Inter Arma – Sky Burial album review

In the dark, ominous musical realm of Heavy Metal, I am admittedly, only a sightseer. You might say I’m a softcore “hardcore” appreciator, or that I only collect precious “metal,” or even that I’m a light “heavy” listener; however you put it, the gist of the word play amounts to me being a mere scrapper among real metalheads. That said, I’m no virgin either. I’ve made it to second or third base, depending on who you ask, and I’m definitely not so prude to opposed the idea that music can healthily, and effectively be a compelling medium to express anger, sorrow, general dissatisfaction, or even apocalyptic narratives literally hell-bent on emphasizing everything dark and otherworldly. I’ve crowd-surfed (though that’s traditionally more a facet of hardcore punk), I’ve head-banged (which it’s own respective sub-genre in the heavy music department), and I’ve damn well moshed, thrashed, and slam-danced my way to the front of many a show, while bruising many a limb, and pushing my body to the utmost limit of exertion.

Throughout my occasional yet recurring half-assed metallurgical inquiries, I’ve found a tried and true fistful of anti-social noise that I can rely upon to make me feel much worse about a bad day (in a good way, however that works), but as of late, I haven’t found myself needing much more then that. Luckily for the intriguing grind of dark noise coming from Virginia based metallic psyche band, Inter Arma, occasional metal users like myself won’t need silly excuses like catatonic despair, emotional catastrophe, politics, or reality television to prompt them to seek a new vehicle for moral deprivation.
Sky Burial, Inter Arma’s furiously packed 70 minute sophomore album drearily blends a bountiful spectrum of metal genres to arrive at a sound that is seething with dark emotional force and apocalyptic fervor. Marking a debut release under the bands new label, Relapse, the five piece heavy set out of Richmond are concocting a plethora of hellish noise spanning chasms from thick, sappy southern Americana sludge, to dirty psychedelic stoner sludge, to doom, hardcore, grind, and black metal. Between Inter Arma’s lack of concern for genre’s, and the sheer level of noise and energy they summon, it is obvious why they have garnered such buzz among the dark circles of heavy music enthusiasts.

The first four tracks alone encapsulate nearly 35 anxious minutes of nail-biting clamor, beginning with opening track, “The Survival Fires.” Screeching vocals saturated in reverb echo above deliberately dense death riffs, while thunderous percussion tempo’s fall disorientingly in and out of pace. Like much of the songs, the opening track runs over ten minutes, and capitalizes upon lengthy transitional arrangements that allude to a nihilistic narrative perspective, and a unique sonic tension arising from dense layers of noise, and grinding contrasts in tempo. Tracks two and three, “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate),” and “The Long Road Home,” form a melancholic medley, offering a moment of respite, and evolving into a spacious atmosphere of acid infused acoustics that chart Pink Floyd waters. “Destroyer,” picks up the chaotic pace once again with a slave-drive drum beat, and repetitive chord structures that induce heavy head-bobbing, before eventually evolving into another 10 minutes of thrashing.

Sky Burial is both enduring, and expansive; within a genre that generally plays out as an intentionally chaotic frenzy of noise, Inter Arma is accomplishing something unique  by demanding so much attention in their arrangements. The first half of the album offers enough thrills and contrast to keep curious listeners around, but by the time the album hits track 5, “S’blood,” the sprawling compositions start to become more tedious then engaging. For a band liberally exploring several genres of metal, the sound still never finds a moment where it couldn’t be readily classified as heavy, if not full on metal.

I don’t doubt that the full-time metal grinders will have no problem consuming Sky Burial’s meaty 70 minutes of despair like flesh off the bone, but the occasional listener might not be as inclined. Either way, Inter Arma is without a doubt, crafting a unique style that will leave an infectious gash upon the metal genre as a whole, and they are definitely a pioneering force of sound worth checking out. I implore the part timers and even the mainstream music lovers to step outside your comfort zone for a minute, and immerse yourself in a physically charged celebration of angst and suffering. You might not like it in a conventional sense, but heavy haters out there need to quit being whiney hippies, and remember: it’s healthy to vent.

Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail album review

I am a generally forgiving music nerd. One who understands that not everybody is, or even should be racking up scores of sleepless nights over the The Complete Hank Williams catalogue, exciting contemporary trends in hip-hop, or any other such nonsense. But even I will make an unnecessarily labored sigh accompanied with an exaggerated eye/roll before derisively having to outline Billy Bragg’s practically mythic CV. I know it’s a snide gesture, but I really can’t help it. Sometimes, my voice simply won’t operate within an octave that does not imply that I’m shocked you don’t already know what I’m telling you.

So instead of going that route, I’m going to simply operate under the assumption that you already know about Billy Bragg’s longstanding career beginning as a semi-punk, folk-protest songwriter with a hard-hitting, yet heartfelt agenda aimed toward political reform. I’ll skip all the details about his innovative folk-oriented style, and the crucial intellectual attributes he brought to what was then, a much narrower punk genre. Heck, it would be ridiculous for me to even think it possible that you don’t know about Billy Bragg’s ’98 collaboration with Wilco to interpret an expansive collection of unreleased material from a little known songwriter by the name of Woody Guthrie, in the Mermaid Avenue Sessions. Thankfully, since you know all that stuff already, I won’t have to speak in that shit-eating octave to anybody, and we can just start fresh, here and now: The year is 2013, and Billy Bragg has released a new album. What a time to be alive…

Spanning a significant 30 year career that has been ripe with accomplishment, esteemed British musician/songwriter and infamous left wing activist, Billy Bragg has released his anticipated 15th album Tooth and Nail under familiar label ‘Cooking Vinyl,’ after a five year studio hiatus. Interestingly, this is the first album to be recorded completely live, with no overdubs, since Bragg’s debut ’83 release of  ‘Life’s a Riot With Spy Vs Spy.’  Pair that with the fact that it was put together within a 5 day session in the basement of renowned California producer, Joe Henry, and you’ve got to acknowledge that Billy Bragg– at age 56 mind you, is still doing something right.

Though Bragg returned to the studio favoring the live-take session style we haven’t seen from him since his debut album in ’83, the product, and the formula couldn’t be more contrary. Bragg’s typically sharp set of socio-political sheers have been pointed inward, aiming to tailor a much mellower, introverted, narrative perspective that focuses more so on rural pleasantries, and comfortable home-spun tails of love and heartbreak. Clearly, Billy Bragg is reclining into the later years of his career, which would be cause for concern if the sound wasn’t so warm with confidence and reconciliation.

Tooth and Nail is an undeniably wholesome helping of Americana/folk portions putting it’s weight on the haunches of simple, romanticized, country-roots sound, while remaining tactfully poised to indulge in as much casual blues and backcountry gospel flavor as Bragg and his small ensemble care to cook up. The once young brit folkie wielding an electric guitar, a sonic edge, and a contempt for the status-quo has finally gone acoustic, and instead of playing with his standard backup band, The Blokes, he has worked with producer Joe Henry to curate a small handful of serious talent. The opening tracks, “January Song,” and “No one Knows Nothing Anymore,” are filled with as much wit and commentary as ever, but Bragg’s politics seemed to have shifted to a less direct, and ultimately, more naturalistic vehicle. Along with Billy Bragg’s exceptional songwriting in the opening numbers, the dynamic handling of production is particularly noteworthy. Only with such honed accompaniment could Henry have successfully given us the perfect blend of intimate solo Billy Bragg sound that we all really want, while still utilizing the four piece ensemble enough to take us to those truly elegant musical moments that peak in harmonious luster. Rarely does one have the privilege of hearing a backing band with the ability to step in and out of the spotlight as creative accomplices to a sound that often requires less than more, in order to achieve a sense of breadth, or an essential tone of solitude; Tooth and Nail does this all too intuitively.

Track Three, “Handyman Blues,” is a simple, meandering country-blues love song featuring a slow twangy steel guitar and a warm story about an inept handyman reconciling his inability around the house. “I Ain’t Got No Home,” a Woody Guthrie song that Bragg covers, is re-worked with a notably defeated tone that tragically still rings true in todays world. Track six, “Do Unto Others,” is a definite stand in capturing an authentic mountain gospel family band feel, and aside from flexing some folk-versatility, the song is one of many on the album that highlights a vibrant tone of regional color showcasing the diversity of American folk traditions.

Tooth and Nail goes on to end strong, featuring a pumped up Springfield-esque stadium style rock anthem entitled, “There Will Be a Reckoning,” which is one of several political songs on the album. Though much of Tooth and Nail carries a slow and solomn pace, the final track, “Tomorrow’s Going To Be A Better Day,” ends things on an upbeat note.

For how astonishingly solid the album plays from beginning to end though, Tooth and Nail is criticized for lacking the political focus, and general spunk that much of Billy Bragg’s earlier work featured. That might be valid if A) the album wasn’t actually good,  B) he wasn’t 56 years old, and C) he hadn’t been making a notable shift toward a less abrasive, introspective, folk-hearted style for damn near 15 years now. Ever Since his collaborative work with Wilco on Guthrie’s material, Bragg has been focusing on a more mature, introspective style of songwriting. People associate Woody Guthrie with protest music in a scatological, wikipedia-bent frame of thought, but how many have actually listened to anything aside from ‘This Land is Our Land?’ Guthrie’s ‘protest songs’ from Dust Bowl Ballads, or The Asch Recordings tell stories about people, hardship, defeat, and struggle– not politics. The point is: you don’t have to have a political focus to carry a political message.

Now I won’t say Tooth and Nail is, or should be compared to anything of Guthrie’s. One can only imagine what a maddening curse it is for a big name folk singer to be pigeon-holed by the brilliant work he has done putting Woody Guthrie’s written material to music. What I am saying though, is that Tooth and Nail is an incredibly solid album featuring some delightfully candid moments for Billy Bragg as a songwriter– and come on now, really, do you not see the potential for him to charge this recently honed, personally geared folk-root style with political content in the near future? I get paid the big bucks for my literary finesse, not pointing out the obvious!

Deerhoof – We Do Parties EP review

Six months after the release of their 12th studio album, the wildly undefinable D.I.Y. noise-pop act, Deerhoof, has blown their international fan-base another sweet kiss with the release of their recent digital EP, We Do Parties. I for one, will take it on the cheek with a rosy blush and a nervous smile. But for a band who has the reputation of peppering their deepening catalogue with freebie EP’s, and fan-friendly promotional stunts, you have to wonder why they didn’t just put this one out as another gimme for the fans? Or maybe a guerilla marketing power-move similar to the ’09 release of Deerhoof vs. Evil, where the band initiated a global album leak of their own material by allowing twelve blogs in different countries to premiere a song from the album one week at a time. Yes, you read that correctly, a global album leak. Surely Deerhoof’s staggeringly inventive flair– on every level, is the only thing you can blame for such monumental expectations.

We Do Parties is an intriguing sampler platter showcasing Deerhoof’s recklessly playful sound and sonic flexibility, that if given to the hungry hungry hipsters of the nation, could damn well spread like wild fire. While remaining considerably heady in terms of sonic intrigue, We Do Parties ultimately consists of four tracks, plus a music video of the eponymous first track taken from 2012’s Breakup Song LP. Though Breakup Song was well received from a critical standpoint, the re-release of We Do Parties in EP form, along with the addition of the music video might suggest that Deerhoof is actually prompting us to take another look, and maybe even give them a shot on a more mainstream medium; if radio won’t save itself by evolving out of the top forty shit-list, then viral venues are the next best thing for a band like Deerhoof.

We Do Parties opens with the fabulously catchy dance thrash title track of the same name, and right off the bat you know why they re-released it without alterations. Featuring a strung out combination of old school riffs, robo-rock-tronic pulse, and sheer noise that stands somewhere between psych-pop occult, and post-punk disco revolt; We Do Parties hits the mark hard by emphasizing Deerhoof’s mystical ability to bounce effortlessly between complex moments of tension, and simple moments of bliss. In the end, contrast is one of Deerhoofs most intriguing fortes, and nothing sums it up better then the livid drum lines that Greg Saunier lays out in trancendental haste, or the unnervingly cutesy asian pop vocals of Satomi Matsuzaki as she sings ‘I’m coming to you, coming to you, coming to you from a speaker deep inside.’

The second track, “Mario’s Flaming Dessert” is a digital remix which highlights Deerhoof’s capability to produce just as easily as bang out live noise, and expounds further the offbeat thesis they maintain in never repeating themselves. It is intriguing more then it is honed, but the capacity to create something fun and experimental, put it out, and move onto the next thing is also a hallmark of Deerhoof sound. Track three, “Just For That,” follows a very similar vein in building an experimental sound collage that is reminiscent of John Cages’ sound art, and some of the utterly acid tinged moments of Beatles albums. Definitely not for a mainstream audience, and in the scope of a 4 track EP, I’m inclined to view brash tracks like this as a hinder to Deerhoof’s own popularity– once again though, these guys do whatever they want, and to a certain extent, you have to let them.

The final track stands as somewhat of poignant artistic move in my mind: a cover of the Velvet Underground classic, “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Surprisingly, Deerhoof does little to transform the song into their own, which comes off as both a deliberate and appropriate way to explain themselves to confounded listeners at a loss for definition. Both Nico and Matsuzaki’s vocals operate similarly, and the tendancies of the Velvet Underground to play with boundaries between sweet and savage, social and anti-social, pop and experimental, are all very much within Deerhoof’s musical scope.

In the end, We Do Parties is a decent Deerhoof 101 sample of songs pulled from the surprise bag, but given that it is composed half of recycled releases, and half of experimental oddities, it is not a very economic way to spend five bucks. Check out the video for We Do Parties on Youtube, absorb the Deerhoof flavor, and use your five bucks to go buy any of their full length albums at your local used record store. They are all an interesting experience, to say the least.

Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavor album review

Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith has always given listeners a candid, and bountiful assortment of beautiful failure in both the content of his music, and his productive career as a multi-instrumental under-dog. But “productive” does not necessarily go hand in hand with “successful,” as careers go, and “beautiful” does not necessarily go hand in hand with “appealing,” as music goes. Without successful or appealing happening, bountiful anything has little agency. You get the feeling from Sexsmiths’ demeanor that he might be outside your door with a cupped ear, listening for your opinions of his music while softly shedding tears (or is that just me?). At the risk of seeming unnecessarily brutal, I will posit my thoughts as quickly and painlessly as possible, and do as Ron says: Sneak Out the Back Door.

In what comes off as a generally pleasant and highly approachable collection of songs from beginning to end, Ron Sexsmith’s 12th album, Forever Endeavor, also tragically encapsulates the plight of an aging artist and industry that are struggling to adapt to the often numbingly diverse sound-scape that has been in rapid development since the advent of digital music, and the household use of the i-pod. But the deeper we get into this mucky digital shift, the more it seems that we will continue to reach back to revive nostalgic mediums, genres, and content; it seems that nothing will ever really die out, things will only be re-born, re-discovered, and/or re-worked. So if tradition isn’t really fading with this digital shift as some had originally suspected, why isn’t an artist with as much musical talent as Ron Sexsmith, getting the attention he supposedly deserves? Well, he actually is favored with acceptance across the board by critics, but maybe I can answer on behalf of the youth who quite fondly embrace Elvis Costello, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul McCartney, and just about all of Sexsmiths’ revered musical inspirations: because he takes absolutely no risks and does not have a unique enough style to justify listening to him over any of the greats that he is emulating.

My criticism might only be justified by the obvious amount of talent that Sexsmith showcases throughout Forever Endeavor, while still never really capitalizing on the potency of his lyrics, or the potential zest of his delivery. The re-appearance of producer Mitchell Froom– long time friend, collaborator, and producer of Ron’s first two albums, has ensured the calculated addition of orchestral accompaniment that seems to have been written into every songs’ structure without fail. The mostly overbearing interjections only contribute to a sound that continually seems overworked, and unnervingly consistent.

Perhaps the true dilemma with Forever Endeavor is how damned safe it is. Though I’m more liable to huck rocks over the endless charm that plagues the album without appeal, I can’t say there are not moments of intrigue here too. The fourth track, “Snake Road” has a rather refreshing carefree attitude and a spritely tempo that hits like a breath of fresh air. “Sneak Out the Back Door,” opens with a deeper, rural folk sound and a snappy lyrical delivery, but like most tracks, succumbs to being buried by the eventual orchestral accompaniment, and an unnecessarily illustrious vibe. “Back of My Hand,” and “Me, Myself, and Wine,” are album stand outs that show some versatility and spunk, while “She Does My Heart Good” is a feel good song that genuinely reflects Sexton’s remarkable ability to keep the age-old love song sounding fresh. I can gripe all day about some things, but in the end, Ron Sexsmith is an undisputed heavy-weight in the songwriting realm.

Despite the winning moments in Forever Endeavour though, the majority of the album tends to play through with each song sounding like it belongs in that one dramatic montage of the movie where the character has to persevere through overwhelming obstacles in the face of adversity; that moment where the situation is incredibly dire, and getting through this is going to be rough– the character puts on a smile anyway, faces the day, and makes the best of it though. If Sexton’s disparage was momentary, I’d be less inclined to consider it monotonous and mellow-dramatic, and if his execution was even remotely reflective of anguish, I’d jump on the bandwagon with the rest of the critics and salute Ron Sexsmith as a highly under-appreciated contemporary influence. Until that happens, I’ll stick to the catalogues of Sexsmiths’ influences, and try to live long enough to see his brilliant catalogue of songs be covered by somebody willing to take some musical risks. I know that seems harsh, but given the scope of Ron’s songwriting ability, ‘good enough’ is simply not good enough.

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’…

Milk Teddy – Zingers album review

While listening to Milk Teddy’s debut full-length LP, Zingers, you might feel the natural urge to articulate the exact sound you are hearing by drawing comparisons to it, or thumbing through an ever-thickening glossary of sub-genres. This is a completely healthy inclination, I assure you. But when a band is concocting sounds complex enough to span chasms between pop, punk, indy, new-wave, and psychedelic genres simultaneously, you have to kind of wonder if you’re wasting your time with labels. So then, my fellow music nerds; I implore you to seize this opportunity in letting me waste my time with the rhetoric and label-making. That should buy you enough extra time to just listen to the damn thing and unwind a bit, while I grope for the messy fragments of meaning that are as temporal as they are evident in Zingers.
Hailing from the unexpectedly robust psych-pop ‘micro-scene’ of Melbourne, Australia, comes Milk Teddy, a five-piece Indy-pop set with a profound reverence for experimentation. After earning considerable praise for the initial release of their Going to Sri Lanka 7″, and self-titled cassette, Milk Teddy’s debut LP, Zingers, is an anticipated launch among the Melbourne scene. Co-released by The Lost and Lonesome Recording Co., and Knock Yr Socks Off Records, you get the feeling that Milk Teddy and their fan base aren’t the only ones who knew Zingers would fare well.

Zingers opens up strong with a heavily layered, pop infused, title track that sets the stage for the rest of the album by capitalizing on abundant distortion and reverb effects, while still maintaining a keen sense of balance aesthetically. “Suburbs Mystery,” is an easy going song to sway to; the emotionally soothing vocals of lead singer Thomas Mendelovits hang listlessly in the air while layers of shimmering guitar strokes emanate vibrantly among the steady drum line. Mendelovits’ lyrics aren’t completely discernible much of the time, but they have a gentle quality that manages to pack quite a punch. The third track on Zingers, “I Can Hear it When You Sing,” demonstrates skillful song-building through intensive layering techniques. At one point, dense layers of distortion, melody, reverb, and seemingly random sound-bites peak into a disorienting collage of noise that engulfs the listener; then, as if the floor is dropped from beneath your feet, they bring you back to a coherent melody with full force as everyone excitedly strokes their instruments like savage children. These transcendental moments occur all throughout Zingers, and Milk Teddy’s ability to transform space and time so skillfully without ever musically hiding behind the heavy doses of distortion, makes them a psychedelic dynamo.

“Going to Sri Lanka,” builds slowly into a wavy, upbeat soundscape evocative of memory and place; Mendelovits’ vocals take the forefront of the sound like a zen tenor as he belts out, ‘Everything is sacred when I’m going to Sri Lanka.’ “Porcelain Skin,” features heartwarming parts from the accordion and keyboard, laced potently with long, throbbing electric synth textures, muted bass drum, and high-hat splashes that culminate several crescendos of saintly proportions. “XTC,” pairs a punk rooted drum tempo with acid surf riffs and abstract sound samples to set the albums peak before winding down a bit.

Tracks seven and eight, “Secret,” and “Michael,” are both casual grooves that depart from some of the needier pop sounds heard earlier, in favor of unconcerned arrangements that still maintain a candid sense of liveliness. “Night Worker,” and “Come Around,” close the album out with a nonchalant vibe that is slow and emotional, but energetic. There is a sense of confidence and comfort that becomes apparent in the layers of instrumental dialogue toward the end, and the assertive undertones occur more from the ease of their compositional wit then the true nature of their sound which is both gentle, and giant.

All and all, Zingers is an undeniably mature debut LP’s from a band of visionary noise makers. Their sound adds up to a vibrant and colorful combination of humor, romance, and play that commands a remarkable thing-ness in its essence– as if the songs are living and breathing and coming together before your very eyes. For a group with a reputably dirty sound, their compositions are highly articulate, sonically complex, and emotionally compelling. It took me a minute to digest Milk Teddy, but now that I have, I am certainly hungry for more.

Timid, the Brave – Timid, the Brave album review

There’s a place where the burned out smokestacks of the city skyline spout great plumes of inspiration and creativity. Where people say hello to each other on the street, and the hollow clink of spared change in empty cup, resounds with the warm familiarity of a childhood wind-chime. Where abandoned mills have been transformed into studios, and the proud sons and daughters of steel workers are now musicians, or creative entrepreneurs. Where is this magical place, you might ask? Well my friends, the answer might surprise you. It’s a little known place up North called Canada, which happens to be home to the Alberta born singer-songwriter, Tim Selles, who recently adopted the new moniker Timid, the Brave for his self-titled debut EP.

Suffice it to say that this debut EP bleeds tragically with equal parts promise and shortfall. But before garnering a folk manifesto of critical slander, lets back up a bit in order to better understand the context of Timid, the Braves still green EP debut.

Before Selles took on the new moniker and went solo, he carved a reputation for himself as the front man for Bruekke, a local string trio based in Ontario. Bruekke quickly became a staple folk act among the up-and-coming community of artists and musicians in the city of Hamilton, a unique post-industrial town once known for manufacturing steel. The rise and fall of depleted industry in Hamilton left a rich blue stain on the collar of the city’s historically rust-tinged infrastructure, and gave way for a local boom in creative industry that capitalized on self-sustainability, and a utilitarian approach to craft. It was with these sentiments in mind, that locally acclaimed Indy record label Other Songs Record Co., produced Bruekke’s promising debut EP, the Loft in January, 2011. Bruekke immediately went on to begin recording their first full-length album, Once Around the Sun, but by July of 2012, the distraught string trio decided to go separate ways, saying that the recording process this time around had been, “a clarifying experience.”

After Bruekkes sudden disbandment, Selles began writing what he claimed to be, “somewhat darker, more introspective songs; songs that wrestle with the disappointments of failure, the allure of departure, and the complexities of faith.” With his somber new collection of songs, Selles adopted the stage name Timid, the Brave, and spent the next three months recording his new self-titled solo EP, Timid, the Brave, which was released November 16, 2012.

The people of Hamilton commonly say, ‘Art is the new steel.’ If this encouraging local mantra bears any relevance whatsoever to Timid, the Brave, it might be in reference to its tepid emotional quality, and seemingly untempered demeanor. The album is clearly marked by a dramatic sense of loss, but most of the darkness Selles attempts to channel is washed to grey through the cleanliness of his arrangements, and his inability to deliver raw, unmitigated anguish vocally. Like most of the songs on Timid, the Brave, the title track, “Why Should I Stay?” demonstrates an articulate lyrical command, but neglects the use of any compositional tact that might sensationalize Selles’ potent songwriting abilities. After the first minute of the song, you aren’t really going to hear anything you haven’t already heard. Just new words fit back into the initial progression. This is a recurring problem throughout the whole EP, but in all fairness to Selles, simplicity and repetition have always been conventions of traditional folk music.

The second track, “Crowe River,” skillfully utilizes his delicate finger picking patterns and acoustic progressions to take us to a place of simple beauty for what feels like a contemplative stroll through the woods. The dynamic handling of vocal tracks for the whole album is balanced to a tee, and bears an unmistakable intimacy that can be likened to Bon Iver. The album peaks with tracks three and four, “Metal,” and, “My Wolves,” the former of which is the first song on the album to make use of any subtle percussion tempo. “Metal,” is one of the few songs on the EP that really indulges in a hook, and when paired effectively with the driving acoustic progression, it certainly stands strong. “My Wolves,” is sure to be the favorite of the EP, combining compelling lyrics with a more pronounced build up. Selles’ struggles are effectively portrayed in this track more than any other, however, it is also particularly evident in this track that his sound would greatly benefit from supporting musicians. Watch Bruekke’s version of “My Wolves,” on youtube, and you’ll quickly see what you’re missing.

The second half of the album, though enjoyable, tends to wash over you with the same brooding tone. No new tricks or surprises, but then again, one of the most inviting aspects of folk music– both to musicians and fans alike– is that not everyone out there with a set of strings and a story has to be reinventing the proverbial wagon wheel. Folk appreciating folks from the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters and beyond, recognize that the stories, traditions, and techniques applied widely by folk musicians are meant to be drawn from and built upon. This is what lends such a timeless quality to the genre, but it is also what tends to marginalize folk music from mainstream listeners. Even though musicians like Timid, the Brave usually don’t quite muster the moxy to hold strong on a national or mainstream level, they attest to a regional music culture that is significant within the scope of folk roots.

At the end of the day, in undeniably modest fashion, Selles’ EP serves up a warm basket of folk-hearten pleasantries that is far from intolerable, yet still severely lacking in much pronounced flavor. But at the same time, one can’t help but find something to enjoy from Timid, the Brave, even if it simply serves as unseasoned sustenance to the hungry folk listener. At the very least, you are guaranteed pure, simple, quality-driven folk music served fresh from Ontario, that has been preserved and distributed by a people-powered record label. Such bands are a triumphant model for music lovers seeking to support good local musicians, and keep their dirty dollars away from an industry’s that will inevitably tuck it into the cleavage of some god awful pop-Frankenstein.

Though this might not have been the triumphant victory that Selles was looking for, a guitar and a notebook will be all he needs to deem him armed and dangerous amidst a potential folk-revival.

Teen Daze – All of Us, Together album review

I wish I could just be BFF’s with every up-and-coming young artist on the scene, I really do. But at the end of the day, I’m just like you, or at least some of the poor bastards you know: I’ve got a job to do. I don’t earn my ridiculous canvas bags of money with dollar signs on them from being nice, I earn them from being honest (not to be confused with the money that gets tucked in my my man-thong at night– that money comes from being nice). So with honesty in mind, I guess I should probably just get to the sublimely “blah” album by Teen Daze that I’m supposed to review, huh? Alright then, here goes…

Teen Daze is a digitally composed electronic band based out of Vancouver that has been cultivating a young cult-crowd since 2010. I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to actually know this or not, but Teen Daze is composed solely of a young fellow by the name of Jameson. Jameson has been pushing his upbeat digital delights to the ears of listeners via viral media streams, and after a string of successful re-mixes, singles, and digital EP’s that fared quite well under a guerilla marketing formula, he has finally done his loyal corner of listeners the favor of acquiring a label and putting forth his first full length LP, All of Us, Together.

Teen Dazes’ self-proclaimed thesis is to evoke an auditory “Utopia” of sorts in the music, and if that doesn’t sound un-challenging or naive enough for you, wait till you hear about the loosely founded album concept. All of Us, Together is supposedly inspired by “Out of the Silent Planet,” a science fiction novel from C.S. Lewis’ famed Space Trilogy. As a fan of the trilogy, I was thrilled to find this out, but after actually listening to the album I quickly became convinced that Teen Daze has borrowed some tricks from his Teen Days, in not only skipping the cliff notes for Out of the Silent Planet, but basing an entire LP off of the utopian illustrations of the books cover. Did Jameson simply miss that the premise of the book is about a man being drugged and kidnapped by aliens for sacrifice? He must have skimmed past that minor thematic detail, along with the contradictions, intrigue, and excitement of the book that never translated into All of Us, Together’s infinitely droll, happy-go-lucky sound.

Jameson sophomorically claims that All of Us, Together is meant to be “…synthetic, yet inviting- this is futuristic music with a heart.” Replace the word ‘synthetic’ with electric, and ‘inviting’ with happy, and you’ll arrive at  All of Us, Together. Much of the albums style borrows from a somewhat dated sub-genre of electronic music known as “chillwave,” employing rudimentary sampling techniques, repetition, processed synthesizers, and a spacious ambient backdrop. Unlike some of the more compelling chillwave music though, you won’t find a single song on this album that is danceable. This supposed “futuristic music with a heart” is severely lacking a soul, and as an attempt toward anything meant to sound futuristic, I can’t help but wonder why I feel like I’m listening to slow-building ambient trance from the wake of electronica.

I’m generally inclined to turn lemons into lemonade when listening to music, but I didn’t even reach a head-bobbing moment until the 7th track on the album. At one point, I walked off to take a pee, and when I came back I couldn’t tell how many songs had passed. These are general symptoms of highly uninteresting electronica compositions, and given the short but accelerated history of this captivating genre thus forth, I don’t think there is room for artists to not be inventive. If you happen to have a hefty bag filled with hallucinogens at hand, All of Us, Together might hit the spot just right. If not, I’m hard pressed to find anything worthwhile going on while wandering through Jameson’s relatively monotonous soundscapes. I don’t need electronic compositions to be complex for me to enjoy them, but I need them to be compelling enough to keep me interested. All of Us, Together falls short of this mark, and I highly doubt I’m the only one that hopes Teen Daze works towards a utopian vision that is a little less sleepy in the future.

Public Image Ltd – This is PiL album review

More often then not, you tend to know what to expect when an old band tries to make a comeback with a “new” album. I don’t mean “old” like how the digitally fed culture kids of current times mean old either (as in several i-pod generations away or, maybe even two years old), I mean, like, really old. Such albums tend to defy the word “new” by re-working a combination of old tricks with old styles and sounds that ultimately equate to nothing new. Conversely, there are shining exceptions to the pitfalls of this stereotype. Paul Simon’s albums continue to be a great example of someone remaining true to his sound, yet still always working toward something new and innovative. Bob Dylan has certainly had up’s and down’s, but he keeps working, and though he lost much of his mainstream appeal, the folk legend simply needs to keep making music and playing it for folks willing to listen– is that so bad? Hell, if anything proves that the big comeback is possible, listen to the B-52’s 2008 album Funplex, which immediately took a surprising #11 spot on the American billboards, marking the second most popular B-52’s album of all time.

What I’m getting at here, is that successful comebacks for older bands can happen, they just don’t happen very often. Though punk fans might well have just puked in their mouth at hearing the bands I just cited, there is a significant difference in the claims to those bands’ genres that makes a comeback album more feasible. So what happens when one of the founding fathers of punk and post-punk genres takes a shot at the comeback album? The results are as interesting as they are problematic and contradictory.

Public image Ltd’s recent release of This Is PiL falls somewhere in between success and failure as comeback albums go. If you aren’t familiar with PiL (which is forgivable at this point), let me re-trace some steps for you. In 1978, John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotton of the Sex Pistols), crafted an experimental concoction of sounds that complimented the recent explosion of punk music with reggae infused dub bass, experimentally geared krautrock percussion and synth, american funk, and even some audible traces of disco. Lydon called the new project Public image Ltd., and by the time their influential sophomore album Metal Box was released, PiL had effectively shaped a unique new movement that became known as “post-punk.” The rest of PiL’s career wasn’t nearly as pretty though. After a 14 year stretch encompassing 6 questionable albums, an ever rotating roster of bandmates, and constant disputation with producers, John Lydon finally decided to call it quits on Public Image Ltd. Ten years later, Lydon had saved enough money to personally fund the latest PiL album, This is PiL. At the very least, you have to appreciate that he wanted a return album bad enough to personally fund it, right?

Needless to say, a certain weight comes with listening to This is PiL because lets face it, nobody wants to see one of the major founding grandfather’s of punk music shit the bed. Unfortunately though, after hearing the opening title track “This Is PiL,” a reasonable person could only assume such defecation is about to take place literally and metaphorically. Thankfully, the second song “One Drop,” is a much needed relief from the title track. The singing is very typical of Lydon’s uncomplicated two-tone style, and though the lyrics could easily be perceived as overdramatic or immature, they successfully excite the ears when paired with the simple guitar strokes that made music lovers trash theory in favor of thrashing. “Deeper Water,” embraces the eerie dub-root bass tones that traditionally added the creepy undertone to funk-ish post-punk classics. Along with some of the better tracks on this album, “Deeper Water” does a great job in skillfully combining the raw build up of punk noise, with a balanced bass groove, unrelenting ambient synth, and undecorated repetition on all levels.

Lydon seems to hit a certain stride in This Is PiL with the emotionally charged track “The Room I Am In.” Above all, you get the sense that Lydon actually has some genuine messages within his angst-laden lyrics, and among the stream-of-conscious build up of spoken word, he shares a darker poetic rambling that bears a mystical resemblance to some of The Doors more experimental songs. Songs like “I Must Be Dreaming,”and “Lollipop Opera” are sure to disappoint the grittier punk fans out there though. Both songs carry a deliberate pop quality, mushy lyrics, and a danceable hook line that will be very attractive to crowds of people that post-punk fans wouldn’t want to be caught dead with at a show. I cant wait to see what Lydon has to say when “Lollipop Opera” gets re-mixed by some mainstream boob-vehicle, and he has to answer to crowds of weeping Sex Pistol fans. Did I go too far?

All and all, This Is PiL offers some new sounds, some old sounds, and some similar sounds, which as a dreaded “come back” album, is equal parts win and lose. Do not go so far to dismiss the album as typical, boring, or ordinary though. Some pleasant surprises and intricate twists definitely occur on This is PiL; surprises that ultimately cause a listener to not only believe that Lydon is once again desperate and hungry to profess his gritty anti-passion for snubbing the man, but that he might actually have some life left in his career. Enough to bestow a bar-napkin manifesto of sorts upon the poor young new punks looking for a decent indecent role-model? I highly doubt it.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Here album review

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros might well be one of the few outstanding contemporary examples of pure and enjoyable, feel-good, family friendly music that makes the tenuous journey all the way to the ears of mainstream listeners and back again with applaudable unpretentious, and resounding gusto. Their hopeful tone and charm-the-pants off you positivity are not up for debate even among the coldest of critics, but now, with their forthcoming release of the commonly ill-cited sophomore album, the band is sure to face a wide variety of praise and criticism. Perhaps what I’m really starting to appreciate about this eclectic band of seemingly nomadic musicians though, is the sense you get from them that they really couldn’t give less of a damn.

If you haven’t heard the grass-root gossip surrounding ES&MZ’ mysterious messianic premise, it is surely worth the moment it takes me to surmise it. As the story goes: Alexander Ebert, the front man for L.A. progressive rock band Ima Robot, put his selfish, nay-saying, bratt-itude to rest along with excessive hollywood parties, and a considerable heroin addiction. But I shouldn’t have to tell you that it wasn’t easy. Ebert’s breakthrough occurred in the wake of a hazy period marked by several soul searching stints of rehab, a breakup with his long time girlfriend, and roughly a year on the floor of a cheap room with only a blow up mattress. If that isn’t fodder for genuine art then I don’t know what is. Amidst all this, Alexander began writing a story about a messiah-like character named Edward Sharpe that ‘came to earth to kinda heal and save mankind… but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.‘ It should come as no surprise that when Ebert saw Jade Castrinos sitting on a bench, he immediately knew he wanted to have a relationship with her, and when he effectively got distracted and fell in love, they decided to start an Indy-folk collective to take his Edward Sharpe premise to the next level.

ES&MZ’ premiere 2009 EP, Up From Below, found success on multiple avenues, and after the bands warm-hearted Americana single “Home” rapidly caught fire taking summer radio hostage with a whistle solo and an impossibly likable music video, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zero’s earned a “household name” status very early on. The band toured ferociously earning renowned street credit for the energy and vigor of their performances, which is largely a reason for their loyal following. But after the estrangement of Alex and Jade’s relationship, and some rocky tours overseas, the future of the band seemed questionable. The jangling gang of ragtag collaborators took a break, and Alexander quietly released a solo album that was met with considerable praise.

Now, fresh from a healthy break, ES&MZ are back once again to grace our ears with their second album Here. Though Here suffers from a polarized flow from beginning to end, there is a strong handful of tracks that stand up to some of the most defining musical moments in Up From Below, which is no small feat. In the very first track, “Man On Fire,” Ebert comes out strong proclaiming his true desire to dance with the ‘whole damn world,’ and among the spirited yelps and warm choruses, you pretty much know he’s got another hit on his hands. “Man On Fire” is a bit more reminiscent of the sound on Up From Below, but when Jade takes center stage for the dangerously catchy tunes “Thats Whats Up,” and “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” it becomes apparent that the whole band has really gained some momentum in their time off, and that they are all cultivating a sound together. These two songs really explore a direction of upbeat stomp and clap Mississippi gospel which might very well be a style that ES&MZ highlights more of in upcoming work.

The fourth track, “Mayla” is the beautiful kind of hippy swaying song you might expect off of a Beatles album, and surprisingly, it marks the first prominent appearance of a horn. The next few songs are a bit more meditative, and though they give the album a wholesome consistency, they create a discernible lull that departs from the spirit and energy that the earlier tracks built toward. Though I can appreciate a conscious effort to not focus on Ebert as the sole member of the band, much of the lyrical imagery he commands is unfortunately diluted from the over abundance of harmony and the effects of the hymnal style that only prove effective in moderation, or contrast. “Fiya Wata” leads to a strong finish on Here by emphasizing Jane’s powerful vocal abilities and souping up the bands timeless sound by combining their saloon style piano jingles with a host of meandering classical guitar riffs and a heavy set percussion timing that recalls an epic Skynard ballad.

All and all, Here is an album that truly carries a tone of reconciliation, which to hordes of faithful followers often referred to as “ED-heads,” is great news. This sense of resolution is grandiose in its pertinence to the literal sound they create, as well as in the prospects of evoking a spiritual sense of awareness to listeners. This surely didn’t happen on accident, but in a society with an increasingly tolerant social attitude, it seems comical to me that ES&MZ might actually be taking some new and unique risks in their overtly pro-religion stance.

However you feel about Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, or their recent release of Here, you’ve got to admire their new found sense of ambition. Wait, I forgot to tell you? Oh yeah, Here is one of two albums slated to be released this year. Hopefully that will be enough to keep fans happy while they finish the twelve-part rock opera they are working on, we’ll have to see.