounding a hairsbreadth from identical to TDCC’s “What You Know.” The haunting, eerie vibe of a few tracks, such as “Bitter Moon” hearken to Band of Horses’ “Is There a Ghost.”

For Zulu Winter, as an electro-indie band squirming around in an increasingly crowded niche, they have the potential to either fall into obscurity or, touring with Keane, they may spark the interest of mainstream listeners and retain the ranks of fans who actually listen to the depth of their lyrics.

Midway Still – Always Ends album review

90’s Rock aficionados will be familiar with the name Midway Still, although it may be a little dusty to their ears. The band released their fourth album, Always Ends, this June with eleven melodic tracks that have long time fans smirking and thinking cynical thoughts.

The feel good vibe of this album isn’t a departure from their previous style. It’s a continuation, more or less, with minor tweaking but nothing remotely close to the massive experimentation that has been sweeping the indie music scene in recent years. It’s through and through angsty rock, complete with in-your-face lyrics, catchy choruses you can belt out after a couple of beers, and guitar riffs that are more than head-nod worthy.

After releasing two albums in the early 90’s, experiencing over a decade of shelf life and then coming back for more in 2010, Always Ends is a reaffirmation of punk rock at it’s core, with a hint of pop for good measure. It could very well gain a following, with notable tracks like Cash Cow and Seeing Red.

There’s something sincere about the feel of this band; their sound almost puts you in the shoes of a rebellious teen with nothing better to do than jam out in their parent’s garage. It’s harmless, easy listening with a sensitive twist. Tasteful.

Airbird – Trust EP Review

Joel Ford is the face of Airbird, his solo exploration into the intricacy of production. Half of the duo Ford & Lopatin, better known for their 2010 epithet on synths, drums, and midis, Ford is no stranger to the intrigues of electronic fusion. Trust is his brainchild, an astonishingly clear reflection of Ford’s experiences, having dabbled in so many outlets of music.

Trust is a concoction of multiple influences, which, after a few plays, enlighten you with bits and pieces of sounds hearkening to 80’s bass claps and new age synth lines that breathe an experimental vibe. In the intertwining of past and future, Ford has created in Trust a dovetailing of aesthetic sounds that simply make sense together.

The album’s namesake track, Trust, wails with an electronic ingenuity. With heavy drumming intermittently throughout the fantastical waves of the song, it seems as if 80’s rock played a bigger influence on this cut. The track itself is clean, pure, and unadulterated with extraneous noise or sound.

Goodnight, the penultimate song on the EP, is pure electro dream pop. Ford breathes words that are hardly distinguishable, but it doesn’t matter, as the song lulls you. It tickles your stream of consciousness.

The other tracks vary greatly in composition, ranging from outdated pop melodies to foggy ballads and abstract, introverted ambient sounds.

Criticism of the EP calls it a strange venture into “no man’s land” lacking the adequate ambition to really make anything of itself. However, it’s apparent that the intention of Ford is to present his utopian idea of retro electronic sounds; in essence a solid idea. The extent to which he’s achieved this is completely reliant upon the listener, and just how many of his delicate, deliberately placed details are noticed and appreciated.

Adios Amigo – Dos EP review

Adios Amigo, a band spearheaded by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Johnny Major and fellow musicians based in San Francisco, have prepared a delectable EP of indie rock and mildly psychedelic tones and served it to us on a platter. It’s their second album release to date, following their first self-titled EP released in August of 2011. The five-song sophomore album, appropriately titled Dos, touches on familiar themes of love, life, and remembrance, yet does so with the intermingling of various styles and vocal stretches.

A remarkable quality of this group is their ability to channel different kinds of music yet achieve the same result; some of their tracks are similar to the poppy British alternative band Bombay Bicycle Club, yet others are purely Californian, sounding like Gomez or Dirty Gold. Either way, the ears are placated with a jangle of instruments that invoke a beachy bliss.

The album as a whole is easy on the ears, starting off with “Colony’s Dead,” a warm, reflective track ending with a beautiful deterioration of instruments until a sole guitar leads you through what feels like a dream sequence, leaving one at bliss.

The most poppy song of the five is up next, “Chicken.” It begins with the thrumming of strings in an upbeat, dance worthy indie shuffle. The hushed tones of vocalist chime in, slightly muted but present nonetheless. You’ll find yourself mindlessly bobbing your head to this track, reminiscing of summer days. It screams California.

“Never Forget” is a soothingly tropical song with hints of electronic chimes accenting the lyrics. “Take me to Heaven” is a sentimental daydream of the afterlife, promising seasons of sunny days. “Pretty Pretty Princess” is a nostalgic ballad of “star crossed lovers” as the chorus of four shows off the range of their voices, trailing off in high notes that tingle the ears.

The release of this album is perfectly timed, as it demands a summer atmosphere and a drive to the beach, surfboards in tow. Carefree, mellow, and genuine, Adios Amigo has created an original sound in Dos that somehow, quite puzzlingly, draws on rockers such as The Shins and injects an eclectic, electronic spin, surpassing masses of cookie cutter pop-rock songs.