press releases reviews

The Coathangers – Larceny and Old Lace album review

In the last 40 years there’s been a consistently angsty market for the reckless, screeching noise-rock scene that has given birth to (or arguably come as a result of) such notable bands as Sonic Youth.  Five years ago in Atlanta, The Coathangers – an all-girl quartet formed by way of pawnshop instruments – came crashing on the scene and since their debut they have transformed into a wild and surprising group of rock stars capable of ripping your head off without thinking twice.

Initially, their releases were exactly what you’d expect; a hodgepodge of simplistic songs that were more scratched, screamed and banged-out than performed, but on Larceny and Old Lace, their third and most recent record, there has been an unmistakable shift toward refinement. It seems as though the girls have – after two full-length albums among a slew of 7” singles and several years of both headlining and supporting shows – actually learned how to play, write and perform as a band.

This time, the songwriting is considerably less homogonous, the instrumentation, though simplistic shows appreciable improvement, and though certainly not a record that stands out for its outstanding musicianship or lyricism, Larceny and Old Lace is a definite upgrade for this group.

The record opens with “Hurricane,” a grungy thrasher that sets the stage for an impressively menacing collection of songs.  Immediately following is “Trailer Park Boneyard,” a bi-polar throwback to 60’s ambient rock with a musical answer to the line, “go on and set me free” that will shock you into comatose submission.  Tracks like “Call to Nothing” and “My Baby” are eerie stalker anthems that could comfortably provide the soundtrack to any bad dream while “Jaybird” sounds like a Tim Burton film viewed in fast-forward.

If this record is any indication of where this band is going, I’m inordinately excited to see what their future will hold.  This is a classic example of a band best suited for live performance, but they seem to be getting better at capture some of that intensity on their records.  Future releases aside, Larceny and Old Lace is undoubtedly their best yet.


Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong album review

These days it’s rare to find a band that knows how to make a great record; most recent releases, even from established artists have resulted in at least an ounce of disappointment.  However, Nothing Is Wrong, the second full-length release from LA-based group, Dawes, is nothing short of spectacular.  There simply isn’t a weak link to be found anywhere on this record; everything from the production to the compilation is utter perfection.  But what stands out about this album – what ranks them above almost every band from the last 30 years – is their songwriting.  Anymore, songwriting has been reduced to some kid in his parents’ basement spouting off whatever garbage he can think of but this album is a long-awaited breath of fresh air.

The lyrics on this release are simple, straightforward and telling and seem to draw refreshing likeness to Jackson Browne (among many others).  In “Moon On The Water”, a soft and heartfelt ballad sung in a voice nostalgically similar to Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, Taylor Goldsmith (Lead Vocals) sings us the complexities of life and love through the perfectly crafted lines that read more like poetry than rock music:  “Love is for the fighter born to lose but never quit, swinging for the moon in the water.”

On Tom Petty-esque, “If I Wanted Someone”, the simple words, “If I wanted someone to understand me, I’d have so much more to say.  I want you to make the days move easy” are a staggering proclamation of an idea that holds more weight in our lives than we give credit for; it leaves me wondering how much better my relationships could have been if I had only had these guys to explain things.

Moreover, superb songwriting, though abundant, isn’t the only gem on this record.  The production (Jonathan Wilson) is so true to the 1970’s that my ears have been thanking me relentlessly since my first listen.

If there’s ever been a band that every genre could stand to learn something from, Dawes is it.  From approach to delivery, every song on this phenomenal record is a masterpiece.


Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts album review

To pigeonhole an artist like Thurston Moore would be to tragically overlook his seemingly endless list of releases, collaborators and projects. Produced by Beck Hansen, Moore’s most recent release, Demolished Thoughts, is a true testament to his daunting musical genius: This is an album presented with the unyielding confidence and finesse of a true veteran mastermind.   The tone is mellower than I expected – even more so than 2007 release, Trees Outside the Academy – dwelling mostly in the melancholy reservation that so wholly inhabits Hansen’s own Sea Change (2002).

Production on this album is both flawless and absolutely vital.  Though Moore has enormous potential, he still writes within relative creative proximity to his days with Sonic Youth and with this record’s stripped-down acoustic instrumentation, his songs run a high risk of feeling incomplete or unfulfilled.  This is a challenge effortlessly overcome with beautifully simple violin (Samara Lubelski) and harp (Mary Lattimore) lines in conjunction with patient and tasteful drums, bass and acoustic guitars. The emanating soundscapes seem to hold as much potency as the lyrics themselves; a democracy clearly illustrated by lengthy instrumental sections, most notably on “Blood Never Lies” and “Mina Loy”.

Tracks such as “Circulation” are rife with tension and elegance that play off each other endlessly to rare and exquisite effect while more effortless songs like “Benediction” provide comforting gratification through satisfying composition.   Beck’s production is admirable in that it allows the stronger titles such as “In Silver Rain With A Paper Key” and “January” – songs that can clearly stand on their own – the freedom to exist without becoming weighted down or overly complicated.  Simultaneously, some of the albums weaker tracks, such as “Illuminine” and “Orchard Street” both benefit enormously and rely heavily on Hansen’s creative contributions.

It’s hard to imagine this record – these songs – in any other incarnation. Composition and disposition work together impeccably to construct a sincerely unique experience, far removed from anything I’ve ever heard.  Demolished Thoughts is quite possibly the most fantastical release in his enduring career and is, without a doubt, a record worthy of study and admiration.


Sloan – The Double Cross album review

More than anything, The Double Cross, the most recent release from 20-year veteran rockers, Sloan, is a frustrating disappointment.  This is their 10th full-length release, and as you’d expect, it’s full of power-pop tracks straight out of the 60s, 70s and 80s, however the album as a whole – as an artistic venture – is a tragic letdown.  I’ll be the first to tell you I’m thrilled that bands like Sloan still exist if for no other reason than to put out great, classic rock in this relative wasteland of musical filth. Time after time, Sloan have managed to uphold the lost art of releasing albums that work together as a whole to the endless benefit of each individual song, but this record is a sorry excuse for a cohesive result.

Each of the four members that make up the band (Chris Murphy, Jay Ferguson, Patrick Pentland and Andrew Scott) is a talented songwriter, and on past records, this powerful combination of writing styles has provided an enormous advantage by giving their albums a diverse amalgamation of musical influence, but this time, they couldn’t quite get it together.

Strangely, there are more than a few great cuts on this record and the first three tracks stand together marvelously.  Trashy grunge rocker, “Follow The Leader” starts out the album with an artfully crafted transition in to Ferguson’s “The Answer Was You”; an ode to retro pop reminiscent of The Cars.  Directly following, another subtle shift brings us into the third title, “Unkind”, a track strongly evocative of David Byrne circa The Talking Heads.

Tracks like CSNY-inspired “Green Gardens, Cold Montreal”, “Traces”, reminiscent of Bob Dylan and Blue Öyster Cult, and Queen-esque, “It’s Plain to See” are all well-written B-sides just waiting to be discovered.  Sadly, if you were looking to find an album ready to be savored – to be enjoyed wholly – this isn’t the one for you.

It pains me to say, but this is a record better suited for cutting up and placing on mix-tapes than for enjoying as a whole and that, more than anything, is the biggest disappointment of all.


Austra – Feel It Break album review

A Much Needed Lesson In Diversity

Generally speaking, I’ve not been a huge fan of modern psychedelic electronic music.  I find it on the whole a generic genre with little to offer anyone hoping to get something deeper out of the experience.  That’s why when I popped in Feel It Break, the debut record from Canadian band, Austra, I was pleasantly shocked.  The Band is fronted by singer/songwriter/composer, Katie Stelmanis, a classically trained Opera fanatic who draws undeniable likeness to Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane.

The range of genres and influences contained within the 11 tracks on this record is astounding.  Album opener, “Darken Her Horse” calls on Jim Morrison-esque lyrics while synth-rich title, “Spellwork” features industrial music beds reminiscent of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.  In addition to popular musical references, many of these tracks, most notably vocal masterpiece, “Hate Crime”, prove that Stelmanis has a knack for arrangement and composition that even Beethoven could have appreciated.

The album’s single, “The Beat and the Pulse” seems considerably less off-kilter than any other track on the record; straightforward rhythms and repetitive melodies provide a bit of accessibility to her unique style where other songs might be too strange for some to stomach. I find that singles are rarely representative of the album as a whole and this is no exception.  The closing track, “The Beast”, a beautiful piano/vocal piece with a surprisingly complex chord structure, strips down the instrumentation providing one last testament to Stelmanis’ vocal power.

The way Austra has incorporated the tension and intrigue of classical music and operatic singing into the infectious dance grooves found throughout the record proves that this album is a perfect representation of diversity:  It pays homage to a vast array of artists and genres, doing each of them a great justice by emphasizing the best they have to offer.  After learning this record – after studying it – it’s clear to me that it falls in an elite category of music, one that is defined by one simple rule: in order to find its true beauty it’s absolutely necessary to listen.

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