music videos reviews

Lenka – Shadows album review

“Love, sweet love, it’s all we know” is the main lyrical hook to the first track of Lenka’s recent release, “Shadows.” This line not only is an effective way to communicate the pure innocent love that Lenka effectively expresses through her sweet yet sensual vocals on the album, but also marks the beginning of the emotional journey that is is conceptually presented in the Australian singer-songwriter’s third studio album. As a sidenote, If the name Lenka sounds familiar to you, it may be because her track “Everything at Once” was used in the official Windows 8 TV advertisement that features a memorably simple piano ditty, with traditional indie electronica sounds layered over it.

Ultimately this album does exactly what it sets out to do. The first few tracks on the release are jubilant anthems that express the cheerful and honeymoonish aspects of a new relationship, and this changes as the album progresses, much like a relationship itself. To keep the music from becoming too twee, as one would not like to eat too many spoonfuls of sugar lest they become a blob, Lenka effectively breaks the trend of expressing the innocence of new love with the haunting “After the Winter”. While the lyrics are very optimistic, as Lenka is telling her love interest that she will peel away the facade of her love interest and “tunnel” her way to his heart, you help but get the sense that things may go awry. Following suit with the slow tempo, the track “Honeybee” may contain the most pessimistic line of the release “do you know you bring me so much pain?” Before you go ahead and think Lenka has lost her sunny disposition, she lets you know she still has hope for the relationship for requests for the love interest to keep everything together. The most effective part of this release in my opinion is the way the tracks essentially document a whole relationship in order from start to finish. I’ll try not to give any spoilers, but the first track is called “Nothing Here but Love” and the last two tracks are called “Nothing” and “The Top of Memory Lane.” I’ll let you do the math.

If I had to compare Lenka with Taylor Swift (they both sing endlessly about relationships – bare with me), I’d say that Lenka draws her main inspiration not from the heartbreak and painful aspects of love, but chooses to be more balanced in expressing elements of the emotional spectrum that a relationship can allow a human to feel.


Shannon and the Clams – Dreams in the Rat House album review

The allure of the classic jangley 60s girl groups has become a major selling point for a few of modern indie bands, and for good reason. The simplicity and soul that is present in this genre allows for a fun, relaxing, and nostalgic listen. The most recent development in this scene comes from the up and coming throwback trio “Shannon and the Clams.” They recently came out with their debut full length entitled “Dreams in the Rat House.” If one were to “judge a book by the cover,” so to speak, he or she would hear the goofy band name, the mysterious album title, and see the astrophysical-80’s romance movie-ish album cover, and wonder just where exactly the band could go from there. Upon listening to even the first few seconds, there’s no mistake what type of band this is. Shannon and the Clams delivers the vocal stylings of late 50’s/early 60’s female crooners, with a few surf and punk elements mixed in here and there.

Plenty of the songs could’ve fit perfectly in the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack. The opener “Hey Willy” could be straight off of an album produced by Phil Spector with its happy-go-lucky swagger and innocent lyrics. What stands out most about this track, as well as most others, is the vocal stylings that perfectly fit the style that the band commits to. The vocals are absolutely spotless and are powerful enough to have made Shannon a star in any decade. The tracks have a very focused and calculated production that give the songs that classic low-fi vibe that still feels like it was recorded with modern recording technology. In my opinion, the album’s high point is the track “If I Could Count.” It is 3 minutes and 58 seconds of 60’s pop mastery. Every singe second of this song is a hook that is worth singing along to and sticks in your head like superglue.

Even though the tracks are all seemingly 60’s throwbacks, there are clearly musical influences from other decades that occasionally seep to the surface throughout the album. The track “Bed Rock” feels like it has some a Pixies feel to it. The track “Rat House” among others feels like it has somewhat of a punk influence, and tracks such as “Runaway” feel like it has a garage music influence. Pretty much all of the music in this release is a somewhat obvious derivative of a certain genre or style, but the band doesn’t come off as a cheesy ripoff or completely uncreative spinoff band. They are clearly lovers of all things music, and the focus and talent of the band makes “Dreams in the Rat House” worth checking out. I recommend getting it on vinyl for the nostalgic and romantic element.


Implant – The Productive Citizen album review

Belgian electronica/industrial/psychedelic producer “Implant” (brainchild of Len Lemeire) has made a name for himself internationally, and has developed a passionate cult following. The overarching concept of his music seems to revolve around a nitty gritty, realistic, straight to the core view on modern life, presented through a lens of robotic electronic industrial music. He recently released an album entitled “The Productive Citizen,” and the title enough should give you an idea of the humor and irony that is behind the blips and squarely shaped drumbeats presented in the music.

The first track, ‘Lord Knows I Tried (Album Version)’, kicks the album off with a fantastic vocal soundbite about electronic music that certainly arouses suspense and suspicion of what’s to come. Claus from the band Leatherstrip sings with Len on this track, this song has a bit of a punk essence, as the music is reminiscent of a gruesome machine, out to get you. The second track, ‘C.C.C.P.C.C.T.V.’ contains growling and devilish vocals, with a well mixed drum beat to nod a head to, and a pop hook that feels angry and ironic – and it works. ‘Scanned’ is a higher tempo track that would get a dance floor moving. This is a perfect example of a mixture of gothic attitude, 80’s vibe, and industrial flair.

‘The City’ is where the album starts to lose momentum. It is a mid tempo song that largely falls short of the album’s previous tracks. It doesn’t have that focused quality that propels the previous tracks.

‘Jour Nucélaire’, containing a German voice over and affected vocals, is another dance track that’s value comes from a danceability factor rather than a “sit down and listen to” quality that some of the other tracks have. The synth line is very repetitive and the only way to truly appreciate it is likely in a room full of raved out party-heads. ‘I’m in control’ is a bit slower and seems to be a musical homage to Nine Inch Nails.

The rest of the album follows this basic pattern of danceable, underground-clubby tracks that would give an average pop listener a headache and anxiety issues, but for a specific type of person, this is most certainly a gold mine. Implant is definitely an artist that you either love or hate, since he seems to be a strongly musically opinionated individual, and doesn’t steer to far from an overall musical vision.


Bibio – Silver Wilkinson album review

English electronic artist, “Bibio,” has seen a considerable amount of commercial success for having work that tends to be experimental abstract in nature. Along with producer Flying Lotus, he is one of the musical faces of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming and his music has been used in commercial campaigns by companies such as L.L. Bean, Toyota, and Amazon among others. What makes his music so easy to digest is that he is so skilled at cultivating lavish moods that it doesn’t take a licensed music snob to be drawn into the atmospheres presented in the tracks, no matter how otherworldly they may be. His album, “Silver Wilkinson” which was released on May 14th 2013 marks his seventh studio release and an incredible evolution and development of his sound.

It’s safe to say that this is a much more emotionally intense record than Bibio’s previous work. He keeps his signature sound of placing electronically modified guitar melodies over lush electronics, but he seems to be maturing past the “beat-making” style of his previous albums. While his prior release “Mind Bokeh” was filled with mostly danceable tunes, this album relies mostly on the depth of emotional expression rather than its club value. That’s not to say some of the songs don’t contain an energy that is physically stimulating, specifically the tracks “You” and the single “À tout à l’heure,” the former with a Avalenche-esque chopped vocal sample over a typical house kick drum sound, and the latter containing a steady swaying beat and tastefully done handclaps. This being said, this type of energy seems to be an addition to the more introspective and thoughtful tracks rather than being the album’s main centerpiece and focus. Bibio gravitates towards acoustic guitar lines to add to the quiet ambience that the album contains, specifically on the ballads “Raincoat” and “Sycamore Silhouetting.”

While the album is a step in a slightly different direction, clearly no essence of Bibio is lost. The album is an incredibly rewarding listen from start to finish. It seems like the successful and Bibio quintessential track “Lovers Carvings” was a foreshadowing to the future of Bibio’s musical direction.


Lucero – Texas & Tennessee album review

If there’s an adjective that could unarguably be used to describe Memphis-based country/punk rock band, “Lucero” it certainly is “hard-working.” They have played 150 to 200 shows a year since 2001 across the United States and Canada. They also have released 10 full length albums, and have recently released their first EP entitled “Texas & Tennessee.” It’s worth noting that this is the second time the band has referenced Tennessee in the title of one of their releases, as their 2002 release was entitled “Tennessee.” In Texas & Tennessee, the band mostly abandons the electric guitar and punk influence in order to create a more Americana influenced record.

In general, Lucero’s newest release feels flat and uninspired. They have taken a step in an entirely different direction in this release, and unfortunately it seems that they are taking multiple steps backward. The album contains 4 sub-five-minute songs that feature near insufferable vocals that are so forced it almost sounds like a parody. It doesn’t seem as though the vocals are sincere, and the tone is gruff and incommunicable. If it wasn’t for the vocals standing out as being so unpleasant, there would be absolutely nothing in most of these songs that pop out as anything different, original, inspired, creative, or in any way worth spending any time on. The repetitive and unimaginative guitar line on “Union Pacific Line” takes away any dynamic the song may have otherwise. The mixing and production on “Breathless Love” is so flat it takes any breath and power away from the track that it might have otherwise. The brass instrumentation suggests this track to be the big showtime song on the album, but as on most of the songs, there’s always something to keep them from being pleasurable whether it be the vocals, production, or instruments. On “The Other Side of Lonesome,” the only track that features electric guitar, the guitar sound is so bare and the lines are so meandering and directionless it causes the track to have the same fate as the others.

The prolific nature of the band is highly respectable, regardless of the content of their recent release. That being said, it is good that this is an EP and not a proper full length release, since the band seems to have a certain spark that’s missing in this release. It’s worth mentioning that the bare and raw production style works much better on their self-titled release. There is a sincerity that is missing in this release, however, so if anybody is starting to get into the band, this is certainly not the release to start from.


Daughter – If You Leave album review

“Daughter” is certainly taking the indie world by storm. Ever since their very first demo was released, the English indie folk/rock band from London has been steady growing a following of music-heads that can’t get enough of their raw emotional confessionals and sophisticated instrumentation. After releasing 3 well-received EPs between 2010 and 2011, their first full-length, “If You Leave” continues to please listeners as they are a musically fresh and artistically sound group that deserves all recognition they get.

The songs essentially serve as the diary of singer/songwriter Elena Tonra, as they are deeply personal and deeply human expressions. It’s safe for me to say that “If You Leave” contains some of the most honest lyrics that are being penned by any artist around today. A good amount of their lyrics are so blunt that they are practically jaw-dropping.. In the hauntingly beautiful “Smother,” Tonra confesses “I sometimes wish I’d stayed inside my mother.” Anyone that can pull this lyric off deserves a hell of a lot of respect. With all of this being said, however heavy and dramatic the lyrics are, it rarely feels as though anything is being pushed or forced into melodrama, which is a daunting task for any artist. She also is able to find a good balance between frightening directness and abstract metaphors that flow naturally and beautifully. The emotions that are often repressed and held deep inside the subconscious’s of most people, Elena Tonra has no qualms about laying completely on the line. The artistic brevity that this shows is what makes Daughter a great band. It also makes this an album that demands your full attention in order to appreciate it fully. The listener has to completely and wholly let the music take you to emotional points that are emphasized by Tonra’s strikingly bare lyrics.

However poignant they are, the lyrics do not upstage the music. The music is incredibly lush, heavy, and powerful in its delivery and is made very meticulously. There is enough variation in tempo, timbre, and structure to where even though every song on the album is an emotional catharsis, it’s still possible to listen to the album front to back without getting restless. What remains constant on the album is that most songs contain an eerie pad synth sound that give the tracks a dream-like atmosphere. The guitar sounds (and emotional honesty for that matter) are reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and the mellow points of Explosions in the Sky’s music. The captivating dynamics of both the music and lyrics of Daughter is what makes them a band that surely will have a great deal of longevity.


Vondelpark – Seabed album review

Despite “Seabed” being the English electronic act “Vondelpark”‘s first proper full length, it is safe to say that it is quite a shift in form from their previous musical identity. Prior to this release, Vondelpark released a series of EPs that was more in the realm of dance/house/electronica. With Seabed, the band wanted to challenge themselves a bit more to create a self-proclaimed “real album” and not just a collection of songs with a simple house dance-party vibe. While their signature R&B luster remained in tact, Seabed showcases a much more lo-fi and introverted musical vision, allowing a greater deal of longevity as a result.

Mentioning a comparison to James Blake is almost unavoidable. Vondelpark has an incredibly similar vocal aesthetic (see: heavily processed, heavily somber, and heavily English) to Blake, and at first the similarity may be off-putting as it’s such an intense likeness, but when you put that aside there is clearly a great deal of individuality in the musical vision behind what’s presented. What stands out to me, besides the samples of computer mouse-clicking and default Windows “bloop” sounds on the track “Blue Again,” is the heavily rhythm and blues influenced guitar riffs and well-fitting mumbled vocals. Your typical American Idol fan surely would have a hissy fit about the lack of lyrical clarity and showoff-ness, but artistically it works perfectly to both draw more attention to the music and add to the demure attitude of the album. Ultimately, even what could be seen as flaws on the album add to the intimacy of the music.

What really gives the album the longevity it has is that even though the tracks are so low to the ground and emotional in nature, the melodies are so tastefully done that they provide a perfect balance so that they’re intensely catchy but not too cheesy or labored in that regard. It’s easily to get hooked on the album by the immediacy of these hooks, and then later relish in the finer details as the ideas of the songs are already embedded in your brain. It’s tough to pull something like this off when 90 percent of your lyrics are unintelligible, but somehow Vondelpark pulls it off. In my opinion, the album is best listened to alone, with the lights out, when you’re about to go to sleep and the subconscious is at its most dominant.


Ghost B.C. – Infestissumam album review

To quote the early 21st century classic film “Dude, Where’s My Car?,” the enigmatic Swedish metal band, Ghost B.C.’s mystery is only exceeded by their power. To give a sense of what they’re about, on March 12th, they offered their fans a free new song online – on the condition that they endorse their frontman to be the next pope of the Catholic Church. To give an idea of what the band’s about musically, the songs contain a solid mix of tongue in cheek hymnal passages, ironic church organs, 70’s metal guitar riffs, and melodic vocals. The group’s live presentation is truly what sets them apart from most other bands in existence. For their performances, their lead singer who goes by the name of “Papa Emeritus II” dons a skull mask and along with his similarly nameless bandmates (who call themselves “Nameless Ghouls”) rather stoically deliver their brand of metal. This band, formerly plainly named “Ghost,” recently released their highly anticipated sophomore album “Infestissumam,” named after the latin word for “hostile.”

Infestissumam’s opener and title track begins with polyphonic chant sung in Latin that quickly escalades into a full choir that supplements heavy power chords and a simple, driving drum pattern. To me the album’s standout track is the album’s third song, Secular Haze. The track essentially functions as a heavy metal waltz, and contains a chilling organ line, beautiful vocal melody, and powerful hook. Ghost brings back the polyphonic chant in a more catchy and less artsy fashion for the track Year Zero, where this line serves as the main vocal hook. Another standout is the track Body and Blood, which is a melodic ballad about the irony of digestion of the eucharist. The guitars on this track, and the album in general, are very simply done, but are very crisply executed so the ideas flow very smoothly. The bass playing is also very effective.

This being said, this album doesn’t exactly have the overall luster of their debut release “Opus Eponymous.” It doesn’t seem to contain the rawness and passion as the first album. “Infestissumam” is a much more polished endeavor than their previous release and it sacrifices a sense of ingenuity and honesty as a result. The band be respected by their sheer audacity to create an atmosphere that is so far out of the cookie cutter hard rock ballpark. While their sophomore release may not turn any heads, the release is a very solid album to both exercise and/or do religious soul-searching to.


Dawes – Stories Don’t End album review

There’s absolutely nothing pretentious about Dawes. They don’t attempt to challenge or disorient the listener with unnecessarily musically verbose meanderings, or lyrics that contain cryptic metaphors. This band’s power stems from directness, honesty, and crystal clear human-to-human musical communication. It’s incredibly challenging as a songwriter to pull this off without lulling the audience to sleep, or becoming musically inconsistent when dealing with the overall vision behind the work. In Dawes’s 2013 release “Stories Don’t End,” The album showcases guitarist/songwriter Taylor Goldsmith’s ability to craft music that is laden with catchy melodic hooks, spot-on introspective lyrics that capture the human experience with dignity, and poise, and structures that perfectly fit the contexts of each song.

Stylistically speaking, the album is incredibly traditional, as the instrumentation largely stops after the layering of guitar, drums, and bass. On the recording/mixing/production end of the spectrum, the tracks are almost as traditional. Even though various techniques were used to smooth the sound over such as compression and reverb that ultimately make the release sound more “digitalized” and modern, there isn’t that many elements of the production to this album that keeps this from being a Neil Young release. The band sites Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and Neil Young as influences, and the obvious Americana influence confirms this.

Straight off the bat, the song “Just Beneath the Surface” let’s the listener know he/she’s in for an introspective endeavor as Goldsmith sings during the chorus “just beneath the surface there’s another part of me.” Also notable is the low-key ballad “Just My Luck,” which has a certain lyrical wit to it that resembles a Cole Porter tune, and a chord progression that resembles some early Wilco tracks. A huge strength of this album is the catchy pop hooks in the midst of the earnest confessionals. The biggest example this is Goldsmith’s observation of the human condition in the song “Most People.” Goldsmith tells a story of a woman who preaches about “most people” not taking time to realize how lucky they are, and gives a general glimpse into somebody thinking she has it worse then everyone else, with the payoff lyrical punchline being “she doesn’t know most people feel that same way.” It is a very poignant message, and the fact that the song is catchy and stylistically fitting enough makes this song the most likely to appear on modern country radio.

The biggest qualm I have with this album, is that even though the songs are incredibly powerful in their own quiet way, it ultimately lacks distinctness and uniqueness. I wouldn’t describe any element of these tracks as being new or fresh. That being said, the release is a wonderful album to clean to, relax to, and read a book/sit by the fire to.


IAMX – The Unified Field album review

Best known as the leader and founding member of the British trip-hop group aptly titled “Sneaker Pimps,” London/Berlin based Chris Corner recently released his fourth album since 2004 entitled “The Unified Field” under the moniker IAMX. Produced by Adele and The Arctic Monkey’s producer, Jim Abbiss, the tracks on “The Unified Field” showcase stunning cinematic musical landscapes that are anything but lackluster.

If I had to give a brief explanation to IAMX’s sound, I’d say it has a Phantom of the Opera romanticism, that is laced with the brooding swagger of AFI , and contains the ear for electronic instrumentation of Muse. Corner and Abiss make use of all types of synths, from the danceable thump of side-chained kick drums, dark and penetrating synth brass, and a wide variety of leads and pads. Corner’s tastes gravitate towards the dramatically macabre, and the team of Corner and Abbiss demonstrate complete control over their musical tools in order to adhere to this aesthetic. What strikes me most about the music is how musically cohesive the tracks are. Though widely varied in structure, tempo, and chordal progressions, the songs are all obviously created under the same paradigm and have a similar sensibility. It is very easy to listen to the album from start to finish without feeling jaded of the sound. The album is produced with dead on precision, style, and flow.

The lyrics on this release fully match the gravity of the music. The first lyrics on the album are very disorienting as they are in German (Corner himself relocated from London to Berlin in 2006). This changes quickly as he showcases a mastery of the english language in the rest of “I Come With Knives.” The most powerful lyrical hook comes from the album’s most hauntingly honest and lush “Quiet the Mind”. Corner delivers a standing-ovation worthy vocal performance as he both belts and croons “hold back the melancholy/hold back the fear, darling/it’s a crime.” This is the least “cabaret” track of the bunch, in that it lets go of all of the dramatic flair that pervades the rest of the album. The song is carried through genuinely and straight from the heart, and it would be surprising if this was not seen by many as the “track to beat” on the album.

The music in itself doesn’t necessarily break new ground, but that’s not necessarily the point. The mastery of both the electronic and manual instruments, as well as lyrical prowess make the album an incredibly enjoyable experience front to back.