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Sally Shapiro – Somewhere Else album review

I like to think of myself as a pretty open listener when it comes to music. Even when I’m exposed to a niche or genre that is completely foreign and not necessarily appealing to me, I can usually find something about it that excites me on some level. Unfortunately, that was really hard for me to do when I heard Sally Shapiro’s latest album, Somewhere Else. Maybe I just don’t “get it.” Maybe Italo disco synthpop isn’t my bag. Either way, this album left me underwhelmed.

This isn’t to say that the album was bad; Somewhere Else does have some very beautiful moments. As a vocalist, Sally Shapiro (a pseudonym, by the way) has a pixie-like, ethereal quality that is sweet and dreamy. The music is well-composed. But throughout the album, you have this feeling that you should be rollerskating on Quaaludes. Somewhere Else, though very dance-y and disco-y, feels subdued and detached from reality, which is how I imagine Quaaludes would feel. And for me, one of the best things about music is the connection you make to it. But songs like “What Can I Do,” despite its charming flute solo, are hard to connect to.

One of the standouts from the chimerical haze is “Starman,” a collaboration with Electric Youth. The song isn’t any less otherworldly, but the addition of Electric Youth’s influence really adds something; one could imagine this song flooding the popular radio stations, or at least the dance floors.

Somewhere Else seems like a good example of something that’s just a little too out there. Everybody loves a dreamy, whimsical album. But when that is the aim, there’s always the danger of going too far away from reality; that makes difficult for listeners to connect to it. And if there’s no connection, it just becomes background music.

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Caitlin Rose – The Stand In album review

Doesn’t it sometimes seem that popular country music is starting to sound a little too much like just plain old pop? The raw vocals and twangy guitar have been buried beneath synthesizers and polished riffs. That’s perfectly fine; many would say it’s just another step in the evolution of country music. But if you’re looking for some new but old-fashioned Nashville country, Caitlin Rose is the cure for what ails you. The Stand In, the young singer’s second full-length album, is a beautiful ode to what country music used to be.

The album has all of the elements of classic country music: plaintive steel guitars, ambling banjos, the occasional organ, sad stories, and an expressive voice. Caitlin Rose has roots in country music (both of her parents work and raised her in the industry) and it’s clear that she has a lot of natural talent. That makes for a great album.

“Waitin'” is a flawless hybrid of a tango and a country waltz with a catchy, syncopated chorus. Be warned, it will get in your head and stay there for all of eternity. With lyrics like, “You said love has always been kind to you, now you know it can be unkind too,” it’s the perfect screw-you-and-screw-love breakup song. It’s the kind of song you want to belt out yourself, until you realize you’re on a train platform, surrounded by commuters. Whoops.

“Dallas” is a great old-school ballad about homesickness. The steel guitar almost sounds rueful. In just the first ten seconds of the song, you can tell you’re in for some nostalgia. But “Dallas” isn’t without its modern charms. In the first verse of the song, Rose sings “The runway is set, let’s move this fucking jet. I have to go, despite all sleet and snow,” and you remember that it’s 2013. Interestingly, though, it doesn’t take you out of the moment. By the end of the song, you’re feeling wistful.

There aren’t any bad songs on The Stand In. It’s as though each song has a different purpose. There are songs for rainy days, songs for great days, songs for long days, and songs to drift to sleep to. I do find myself confused by the album’s title, though. Who exactly is The Stand In? Surely, it can’t be Miss Caitlin Rose herself; she is an artist worthy of her own place in the alternative and country music communities.

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The Little Ones – The Dawn Sang Along album review

The Little Ones, after years of indie pop obscurity, have finally created an album worthy of the genre. Their latest album, The Dawn Sang Along, is practically the poster child for indie pop. With tracks like “Argonauts” and “AWOL,” this album was practically written for popular indie radio.

The album, consisting of eleven radio-friendly tracks, seems like the perfect compilation of songs created to draw in new and old fans alike. Most of the songs are happy and hypnotizing; each song is catchy in its own way.

There are a couple of tracks on the album that escape the indie pop cookie cutter; “Art in the Streets” starts out with an interesting bossa nova feel, and mysteriously transforms into an indie tune. It’s truly mesmerizing how it happens so effortlessly. These are the songs worth looking out for.

One of the other exceptional tracks on the album is “Catch the Movement,” which employs a fair amount of onomatopoeia. The song is cute and catchy, but also unconventional. For some reason, it sets itself apart from the rest of the songs on The Dawn Sang Along.

If you’re looking for the next band to replace Foster the People, The Little Ones is a good place to start. Their latest album, The Dawn Sang Along seems like an album that will please many people across a few genres. While the tracks are catchy and melodic, they aren’t anything innovative. Unfortunately, the album isn’t anything ground-breaking and it leaves one to question the future direction of the band.

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Screaming Females – Chalk Tape album review

If you’ve ever listened to anything by Screaming Females, you’ve likely grown accustomed to their relentless, almost aggressive brand of indie punk. The New Jersey trio’s newest EP, Chalk Tape, is incredibly different. In an incredible way. Though surprisingly short (even for an EP), Chalk Tape beautifully showcases musical styles one might not have thought Screaming Females capable of.

To be clear: this is not some deviation that slaps the Females’ post-punk roots in the face. Rather, it complements the hard, intense style that has served the band so well over the years. Chalk Tape contains a couple of tracks that sound like classic Screaming Females, and those songs are great. “Crushing the Kingdom” is one of those songs. It sounds like it might be at home on any of the band’s previous albums.

But the songs that really matter are the ones that aren’t so classic. They are unexpected, creative, and mind-blowing. The opening track of Chalk Tape is a prime example. With harmonizing vocals and a heavy, funky bass, “Sick Bed” is catchy and slightly reminiscent of Cold War Kids. But it’s wonderful. Throughout the EP, Screaming Females flirts with different elements, from the Middle-Eastern influenced “Into the Sun” to the screamy-metal “Wrecking Ball.”

“Poison Arrow” is a true gem on the album, showcasing more of lead singer Marissa Paternoster’s impressive vocal range. The song’s composition is not complex, but it’s simplicity makes it all the more mesmerizing.

My only complaint with this album is that it isn’t long enough. By the end of the closing track, “Green Vapors,” I was legitimately bummed that there wasn’t more. It’s not that the album isn’t satisfying; I could listen to Chalk Tape on repeat for hours. It feels more like when your favorite television show ends with a cliffhanger and you have to wait nine months to find out what happens. You are enthralled but you crave more.

For the Screaming Females newcomer, I can’t think of a better place to start than this EP. Chalk Tape is a nice little sampler of the full range of skill the band puts into its albums. Screaming Females has proven that they have more in their repertoire than they originally let on. If this is a new direction for Screaming Females, I can’t wait to hear their next album.

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The Mary Onettes – Hit the Waves album review

Do you miss the 80’s? Do you tire of the endless expanse of new wave music that already exists? Perhaps you just yearn for an album to fall asleep to? If you answered any of these questions in the affirmative, then The Mary Onettes’ latest album is probably perfect for you. Hit the Waves is the Swedish band’s third full-length album and I’ll be honest: it wasn’t for me.

The album itself is very… pretty. It’s arranged well and the harmonies are impeccable. The Mary Onettes have managed to perfectly capture that sound that was so popular in the 80s. One song that I truly enjoyed was “Evil Coast,” which manages to be dreamy and melancholy at the same time. The lyrics speak to loss and despair, and it feels true; it’s evident in front man Philip Ekström’s plaintive crooning. Then comes the next track, “Hit the Waves,” and despite the beautiful string arrangement, it’s more of the same. More melancholy. More compositions reminiscent of that golden age of 80s new wave.

That’s the biggest problem with Hit the Waves. The songs, though pretty and well put-together, are just more of the same.  Honestly, after the fourth track or so, they all start to sound the same. No one song really stands out.

It seems like the album should be amazing. Like with their previous albums, The Mary Onettes has made a true and earnest attempt at a new wave revival. But I just can’t get beyond the feeling like I’ve heard all of this before. The thing about the revival of genre is that there should be something new that draws us back and invites us to rediscover what we liked about it in the first place. I just don’t feel that with Hit the Waves.

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Boats – A Fairway Full of Miners album review

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m going to share something with you. Growing up can be a drag. And it sneaks up on you like a sneaky, sneaky time thief. I’m not even thirty yet, and I recently found myself wondering aloud, “Where did the time go!?” Then, with almost perfect timing, I heard Boats’ new album, A Fairway Full of Miners. It’s not the antidote for the grown-up blues; it’s better than that because it’s commiseration. This album is about life, and not any one part of life in particular. It’s just about life. And what’s more, it’s fun as hell. There’s nothing better than a little Canadian indie pop to shake away your troubles.

The music on A Fairway Full of Miners is nice, but it isn’t anything spectacular or special. Most of the songs feature toe-tapping rhythms and basic complements to the real star of the album: Vocalist Mat Klachefsky and his lyrics. The real connection with this album comes from his high-pitched voice and befuddling verses like , “O, frothy eater of sandwiches!” Klachefsky has a real knack for describing things in the oddest, but most heartfelt way. Most of the album is like that; the lyrics seem random and nonsensical at first, but if you take another minute, those words start making sense. Most of the songs have to do with living life and accepting it. Sometimes the sentiment sounds like a resigned acceptance (see “Getting Worst.jpeg”), and other times it sounds like a battle cry (“Great Skulls”).

“Advice on Bears” is one of the standouts on the album because of the intriguing title, catchy guitar part, and practical information. The song ends with the line, “Just remember they’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” which is handy information to remember if you ever run into a bear. The sequel to this song, “Advice on Bioluminescent Bears,” is less helpful, but more dynamic.

A Fairway Full of Miners isn’t deep. It doesn’t present any emotional breakthroughs, and a lot of people probably won’t get it. But it’s endearing through its simple oddness. The melodies are catchy and message is real. And if nothing else, you’ll walk away from this album knowing a little more about bears.

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Sin Fang – Flowers album review

For long-time fans, first impressions of Flowers by Sin Fang will likely be conflicting. That’s because Seabear frontman Sindri Már Sigfússon’s third solo album takes a decidedly different direction from his previous rock-influenced album, Summer Echoes. With the addition of stringed instruments and sweeping arrangements, Flowers sounds more like a folk-pop symphony. With the imagery of nature and expert arrangements in nearly every song, Sigfússon seems to have painted a rather breathtaking picture of some far-off land. Unlike Summer Echoes, Flowers has an extra something that makes you feel as if you’re being transported to some mystical, ethereal place. The album completely surrounds you with this new environment and that’s not a quality you find very often.

The album tends to overwhelm with its introductory track, “Young Boys.” There’s a lot going on musically and it lends to a sense of loosely organized chaos. But the more you listen to it, the more you realize how organic and naturally beautiful it all sounds. The sooner you realize that, the more you’ll enjoy the album.

One standout from the album is “Look at the Light,” a dynamic and hauntingly beautiful overture. The song is stunning, even with the chilling piano part and enigmatic lyrics like, “If I go back to that place, I know I’ll see you, but I don’t want to, even though I want to.” Watching the music video adds to this feeling.

The only song that doesn’t seem to fit quite perfectly is the more rock-heavy “See Ribs.” While impressive on its own, the aggressive lyrics (“Boy you know I hate you and all your friends”) and rushing tempo tend to take you out of the dream-like state you achieve with the other tracks.

Flowers is a beautifully written and arranged album that deserves a listening to, despite its flaws. The album has an uncanny ability to take you somewhere beautiful, mysterious, and foreign; a place anybody would be happy to explore, even if only for an hour or so.

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Whitehorse – The Road to Massey Hall album review

Not a lot of musicians create albums in anticipation of a single performance. However, Whitehorse will be playing a show worthy of such an honor on March 2nd at Massey Hall in Toronto. In the weeks before the band plays its debut headlining performance, the husband and wife duo released an EP as a tribute to the venue and the folk legends that have crossed its stage. The Road To Massey Hall consists of six tracks, each a cover of an artist who has performed at Massey Hall at some point in the hall’s 119 years. Though it seems wildly ambitious to cover folk heroes such as Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan, Whitehorse does it in a way that is reverent, intimate, and ultimately endearing.

By the end of the first track, a cover of Neil Young’s “Winterlong,” I knew that what I was listening to was a sweet, tender homage to folk music. The songs are stripped down to just two guitars and two voices, and listening to it almost feels like you’re eavesdropping on something very private. As the album progresses, it’s evident that each cover was selected for a reason; each song has a special meaning to the band.

One of the brilliant qualities of this album is how the duo’s renditions of the songs seem to add depth to the original performances. Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” is a heartbreaking song inspired by his divorce in 1970. When sung as a duet, the harmonies add to the sadness, making it deeper and more complex. Whitehorse’s cover of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” sounds completely different than Bob Dylan’s version, but in a good way. In fact, it was refreshing to hear a Bob Dylan cover from somebody who obviously wasn’t trying to sound like him.

As a tribute to the hallowed venue, The Road To Massey Hall doesn’t disappoint. The covers are approached humbly, and the album thrives because of it. I’d be willing to say that few musicians have the talent to cover such classic songs tastefully, but Whitehorse pulls it off.