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Blue News – Good At Falling EP review

With their EP Good At Falling, Blue News deliver blue-riffic material to an indie rock vibe.

Hailing from Indiana, singer-songwriter Brent Orndorff formed the band back in 2005 soon after the release of his self-released album Never Stop Playing. Although the lineup has varied throughout the years, the band is now also Nashville-based and, aside from Orndorff, consists of drummer Dusty Richardson. In 2007, following a new lineup and a growing fan base, the band’s project The Signs—released as The Blue News Project—was released, with two songs airing nationally via PBS that same year. In addition to national TV exposure, the band promoted their music via live club performances, college radio campaigns, and touring, leading up to 2008’s Strange Light. The band worked with celebrity producer Sylvia Massy in 2011’s Wartime Songs, with two songs appearing in the video game Rock Band 3 for XBOX 360 and PlayStation. Drawing inspiration from varied acts like Beck, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix, Blue News has fashioned an eclectic sound that channels blues, alternative and post-grunge rock elements.

Good At Falling—the band’s third project and first EP—was released on July 27th, 2010 on the CD Baby label. Two tracks—“So Easy” and “You’ve Got Someone”—appeared in the video game Rock Band 2 for XBOX 360. The EP’s five tracks diffuse an indie rock sound to varying moods.

The relationship-based “You’ve Got Someone” kicks off on a semi-romantic note coupled with a cautionary undertone. Listeners dive into darker waters via the mellow social commentary that is “Safe,” as well as the complexities of a tough situation seen in “So Easy.” However, the mood is eventually uplifted through the gentle, romantic trip-down-memory-lane of “Wasted Days,” before closing off with the optimistic “Start Again.”

At once moody and uplifting, the EP manages to captivate listeners with its relatable, infectious tunes. Blue News might be good at falling, but as their EP proves, they’re also good at exploring different genres—which listeners can only hope to see more of in their prospective 2013 6th album, and beyond.

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Soundgarden – King Animal album review

While the days of grunge galore remain frozen in the ‘90s, your best excuse to plunge back into said era is via none other than Soundgarden’s latest, King Animal.

Hailing from Seattle, Washington—aka grungeland—Soundgarden was founded back in 1984 by singer Chris Cornell, bassist Hiro Yamamoto, and guitarist Kim Thayil. While the line-up has changed a few times since then, it currently consists of Cornell, Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron, and bassist Ben Shepherd. By the time 1994’s smash hit Superunknown came around, they’d already released 3 albums—Ultramega OK (1988), Louder Than Love (1989), and Badmotorfinger (1991). Indeed, if the name Soundgarden instantly brings to mind lyrics to “Black Hole Sun,” it’s thanks to their highly successful fourth album Superunknown. The experimental album Down On The Upside followed in 1996, after which the band split up due to artistic differences. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2010—13 years later—that the band reunited, leading to the compilation album Telephantasm. The band, along with other native Seattle groups such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, is credited with popularizing the grunge rock music movement that remains highly influential to this day.

Produced by both the band and Adam Kasper, King Animal—the band’s 6th studio album and first creatively new album in 16 years—was released on November 12th, 2012 on Seven Four Entertainment. Long hiatus notwithstanding, the album is no far cry from what longtime fans would expect. “Been Away Too Long” figures as an angst-filled comeback, followed by the well-timed, politically-influenced “Non-State Actor.” For gritty guitars and full-blown rock edginess, look no further than the rebellious, scream-tinged “By Crooked Steps” and the high-powered “Attrition.” “A Thousand Days Before” contemplates life to psychedelic vibes as “Blood On The Valley Floor” enthralls with its intense guitar riffs. “Worse Dreams” channels morbidity and early Pink Floyd, before closing with the bittersweet nod to endurance that is “Rowing.”

The band’s been away too long, but Soundgarden hasn’t lost its ability to deliver rockin’ material to delightfully eager fans. While no one can expect time to stand still, King Animal overall maintains the band’s signature grunge elements, thanks to highly skilled acoustics and Cornell’s amazing vocals set to cryptic lyrics. It’s also refreshing for the band to resurface now, as their style contrasts what’s most popular these days.

They might ‘not know where they’re going,’ but something tells me they won’t need to worry about that.

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Borko – Born to be Free album review

Open your mouth, show me your teeth, it’s all part of who you are, sings Borko in “Born to be Free.” And as he invites listeners to do so, so do they get to further explore Borko’s world via his second full-length album.

When he isn’t making his electro-acoustic tunes, Iceland native Björn Kristianson—aka Borko—divulges his talent as a film and theater musician, as well as elementary school music teacher. By the time he focused on his solo career, Borko had already been active in the Reykjavic music scene for years, playing in several Icelandic bands such as Rúnk, FM Belfast, and Skakkamanage. He’s also toured worldwide, sharing stages with artists like múm and Seabear. In 2001, he released the Trees & Limbo EP, followed by his first full-length album titled Celebrating Life in 2008.

Born To Be Free was released on October 16th, 2012 by Sound Of A Handshake. What ensues is a dreamy-acoustic exploration of Borko’s multilayered realm. In comparison to the first album, Born to be Free has a more transcendental and darker vibe. It also has more lyrical content this time around, as it lacks its predecessor’s instrumental tracks.

The beautiful title track is a gentle acoustic invitation to self-acceptance whereas “Abandoned in the Valley of Knives” embodies sadness via minimal yet biting lyrical content, making way for the instrumentals to shine as the intense orchestrated closing sequence goes out with a bang. “Bodies” diffuses a palpable otherworldly, airy feel with a surprise folk-ish ending, as “Sing to the World” closes on a positive note, condoning said activity.

As demonstrated via his second effort, Borko has successfully fused the electronic-indie rock genres once again. With a hypnotically futuristic yet down-to-earth acoustic sound coupled with unconventional lyrics, Borko can neither be labeled predictable nor boring.

Iceland: source of yet another unique artist whose name starts with “b.”

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Social Studies – Developer album review

Two years after the release of their pop-influenced Wind Up Wooden Heart, Social Studies are back with the enticingly somber Developer.

Based in San Francisco, California, the band consists of singer Natalia Rogovin, drummer Michael Jirkovsky, bassist Jesse Hudson, and guitarists Tom Smith and Ben McClintock. In 2007, they recorded their dancey debut EP dubbed This Is the World’s Biggest Hammer and released their first full-length album in 2010, titled Wind Up Wooden Heart. Garnering fans nationwide with their pop-alternative sound, they’ve also had the chance to play at shows such as the CMJ Music Festival and SXSW, as well as sharing stages with acts like TuneYards, Wye Oak and Ramona Falls, to name a few.

Developer—the band’s sophomore effort—was released on November 13th, 2012 on Antenna Farm Records. Co-produced by Eli Crews, Developer is distinctly darker and moodier than previous releases. Along with refocused instruments, Natalia’s vocals also seductively channel the atmospheric change.
“Delicate Hands” diffuses melancholy to infectious guitar riffs before heading into the intense percussions of “Away For The Weekend,” whose catchy lyrics contribute to the tune’s alluringly rebellious vibe. Just as well, “Think Of The Sea” disseminates a gently haunting tone as “Sans” concludes the experience with simple keys that make for an airy, dream-like sound.

As the title indicates, Developer signals the musical changes and progress the band has made, much to the delight of listeners. With the band’s knack for artistic experimentation, there’s little doubting that further developments involving these social studies will be eagerly monitored by many.

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The Mowgli’s – Love’s Not Dead EP review

When life gets hard, you got to remember who you are and forget about what people think, croons one of The Mowgli’s singers in “Time.” These are just the kind of truthful, touching lyrics that abound in The Mowgli’s Love’s Not Dead EP.

The notion of ‘one big happy family’ might figure indeed, what with the 8 members that make up the Mowgli ensemble: Michael Vincze, Colin Louis Dieden, Katie Jayne Earl, Matthew Di Panni, Josh Hogan, Dave Appelbaum, Spencer Trent, and Andy Warren.
Consisting predominantly of Los Angeles natives, The Mowgli’s effectively channel their version of fun, love-infused Californian vibes into their infectious tunes. Inspired by a variety of artists such as The Byrds, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Grouplove, and Fun., their sound entails a medley of youthful pop, rock, and country influences.

The Love’s Not Dead EP was released October 30th, 2012 on The Island Def Jam Music Group. The result is an optimistic, joyfully upbeat exploration of life infused by common—but, dare I say, genuinely heartfelt—themes of universal love, peace, and unity.
“San Francisco” ensnares listeners with its contagious energy and depiction of love as a delightful drug, as “The Great Divide” addresses exploration and identity to an optimistic backdrop. “Time” diffuses a less intricate sound—with its single singer and simple acoustics—to themes of hopefulness, rebellion, and pursuing your dreams. The journey winds down on a slower note, concluding with the chorus-backed uplifting, spiritual tune that is the inspirational “Carry Your Will.”

With their EP, The Mowgli’s do succeed at convincing listeners that love is anything but dead. Their contagious energy combined with cheerful lyrics make for highly enjoyable tunes, which mostly feel like a big chorus of jubilant vocalists ready to spread the elation at any given moment.

And what’s not to like about that?

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill album review

After a ten-year hiatus, Neil Young & Crazy Horse have graced their fans with not just one, but two albums for the 2012 year. After the summer release of Americana, the lengthy rockin’ Psychedelic Pill delivers a full-fledged far out experience.

With a musical career spanning practically 5 decades, Neil Young is probably stranger to few. Hailing from Ontario, Canada, Young emerged on the ‘60s rock scene as folksinger, collaborating with the Squires and joining band Buffalo Springfield in 1966. Soon after, Young’s solo career took off with the 1968 release of his self-titled debut, followed by the 1970 release of After The Gold Rush.

While it might be challenging to pick out favorites among the 35+ albums to his name—not including his collaborative albums—some of his most beloved releases include 1972’s Harvest and 1979’s punk-rock inspired hit album Rust Never Sleeps.

Described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “one of rock and roll’s greatest songwriters and performers,” he earned his place in the Hall of Fame in both 1995 and 1997. Throughout his career Neil Young experimented with a variety of styles, becoming most famous for his acoustic and hard rock styles. While Young’s career has entailed numerous collaborations, he’s worked most consistently with garage rock band Crazy Horse, culminating in no less than eleven co-creative albums since 1969.

Psychedelic Pill—Young’s 35th album and his 11th with Crazy Horse—was released on October 30th, 2012 on Reprise Records. As its title indicates, it’s a trance-infused voyage into psychedelic rock, with lengthy, otherworldly and acoustically mind-boggling tracks, contrasting Americana’s classic folk rock sound. “Driftin’ Back” kicks it all off with the longest ride, with 27 minutes worth of dream-like lyrics and progressively intricate guitar riffs, followed by the title track’s intense rockin’ beat that channels partying in the guise of a free-spirited female muse. The autobiographical “Born In Ontario” diffuses a cheerful vibe whereas the melancholic “For The Love Of Man” explores a touching, more spiritual side.

Psychedelic Pill it is indeed, and quite fitting for a long, diverse trip with its time span of over 85 minutes.

Finding my religion, I might be a pagan, sings Young in “Driftin’ Back.” Blasphemy!

We all know that Neil Young’s religion is none other than… music.

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Yellow Ostrich – Ghost EP review

Yellow Ostrich may have released a full-length album earlier this year, but that hasn’t stopped their creative juices from concocting yet another, more aurally uniform piece via their moody and appropriately dubbed Ghost EP.

If the name Alex Schaaf rings a bell, it’s because he also figures as lead singer for Wisconsin-based band The Chairs (not to be confused with the British band). Yellow Ostrich started off as Schaaf’s solo project in 2009. The following year, Schaaf relocated to Brooklyn and added drummer Michael Tapper to the lineup, with bassist Jon Natchez joining in 2011. In the few years they’ve been together, the trio has been nothing less than prolific, releasing 3 albums—Wild Comfort (2009), The Mistress (2011), and Strange Land (2012) as well as 3 EPs—The Serious Kids EP (2010), The Morgan Freeman EP (2010), and Fade Cave EP (2011). Their sound blends indie rock, indie pop and lo-fi influences.

Ghost—the band’s 4th EP—was released on October 22nd, 2012 on Barsuk Records. The tunes are mostly mellow, dreamy slow tracks that bring to mind acts like Radiohead and Grizzly Bear. “Ghost” starts off on a slow, cautious note before building up momentum to brutally honest lyrics while “Here Today” has an ambient-acoustic vibe that diffuses the theme of uncertainty.
“Chills” packs the EP’s strongest punch, with its intense acoustics and drumming whereas the intensely dreamy “Already Gone” may be the album’s most experimental track, with the sound evolving three times in the span of less than three minutes.

Overall, Ghost is a brief, mellow airy-acoustic experience. Compared to previous EPs, Ghost is not as vocally-focused (Fade Cave EP), and is neither Hip Hop-tinged (Morgan Freeman EP), nor dance-based (Serious Kids EP). By adding Ghost to the list, they show their experimental tendency to immerse themselves into a specific genre, making for varied EPs that are unique in style and range while remaining easy on the ears. Some may also check out a live rendition of the EP via their tour that kicked off on October 26th, 2012.

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Patrick Wolf – Sundark and Riverlight album review

Set aside your expectations for more of Patrick Wolf’s folktronica sound, as the commemorative Sundark and Riverlight delivers an entirely new experience.

Hailing from South London, England into a creative family, Patrick Wolf has been artistically inclined since his pre-teen years. As a teen he participated in street performance, worked in fashion retail, wrote his own songs, and eventually formed his own group dubbed Maison Crimineaux. A Maison Crimineaux gig would catch the eye of producer Capitol K, who would eventually release Patrick’s first album in 2003 titled Lycanthropy. Along with his subsequent releases—Wind in the Wires (2005), The Magic Position (2007), The Bachelor (2009), and Lupercalia (2011)—Patrick’s sound has become known for its alternative rock-indietronica style.

Sundark and Riverlight—the singer-songwriter’s 6th album—was released on September 25th, 2012 on his own Bloody Chamber Music label. In celebration of a decade of musical creativity, it delivers a 2-CD set of acoustic tunes, thus notably differing from Patrick’s usual multi-layered sound. Of the 16 tracks, 15 have appeared in their original form on previous albums while “Bitten” figures as the one new track. In terms of mood, the first disc generally carries gloomier tones, contrasting the second more upbeat disc.

The classical instruments effectively convey mood to emotional and weighty themes such as war/conflict (in its many forms), identity, acceptance, and genderless love. The acoustic set-up also creates a sense of intimacy that allows Patrick’s vocals to shine through and divulge deep emotion. Some standouts include “Vulture,” whose dramatic piano keys and closing sound effects theatrically diffuse the song’s dark undertones as “Overture” delivers another kind of appeal via a beautifully gentle acoustic beat and accompanying viola and harp strings. The skillful Gypsy Kings-like guitar riffs and background viola of “Together,” along with its romantically touching lyrics, make for an amazingly moving tune, as “Bermondsey Street” samples multi-lingual speeches to drive home its message of universal love.

Overall, there is no question that Sundark and Riverlight significantly differs from its predecessors, but that doesn’t make it any less of an enjoyable experience. And indeed, why not celebrate one’s own historical musicology by adding another layer of experimentation to the list—perhaps a way to mark the next stage by merging the old with the new? Besides showcasing the artist in a new light, it just might make the future seem a little less predictable.

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Satellite Stories – Phrases To Break The Ice album review

It’s time to put your party hat(s?!) on because Satellite Stories demand nothing less in their fun-filled album Phrases To Break The Ice.

Singer-guitarist Esa, guitarist Marko, bassist Jyri and drummer Oli-Pekka formed in October 2008 in Oulu, Finland. Even if by 2010 these Scandinavian satellites had only a 3-tracked promo EP to their name, their SoundCloud demo plays boasted remarkable numbers and led them to be the most blogged about Finnish band of that year. They’ve also graced international crowds with their party-based indie-pop sound through European and Japanese touring. In August 2012, the quartet also added to their list of achievements top ranking status amongst hypem.com’s most popular band list and the number one spot on We Are Hunted remix charts. The band has also had songs play in MTV’s Jersey Shore show.

Phrases To Break The Ice—released on September 21st, 2012 on XYZ Berlin Music—marks the band’s first full-length release. It encompasses all their previous single releases so that you may rest easy knowing you’re not missing a beat—literally. Their sound entails incredibly catchy, upbeat indie rock with a hint of electronic dance influence. Basically, you’ll be dancing and singing along and enjoying every minute of it. “Kids Aren’t Safe In The Metro” channels new experiences and hopeful love while “Helsinki Art Scene” addresses self-realization and defying conventional scenes to the sound of an infectious guitar riff. “Mexico” and “Costa Del Sol ‘94” reflect the fearless youth-driven longing for escape to exotic locations, contrasting “Mt. Foreverest”—a gentle, acoustic reflection on life that figures as the album’s only slow track.

With its youthful approach, catchy choruses and energetic beats, Phrases To Break The Ice does just that, and quite irresistibly so. The sense of nostalgia mixed with the invincibility of youth give the album a pleasantly familiar feel.

An escape to unadulterated bliss you’ll long to make on a repeated basis.

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Sky Ferreira – Ghost EP review

While Sky Ferreira’s musical past was mostly dance-oriented, her latest Ghost EP delivers a set of somewhat different, yet highly appealing tunes to the delight of varied listeners.

Los Angeles-native Sky Ferreira was surrounded and influenced by music from a young age, what with having a hairstylist mother whose client was none other than Michael Jackson himself. By the time she turned 15, her significant MySpace following—thanks to her appealing demos—had led her to Swedish producers Bloodshy & Avant, which ultimately culminated in a record deal with Parlophone records in 2009. Soon after, she appeared in Uffie’s “Pop The Glock” video, starred in independent drama film “Putty Hill,” and was featured in both American and European magazines. She released her tracks “17,” “One,” and “Obsession” as singles, with “Obsession” featuring in the first soundtrack album to the popular Vampire Diaries TV series in 2011. The same year she also released her first EP titled As If!

Sky’s second EP Ghost was released on October 16th, 2012 on Capital Records, and entails collaborations with Cass McCombs, Jon Brion, Greg Kurstin, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Dev Hynes. Prior to the EP’s drop date, the single and video for “Red Lips” were released in July 2012 and the ’80s dance-inspired video to “Everything Is Embarrassing” was released on October 1st, 2012.

While Sky’s first EP was mostly dance-pop oriented, Ghost is distinctly darker and grungier. And who better to bring out one’s rough edges than Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson—co-writer of the rockin’, in-your-face “Red Lips”—with a provocative video to boot. Unlike her previous EP, the dancey “Lost In My Bedroom” stands out as the only electropop track of the bunch. Just as aurally touching are the lovely acoustic tracks “Sad Dream” and “Ghost,” in which the melancholy permeates, setting the stage for Sky’s beautiful voice to shine through.

The Ghost EP is highly fulfilling in its entertaining ability and aural diversity. The tracks channel different moods and musical genres and there’s a distinct sense that we’re seeing the more mature, less teenybopper-ish side of Sky Ferreira. If the Ghost EP is anything to go by, it’s likely that her full-length album I’m Not Alright—whenever it does drop—will both please long-time fans and generate new ones.