Fang Island – Major album review

The Brooklyn-based rock band Fang Island captured an infectious sound on its self-title LP in 2010, and its follow up album, Major, demonstrates the band’s signature positive vibes, this time conveyed through lyrics rather than solely with its unorthodox instrumentation. Hyped on the same energy found in kindergarten classrooms, the trio is as doe-eyed as ever, and happily so with lyrics that shout “I hope I never understand.” Reveling in the unknown, Fang Island offers its buoyant tone on Major, but don’t let the power piano opener of “Kindergarten” fool you. The lead-in track sets a poppy tone for the album, but from then on the rest of Major is in large part straightforward, though at times sludgy, indie rock.

The airiness of “Make Me” is reminiscent of the band’s debut album, with its mid-tempo catchy melodies and guitar harmonies, but the architecture of the track is built thoughtfully. Though the song isn’t built grand enough to peak through onto the skyline of the entire album as a memorable moment, its telling of Fang Island’s evolution that its best tracks on Major veer toward the metal spectrum of music.

The grinding riff that kick starts and weaves through “Seek It Out” brings metal tones into the guitar-driven music, much like “Dooney Rock,” which demonstrates a southern/speed metal element complete with furious guitar picking and clapping hands. “Chompers” is another wonderfully constructed song, and this one, unlike “Make Me,” stands as the grandest silhouette on the horizon with its obsessively technical guitar work. The instrumentation is well executed that the lack of lyrics in the track is hardly noticeable.

Maybe its ironic that the album’s best track is instrumental since I praised Fang Island for translating its cheery attitude through its lyrics this time around. However, I think this track, and the two closing tracks that follow, prove the band is transitioning. “Chime Out” and the album’s closer “Victorian,” moves away from ignorant bliss and towards focused emotion, hinting to me that the band’s next effort might stray from its effective but seasoned party pop/rock sound.


The Winter Tradition – Gradients album review

The Edinburgh-based quartet The Winter Tradition demonstrated its pop/rock sensibility on its debut album Gradients, released earlier this month. Combining the alternative rock of the early 2000s with the indie rock of the late 2000s, the album is an easy and familiar listen with moments of beautiful instrumentation.

“Firelight” opens the records with “Send The Waves” opens with a sweet xylophone melody that lasts throughout the entire track and is joined by trickling guitar riffs and licks that add punch to the delicate song. The Winter Tradition’s jangly guitars drive each track and add a beachy feel to “San Diego,” the album’s catchiest track that lacks the vocal issues found in the other songs.

Lead vocalist Ewan Simpson doesn’t take away or add anything to the band’s punchy instrumentation. His lackluster vocal performance on the album is not due to a lack of talent, but perhaps the absence of intense emotion. Instead of projecting the the intensity of emotions like agony, rapture or wrath, Simpson sounds indifferent and almost bored. Despite this shortcoming, the demonstrates several redeeming qualities such as its tight harmonies, which are a welcome force that add body to each song.

Though the vocals in “Nightscape” are reminiscent of the emo movement, the rest of the track is an ambient anthem anchored by a powerful drum performance and tasteful synthesizers. The vocals on Gradients is most convincing on the title track. With its repetitive lyrics, the song is one of few on the album that feels complete with The Winter Tradition’s static vocals. Another is “Black Tiger,” an acoustic guitar effort that compliments the imperfect vocal performance.

Regardless of the album’s shortcomings in lead vocals, it’s an engaging effort that shows promise from the young band. Simpson needs only to toughen up his voice and The Winter Tradition will capture its own sound on the the pop/rock spectrum.


The Vaccines – No Hope EP

The four Londoners in the post-punk band The Vaccines turned the volume up for their band’s new EP, No Hope. A four track effort, the EP is a straight forward and raw effort that includes two live versions of the title track. “No Hope” is a critique of the self-centered mentality of adolescents growing up, trying to figure out who they are and not giving a damn about anything else besides themselves. If you don’t recognize this phase in your life, you’re still in it! The Vaccines have a hit home on a universally relevant theme, one that goes beyond age and rather focuses on the human condition of pessimism. While the band describes teenage angst (“I don’t really care about anybody else when i don’t have my own life figured out), “No Hope” is backed by sarcasm and satire and carried by catchy guitar and imperfect vocals that make the studio version just as natural and unprocessed as the recording from Brighton and demo that act as track three and four, respectively.

Lead singer Justin Young hands the vocals over to bassist Árni Hjörvar for the b-side titled, “Blow Your Mind.” The track is the first product of a series of singles/EP by The Vaccines that will offer a b-side written and sung by a different member of the band. Ushered in with a snappy riff and a semi-muted scream, the song is fully realized by Hjörvar deep vocals, which toughen up the song’s playful lyrics (“I know your kind but darling I will blow your mind.”) A little over two minutes long, the song is a fun take on the debauchery of romantic endeavors that takes The Vaccines from a post-punk to an edgier punk rock sound.

If this EP is a taste of The Vaccines’ sophomore album, due to be released later this year, we can expect a record that is catchy, concise and somewhat restless in an untroubled way. The Vaccines sounds gutsier on No Hope, and managed to roughen its sound without losing its initial charm.


Steve Poltz – Noineen Noiny Noin album review

Don’t be put off by the strange title of Steve Poltz’s newest record, Noineen Noiny Noin. The 2012 album is a dyamic two-disc effort that explores human emotions with a tone that matches the quirkiness of its odd title. Poltz takes listeners on an 18-track journey that criss-crosses between genres while staying true to his indie folk/rock sound.

The first track of the album introduces the chaos of the songs to come. “Spirit Hands” describes a reverse coming of age story in which Poltz loses himself after already having found himself once before. Instead of reveling in the confusion of life, Poltz proclaims, “Let me dance in a room full of crazy,” and finds breezy reassurance in “I Pray It Never Comes to This.” The vibe in “Dreams 23,” a lullaby about longing for sleep, is creepy yet sweet (a la Devendra Banhart) while the track that follows, “Sucker Punch,” has an upbeat and rockabilly/country feel. The last track of the first disc captures the tongue-in-cheek tone of the album, with lyrics like “I like to watch others lovin’ with mothers,” while it also captures the other side of the spectrum, offering insight into Poltz’s introspective notions of doubt: “I think I’m a fraud, not sure if I believe in God.”

Disc two opens with “Killin’ Myself to Be With You,” a campy love song that Poltz pulls off with a short whistled interlude and lyrics like, “My pants are on fire, I’m full of desire.”  The track reintroduces the buoyant feelings created at the start of disc one, though the better portion of disc two goes along with the pensive tone found in disc one’s final track. While this second half holds many contemplative ideas, Poltz’s rawest moment comes in “Medical Career,” a track composed solely of his whispered voice and simple acoustic guitar. As he imagines his life had he not become an artist, Poltz examines the very human emotions of fear and sadness within the chaos of the world while finding solace in the universal nature of human nature.

With unpretentious vocals and playful instrumentation, Poltz has created a vibrant album so eclectic and quirky that its questionable title can be forgiven. The album inspires without giving into cliches, and it examines humans and the world we live in through multi-colored lenses that tell interwoven stories of excitement, boredom, fear and love.


Time and Space Society – Welcome Inside My Head album review

Indie rock outfit Time and Space Society’s 2012 album Welcome Inside My Head, is the bands first release since its 2007 debut. Once again utilizing English lyrics, the Hamburg/Berlin-based band completed an intimate album about the inner workings of the mind, one that chronicles the quick progression from happiness to sadness, confidence to self consciousness. Opening with “White Lights,” the album begins with a buoyant track that acts as a nice introduction to front man Claas Hoffman’s gaudy voice and Time and Space’s guitar-driven rock. With a whistled opener and a barrage of drum and bass, the song is fully realized with catchy guitar riffs and the repeated use of the line “White light inside everything.”

As Welcome Inside My Head evolves its sound becomes softer and slower, but its tone subsequently becomes darker while offering an introspective view of the human through process. “Castle In the Cloud” discusses an ideal state of mind, one that’s clean and clutter free, as Hoffman begs the questions, “What’s all this rubbish in your suitcase?” and commands listeners to throw everything away. The tone begins to shift during “Paradise,” which offers a more realistic view into the band’s seemingly unaffected thoughts. On top of quick-paced guitar riffs, Hoffman claims “In my personel parallel universe nothing hurts” before admitting “In my personal parallel country side I can hide,” ultimately suggesting an artificial facade of peace of mind.

The album reaches a low point in “I Cant’ Sleep,” as Hoffman points to the addictive self-medicating habits people adopt to relax and feel good. Between the grinding sound of slow, reverberating guitars he lists the harmful things people use to fall asleep, including alcohol and cigarettes, in a self-deprecating manner. The album closes with feelings of self-doubt and the feeling of crashing down into reality after blissful ignorance, literally repeating “come down, come down, come down” and alluding to the highs and lows of drug use and life. Despite the angry tone that Welcome Inside My Head ends on, Time and Space Society offers an accurate illustration of the mind and how quickly human emotions shift from one to the next.


Mynabirds – Generals album review

The lo-fi project of multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn, Mynabirds released its . The album opens with “Karma Debt,” a hypnotic track that sets the tone for the politically-driven indie rock album. Set to a slow tempo, the tune snakes through a mixture of playful and sinister beats and begs for revolution, on both a small and grand scale.  On the title track, she asserts “we got strength in numbers… get your black boots on” for a smoldering call to arms.  Burhenn’s vocal styling comes out best in “Buffalo Flower,” a ballad that speaks to individuals and alludes to the consequences of the day to day choices we make as people.

Generals is a departure from the bluesy feel of Burhenn’s 2010 effort, What We Lost In the Fire We Gain In The Flood. She does sneak in twangy blues riffs in songs like “Wolf Mother,” but for the most part reverberating garage guitar takes the lead. Catalyzed by “The Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution photo by Richard Avedon, Generals is a critique of what it means to be a General, a true leader, as well as the perceived versus true faces of the American Revolution. Mynabird’s keen insight into these aspects of change serve as more than just advice for those unhappy with the current state of the world.  The album makes its audience feel, and it does so with a rock and roll attitude and a snappy lo-fi pop/rock sound.

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Ladyhawke – Anxiety album review

Four years after her critically praised debut, Pip Brown, better known as her stage name Ladyhawke, released her 2012 effort Anxiety. This time around she left the synthesizers out in favor of reverberating guitars and fuzzy organ groans, resulting in a rough power pop sound. The album offers listeners an honest illustration of reality and the grind of outside forces, but it brushes those cold feelings off with a mix of feel-good indie pop/rock sensibilities and cool psychedelic undertones.

The pressure to produce a blow-out sophomore album, which seems to have influenced Ladyhawke’s choice of album title, is evident throughout the 10-track record. On “Vaccine” she begs the question “What will people think of me?,” yet the tone of the track is far from uneasy. It projects a confidence that carries over into “Blue Eyes,” which concludes “There’s nothing more I can do but sing you la la la…” These dismissive “la la las” are playful but also tough, adding to the overall bad-ass vibes of Anxiety that peak during the final track. The album closes with “Gone Gone Gone,” a tune that alludes to classic and alternative rock with killer guitar-organ interplay.

Ladyhawke neither breaks ground nor disappoints with Anxiety. It’s an easy listen that references some of the coolest music movement of past decades: psychedelia from the 60s, new wave of the 70s, dance pop from the 80s and  Britpop from the 90s. Her influences are obvious and the sound isn’t entirely her own, but she borrowed from the best and still managed to make an album that speaks to a modern electronic indie pop/rock audience.


Santigold – Master of My Make-Believe album review

Known for her lustrous sense of style, Santigold released her latest album Master of My Make-Believe with a somewhat dull, matte finish. Packed with tribal beats, cool guitar licks and dubstep noise, the album holds Santigold’s signature cross-genre sounds. A few years ago, this would be enough to consider the album edgey and fresh, but in a day when its basically pointless to classify an artist under a single genre, Master of My Make-Believe falls flat as an obvious dance-pop album.

Her self-titled debut album, released back when she was known as Santogold back in 2008, is a fiery display of authenticity and spark that got her noticed by some of the biggest names in popular music. Perhaps the success that Santigold found as a new artist catalyzed her mainstream turn, or perhaps it catalyzed a shift in mainstream music, one that made her fusion of new wave, electronic, pop, hip-hop and reggae the new sought after sound.

Despite the albums shortcomings, it holds some commanding moments. Master of My Make-Believe opens with “Go!,” a dance rock anthem that is, if anything, a call to arms for those looking to have a good time– a brand of music that will never die. She gives young people a voice and vision in “Disparate Youth,” a song that proclaims that we want more out of life than what can be expected. The final track “Big Mouth” demonstrates how talented of a rapper Santigold is and probably my favorite section of African-inspired, dubbed beats.

Take the album for what it is: a fun dance-worthy collection of songs that flirts with emotion, but in the end, hardly scratches at the surface of meaningful themes such as rebellion, youth, and our bleak future in America.


Chains of Love – Strange Grey Days album review

Like any other sucker for rock and roll, I’m partial to reverberating guitars and cheeky tambourines. So while I’m predisposed to enjoy Strange Grey Days by Vancouver-based band Chains of Love, the album fails to highlight the driving force behind the group’s garage soul sound, vocalist Nathalia Pizarro.

Channeling Mary Weiss of the Shangri Las, Pizarro owns every woeful ballad and contemptuous cry on Strange Grey Days but struggles through superfluous processions of organ and drums, making the otherwise fine instrumentation sound rather grating by the end of each track.  That being said, each song has a stellar intro that is largely due to the timing and flavor of the drummer and organist. These ladies sure know how to introduce a tune, particularly “Lies Lies Lies,” and if they learn how to reign in their instruments, they can accentuate their talent without taking away from Pizarro.

This excess of noise does not include the work of guitarist Rebecca Marie Law Gray, who also adds harmonies to the band’s badass vocal performance. Gray gives Chains of love the grit it needs to it on the wild side of rock/pop, and her solo on the album opener, “He’s Leaving (With Me),” is the rawest moment of the album.

Chains of Love has some work to do, but Strange Grey Days is a fun and playful effort that is a nice addition to the current girl-group movement.  Based on the album’s final, eponymous track, I believe we can expect a lot from the band in the next few years.  Bringing down the tempo and spark of the previous tracks, “Strange Grey Days” is reflective song that asserts, “everything is the same.” Perhaps these lyrics are an introspective look at Chains of Love’s classic but all too familiar qualities, or maybe it’s just an ode to the timeless qualities of rock and roll.


Yppah – Eighty One album review

Joe Corrales Jr. realized the full potential of a mixed genre sound with his 2012 album and third release under the moniker Yppah, Eighty One. Having named the album after his year of birth, Corrales (who was 31 when the album dropped earlier this year) seems to be more fascinated with life, or perhaps less jaded by reality, the older he gets. Packed full of playful instrumentation and dreamy vocals, Eighty One is an invigorating celebration of being alive. The album is an exhibit of Corrales’ style, and as a music listener who has grown tired of the monotonous indie electronic pop/rock sound of the past few years, the album is a refreshing display of a electronic, shoegazing trip hop sound.

Opening with children’s laughter that is reminiscent of MGMT’s “Kids,” the first track “Blue Shwinn,” slowly unfolds into an orchestra of percussion. The syncopated instruments play smoothly with floating synthesizers, and just before the music becomes to computer-based for my taste, the machines are replaced by electric guitar. It’s because of this gift, of knowing when to switch it up, that Yppah’s music remains without boundaries.

Dream/neo pop artist Anomie Belle lends her vocals to four of Eighty One‘s eleven tracks, and her contributions fit organically within the atmosphere of the album. Though her performance on “D. Song,” perhaps the darkest moment of the album, is eery enough to give the track a menacing quality, the song suggests transcendence over adversity and the overall tone of the album remains hopeful. Within the layered beats of “Three Portraits,” Belle’s heavily reverbed vocals weave delicately and sometimes incoherently within the synthesized soundscape, blending in with Corrales’ shoegaze-inspired tune.

My favorite moment of the album is in “Paper Knife,” a song that sums up Yppah’s perfect ratio of acoustic and electronic sounds. When an earthy section of tribal beats is suddenly accompanied by sleigh bells, followed by synthy “doo doo doo’s” and then smashing symbols, chaos is bound to ensue. But Corrales takes these elements, harnessing the best parts of hip hop, electronica and rock and roll, and somehow creates one cohesive and unequivocally wild anthem.

Eighty One accomplishes what Corrales set out but failed to do in Yppah’s first two albums. The record flows from one song to the next with frantic riffs, pensive silences, synthesized intervals and glorified beats. The album is soaked in optimism but doesn’t come across as naive. Eighty One revels in the mystery, ultimately offering listeners a hopeful take on the chaos of life.