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Fredrik – Flora album review

Fredrik released their third full-length, Flora, through Kora Records in April. The Swedish duo added a third member to the electronic folk group as a way of bringing more depth to their experimental sound. Newcomer Anna Moberg provides vocals, guitar, and various analog noises which she first brought to Fredrik on their recent Origami EP. Originally started as a side project from The LK, co-founder and namesake Fredrik Hultin is responsible for lead vocals, writing lyrics, and playing guitar, alto horn, plus the piano while his counterpart Ola Lindefelt plays toms, mallets, the cello, samples, re-input electronics, and also vocals.

At the opening of the album is “Ylva” a track that has a special significance to its title. It is given an ancient feminine name native to Sweden which has turned up in documents as old as the year 1200. Ylva is a she-wolf and is followed as the main character in Fredrik’s online presentation of Flora in which the entire album is streamed on YouTube accompanied by visuals of the band’s hometown Malmö. The song itself is full of chimes and ethereal choral voices that are very light and airy that portray a magical forest type image.

The third track is the single “Chrome Cavities” that incorporates xylophone stylings sweet enough to give the listener an actual toothache. Fourth up is “Rites of Spring” which features chopped and screwed Asian-inspired string sections.

Coming toward the end is the eighth track titled “Naruto and the End of the Broken Ear.” Naruto brings to mind the ninja Anime character, but with a bit of quick internet research the word “naruto” can also signify anything from a sumo elder to a little known planet named after the Naruto Strait. The lyrics are powerfully painted with fantastic elements. Around the two minute mark is the line “It’s a double rainbow that cracks, painted green and sprayed with tears.” Implementation of the Russian balalaika gives the track a haunting feel.

Track nine, “The Shape and Colour of Things Blind,” is very pretty and conjures up a dream filled with tinkly sounds.

All in all, Flora is a strong release that takes Fredrik into a warmer direction with its music.

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Architecture in Helsinki – Moment Bends album review

Moment Bends was released on May 3, 2011 and is the newest album created by Architecture in Helsinki. The Melbourne band has not produced a full-length since 2007’s Places Like This. With the parting of James Cecil and the inclusion of a set recording studio, their sound has evolved to have a higher production quality while being very synth heavy. AiH consists of Cameron Bird (vocals/keyboard/guitar), Gus Franklin (trombone), Jamie Mildren (guitar), Sam Perry (bass), and Kellie Sutherland (vocals/keyboard/clarinet).

The thought process behind this new work was to make a strong reference to the buoyancy and naivety belonging to the genre of 80s pop, which has resulted in a fluffy mix of vintage dance floor sounds and modern hit-makers sensibility.

Opening the album is “Desert Island” which brings a calypso reggae feel that is almost sickeningly tropical. Bird sings, “We built Atlantis in the space of a day” which is moderately funny considering the span of time it took for this album to be born.

Third on the Moment Bends is “Contact High,” a recently released single that is a dancey jaunt filled with Italo disco flair. Number five is a sweet song expressing the excitement of a young romance. “Yr Go To” is a joyful exercise in bouncy synth pop.

“That Beep” is the eighth track and has already been released previously on the That Beep EP. Sutherland does the lead vocals while the male voices make interesting effects that punctuate the verses. This song is most akin to AiH’s older sound which is perfectly natural considering that it came out in 2008 when the band was just starting to form the new record.

Track ten is titled “Everything’s Blue” and begins fairly dramatically with a wash of orchestrated sound. Then funky beats rush in and the chorus adds a wave of sweeping vocals.

AiH will be touring Australia, the U.S., and Europe in support for their newest effort.

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Antony and The Johnsons – Swanlights EP review

Antony and the Johnsons recently released a follow-up EP titled Swanlights to their 2010 full album also of that name. The band consists of creative mastermind and vocalist/pianist Antony Hegarty backed by several instrumentalists known as the Johnsons. Rob Moose plays the guitar and violin, Parker Kindred is on drums and various percussion, Maxim Moston also plays violin and does string arrangements, Jeff Langston handles the electric guitar, Doug Wieselman blares horns, and Julia Kent takes care of the cello and also does string arrangements. The Johnsons help give Antony’s music a dark dramatic chamber surrealist pop sound. 

The opening track is a re-issue of the title track from the full release obviously called “Swanlights.” It is a haunting experimental piece. There is much vocal drone along with a constant hum of background sound. The breakdown section is particularly lovely as piano fills in the missing melody.

The second track is more of a traditional piano ballad featuring an excellent accordion addition. “Find the Rhythm of Your Love” is soft and pretty with the occasional energetic quick tempo.

Track three is “Kissing No One.” It includes interesting harmonies created by Antony sampling his own voice along with the artist’s signature vocal warbling. The strings are more prominent in this arrangement. Abruptly it ends.

Last on the EP, is a remix of “Swanlights” by Oneohtrix Point Never who has worked with Antony in the past. The rework takes the track into a more captivating direction. It has a definite hook and doesn’t seem to wander as much. Resulting in a more concrete sound, but a less smooth treatment as OPN layers industrial effects under the vocals. Clocking in at just under four minutes, the track is transformed to a more listenable piece.

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music videos reviews

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l album review

New England native Merrill Garbus’ brainchild tUnE-yArDs released a sophomore album on April 19, 2011 titled w h o k i l l. The production value has increased a hundredfold considering that Garbus recorded her debut with a Sony voice recorder and then edited with shareware software Audacity. This time around it was done properly in a studio by Eli Crews in Oakland. Vocalist Garbus wrote most of the tracks on her own and played ukulele while looping a drumbeat. Contributing both instrumentally and creatively is Nate Brenner on electric bass adding a solid foundation to the tracks.

Starting off the album is “My Country” which uses the base melody of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” to create a subversive pop song about Garbus’ feelings on the power of privilege. Toward the end of the song is a section of horns that seems to tie all the different layers of melody together. The ending is the provocative line “the worst thing about living a lie is wondering when they’ll find out.”

Track three is called “Gangsta” and begins with a siren sample that is replaced by vocal sirens that become a beautiful sort of harmonization that is later on mimicked by the horns. The percussion definitely has a trash can quality to it, sort of giving the song an urban living feel.

“Riotriot” is the fifth track and has a softer vibe in the beginning. Garbus’ style of shout singing is more muted and breathy. The melodies become a cacophonous soup and then abruptly vanish as she sings acapella “there is a freedom in violence that I don’t understand and like I’ve never felt before.” Flooding back in is a joyous assortment of instruments that gradually fades into the chill primary tune.

If any of the songs on this album evoke the Dirty Projectors, “Bizness” is the one that does it the most. From the introductory vocal composition to the West African pop structure this single is interesting from start to finish. The music video for the track features color-blocked faces which has inspired a fan face-painting competition.

In support of w h o k i l l, tUnE-yArDs is on a massive tour that will take them from the western United States, up into Canada, down to the eastern coast, and into Europe.

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Del McCoury & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band – American Legacies album review

American Legacies is a joint effort released on April 12th, 2011 by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band. Both groups represent an American born musical genre rich in history.

The Preservation Hall in Louisiana was founded in 1961 to preserve the unique bayou sound of New Orleans jazz. Since 1963, the Jazz Band has toured continuously all over the world to introduce people to their traditional music. The band has not only kept the old alive, but has also reinterpreted the style for contemporary fans. Today, the band is comprised of creative director Ben Jaffe (tuba), Mark Braud (vocals and trumpet), seventy-six year old Charlie Gabriel (clarinet and vocals), Clint Maedgen (saxophone and vocals), Joe Lastie Jr. (drums), Freddie Lonzo (trombone), and Rickie Monie (piano). Most of the current members are from New Orleans and have a family history of playing jazz.

The Del McCoury band was enlisted to provide the bluegrass point of view on this collaboration album. Del was featured as one of the many guest artists on the Jazz Band’s 2010 PRESERVATION album which was made to raise funds for the Preservation Hall and its Music Outreach Program. The results of the first exercise were so good that the Jazz Band asked Del to create music with them again on American Legacies.

Del McCoury’s style of bluegrass began to flourish after joining Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys in 1963. Now he is lead guitarist and vocals of his own band which features his two sons, Ronnie McCoury and Rob McCoury, playing mandolin and banjo respectively. The other two band members are Alan Bartram on bass and Jason Carter with the fiddle. Del has received multiple awards for his music and just last year was awarded the lifetime achievement honor from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The album opens very upbeat. Track two is a cover of Jimmy Wakely’s famous 1948 hit “One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart),” which is about loving another woman while being stuck with the one to whom you are already married. The jazz trumpet adds a special element to this classic. The fourth track titled “Banjo Frisco” is an original instrumental with a prominent banjo line throughout the piece, punctuated by strong horns.

In the middle of the album there is an interesting cover of the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away.” The harmonizing is really great and all the vocalists can be heard showcasing their pipes. The ninth is a rendition of “The Sugar Blues,” written by Clarence Williams in 1920. Introducing and ending the piece is an amazing performance of the wah-wah mute.

Toward the end of the album is track ten, “Mullensburg Joys,” another old favorite, made popular by Jelly Roll Morton, re-done splendidly. The second to last track, “50/50 Chance” is a Del McCoury Band song from their 1999 release The Family Album. This version is much more swingy and fun than the fiddle heavy original.

On the tour in support of American Legacies, both the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band will have short separate sets as well as playing songs from the new album together in a spirited fusion of jazz and bluegrass.

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Holy Ghost! – Self-titled debut album review

Holy Ghost! has finally released a full length album about three and a half years after their first single “Hold On” made waves in the blogosphere. The self-titled debut dropped on iTunes April 5th, 2011 and will be out in hard copy on April 12th. Holy Ghost! is the Brooklyn duo of Alex Frankel on keys and vocals paired with drummer Nick Millhiser who have been friends since childhood. In fact, their high school hip hop band Automato was briefly signed in 2000 to Capitol Records. This led them to get picked up by DFA Records, co-founded by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Frankel and Millhiser lent their talents to several DFA projects and did some high profile remixes before concentrating on this release.

The production of this album is so very smooth which gives added value to the nu-disco funk revival 80s pop sound. Every track is a toe-tapper that could make it to the dance floor. While “Hold On” made the cut, it was a surprise to see that “I Will Come Back,” a track released in 2009, was not on the list. The album opens instead with “Do It Again” which has the sentiment of being written by a club kid. The lyrics describe being totally jaded with the nightlife scene and seeing the same people at the same clubs doing the same thing every weekend.

“Say My Name,” track four, has some solid gold late 70s flavor as descending chords permeate the melody. Next up is a memorial song of sorts called “Jam For Jerry” dedicated to the late Jerry Fuchs who played drums on this album as well as several other DFA projects. The track is just as upbeat as it is remorseful with the lyrics “If I could change it all I would, if only I could.”

Luke Jenner from The Rapture sings back up on the chorus of the seventh track “It’s Not Over.” The song is pretty poppy and has a great beat. It ends with an awesome delayed space shooter sound that nicely separates this track from the next. Number nine truly brings the funk in a standout composition titled “Static On The Wire.”

Epically ending the album is “Some Children” which begins with an angelic choral sample, continued throughout the track, but quickly builds up the usual dancey groove. The incomparable Michael McDonald brings soulful vocals to the chorus. Frankel had written the part out of his range and successfully used his resources to land this unexpected featured artist. When the music starts to fade out, unfortunately a well deserved silence is met with laughter, some unnecessary talking, and finally canned clapping.

Holy Ghost! is currently on a completely live tour, no longer just DJing gigs, headlined by Australian dance act Cut Copy to support this stellar debut.

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The Lonely Forest – Arrows album review

The Lonely Forest released their third album, Arrows, on March 22, 2011. This is the follow-up to 2009’s We Sing The Body Electric! and is their first album produced by Trans Records, an imprint of Atlantic, owned by Chris Walla from Death Cab For Cutie. TLF comes from Anacortes, Washington and due to some early praise caught the attention of Walla who signed them as the first band on his new label. The quartet of John Van Deusen (vocals/guitar/keyboard), Tony Ruland (guitar), Braydn Krueger (drums) and Eric Sturgeon (bass) perform emotion-driven garage pop.

Arrows starts off with a soft and folky number called “Be Everything.” The lyrics are haunting and romantic and seem like a tell-tale sign of the content on the rest of the album. Track two, however, is a little silly. It expressly tells the listener to turn off the music and go outside. Couldn’t both happen at the same time? Maybe it could be a nice accompaniment to an activity occurring outdoors.

The third and fourth tracks are two sides of the same thought process. Number three is titled “(I Am) The Love Skeptic” and four is “(I Am) The Love Addict.” Out of the two, the former is more catchy, poppy, and even humorous. The latter delves into a more serious note with lyrics like “Something beautiful for my heart to abuse.”

Track eleven was previously released on The Lonely Forest’s sophomore album. “We Sing in Time” is the first single off of Arrows and currently holds the honor of being number five in the top videos on MTV.com. The vocal delivery on this track is just like all the others until the very end in which Van Deusen screams part of the chorus. It’s like a breath of fresh air on a primarily softer album. The final song is the title track “Arrows.” It begins with some nonsensical lyrics which actually do begin to make sense as the song progresses and the words “I won’t shed my outer shell and expose my heart,” are sung.

TLF’s tour started on March 3rd and will end in the beginning of June. On the first leg they are supporting The Joy Formidable and on the second they are direct support to Death Cab.

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The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar album review

The Joy Formidable The Big Roar

The Big Roar is the first full length album released by The Joy Formidable, a three-piece Welsh band. Dropped on March 15, 2011, the album features several songs that were previously released on their 2009 mini-debut entitled A Balloon Called Moaning.

The trio is made up of energetic front woman Ritzy Bryan on guitar and lead vocals, Rhydian Dafydd playing bass guitar and singing backup, and percussionist Matt Thomas. Old friends from school, Bryan and Dafydd have worked together on other projects like Tricky Nixon and Sidecar Kisses. This partnership is no doubt one of the reasons why Big Roar is such a cohesive and exciting piece.

The opening number called “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” clocks in at just under eight minutes long and serves as an epic anthem kicking off the post-punk indie sound that prevails on this album. Bryan’s no-nonsense vocal delivery fits quite well with the loud garage riffs and conveys the fairly emotional lyrics in a fresh way.

Track three was the first single to be released off the album. “I Don’t Want To See You Like This” is basically just another break up song. Thankfully, not all their singles were as typical. “Austere” was a re-release from the Balloon EP which is a definite toe-tapper and perhaps one of the most catchy, pop influenced tunes on Big Roar. The other re-release, “Whirring,” begins decently with a nice hook, but a little bit later on around the two and a half minute mark the instrumentation eventually devolves to a glorified jam session.

Song lengths seem to be at odds as the referentially Japanese eighth track, “Maruyama,” is barely two minutes which does not work in its favor. There’s simply no need for it to be present on this album. The track is too short to develop into anything and fades away before its prime.

However, “Cradle,” which is yet another track taken from Balloon, is the most compelling example of how powerful the bands’ mixture of tough grungey guitar, militantly accurate percussion, and emotive storytelling can be.

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Wiz Khalifa – Rolling Papers album review

Wiz Khalifa Rolling Papers

Rolling Papers is the third album released by Wiz Khalifa, a young rapper from Pittsburgh. The most recognizable track and perhaps most overplayed would be “Black and Yellow,” the unofficial Steelers anthem. It was the first single, released in the fall of 2010, meaning it had plenty of time to get massive airplay and become popular before Super Bowl XLV. The song while being very simple, succeeds in hyping up the listener and would be a great addition to anyone’s running playlist.

Many of the tracks on this album fall under the category of pop rap with subject matter consisting of partying: drinking, smoking, having your way with loose women, etc. The act of smoking is a very consistent theme throughout the album, hence the title, Rolling Papers. But this should be no surprise to avid Khalifa followers. After all, his last major tour was entitled “Waken Baken” during which he was arrested under charges of marijuana trafficking.

However, there are times when pure lyrical genius shines through the expected mainstream content. One moment in which the content is full of undisguised wit comes from the second single from the album, “The Race.” In the introduction, Khalifa raps, “Know some will say that life’s a bitch/Well I’ma flirtin’ and fuck that bitch for the money and Louie V purchases.” Another clever stroke is found on the sixth track, “Wake Up” in which Khalifa describes a move to a wealthy neighborhood as “Got money/White people turn neighbors.”

Fortunately, the music is great whether the accompanying lyrics are trite or not. This concept is especially true on the track “Roll Up.” It’s a cheesy love ballad that describes how the rapper has no problem being there for his woman and is backed by this awesomely smooth synth-laden piece.

Basically, Khalifa has created a fun composition perfect for the spring. Rolling Papers drops on March 29th, 2011.

SXSW 2011 Saturday

Woke up too late to do all the things I was supposed to do. Made peace with myself and headed out to the KVRX show outside of Domy Books. This one was really awesome. Thank god I made it in time to see the last song Robert Ellis performed. He’s a kid from my home town who moved to Houston and became a sort of local legend. There’s even a drink named after him at Mango’s, a cafe/venue. His music brings old timey whiskey country stylings into the present, paired with heartache lyrics.

Leslie Stevens took the stage soon after. She’s a singer songwriter from LA who has a backing band called the Badgers. There was only one Badger that day playing some weird keyboard looking thing. She said she was hoarse, but that seemed to make her voice more interesting to me. Sweet folk songs with a twang.

Seryn was about to play when they realized that they had killed all the juice on stage. They had only brought a hundred instruments amongst the five of them. Thankfully they decided to play on the ground near the crowd. Unplugged they were so amazing! All the vocal harmonies really stood out as they had to yell them over the street noise. The band is from the greater Dallas area, but always say they’re from Denton to make it easier. The acoustic set was so so so good and transported me to last summer where I spent nearly a whole month at the Kerrville Folk Festival. I wonder if they’ve ever played there.

Moondoggies went on. They had a sort of rockabilly sensibility and I didn’t really pay attention to them. I’m sure they were alright, but the free beer was a little distracting especially since it was provided by Saint Arnolds.

Waking Lights from New Jersey/New York played some okay power pop stuff. I never liked them recorded. Always hated it. However, violin in the sunlight seems to make up for that.

The Chapin Sisters were next. Yes, they are biological sisters. Two chicks with matching black and white outfits and red lips with sunglasses. They also had a backing band of dudes who didn’t seem to be stylish enough. Their voices sound great harmonizing together, but alone are kind of awful. It’s pop folk or something. I don’t know. Not my cup of tea I guess.

Hermane Dune from France were second to last. A duo of brothers who played guitar and drums. They were probably the most best. It was surf folk with descriptive life lyrics and great beats. Fantastic.

Castanets closed it out with experimental southern rock. Really interesting. After two minutes of confusing noise jazz they would revert back to whatever bluesy song they had just been playing. In my opinion, they brought the house down.

I then made the journey across five streets to catch Odd Future at Mess With Texas. First I saw the end of Big Freedia’s set. If you don’t know anything about NOLA bounce music, you should probably start learning. It’s going to take over the world. We’re not talking riveting lyrics here, the gender bending rapper shouts about “Azz Everywhere” on a popular track.

So after copious amounts of rump shakin, it’s finally over and the crowd is intense with excitement for OFWGKTA. Suddenly a white dude appears and calmly announces into the microphone that Odd Future is actually playing the outside stage. OH LORD. People started rioting. Everyone exploded out of the white tarp tent like mad. Truly a frightening experience, especially since the hill we had to climb was made of soft dirt that shifted under your feet.

The Odd Future soundcheck was pretty awesome. You could hear Tyler The Creator’s disembodied voice coming from somewhere offstage saying that the sound wasn’t loud enough. He made them raise it about three times. Yes, wearing earplugs was a great decision. Eventually all the kids came out and pumped up the crowd. Jumping around the stage wearing ridiculous nineties inspired clothing. Loved hearing “Sandwitches” live. I think it’s important to ignore the rape everyone messages and focus on the crazy beats and amazing energy these kids have. I mean the lyrics are really really creative although they do get pretty degenerate at times. The event culminated with Tyler diving into the crowd from above the stage and losing both his shoes.

Happy to be home and to see the most hyped up band of SXSW. I officially quit this festival and am taking Sunday off. It’s been real, Austin!