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Matt & Kim – Lightning album review

Maybe I learned all I need to know from bottles and their broken glass, says Matt in “I Wonder.”
And while fun is on the agenda of Matt & Kim’s Lightning, it’s also an experiment in aurally diverse territory.

Singer Matt Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino formed the band in Brooklyn, NYC in 2004, back when they were Pratt Institute art students. Popularity came through extensive touring, with performances at festivals such as Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo as well as a variety of international music festivals. Their first album Matt & Kim was released in 2006, followed by Grand in 2009, and Sidewalks in 2010. The duo garnered several awards such as the Gold Award for their song “Daylight,” and 3 MTV music awards including Breakthrough Video award for their daring “Lessons Learned” video clip. They’ve acquired a reputation for high-powered performances and their appreciation for intimate settings, highlighting their focus on energetic connection with the crowd.

Lightning—the duo’s fourth album—was released on October 2nd, 2012 under FADER label. The day before the album release, they performed the album’s first single—the dance-based “Let’s Go”—on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show. The album carries pop-punk influence and occasional nods to hip-hop set to their signature dose of high energy. Dancey tracks like “It’s Alright” and “Tonight” are odes to the good times, while “Much Too Late” channels anger and the album’s harshest lyrics. Hip hop influences can be heard in the less upbeat, head bobbing-appropriate “I Said” and the self-contemplative “I Wonder.”

Overall, Lightning feels like a party album with its fair share of ‘oooh’ refrains throughout—catchy but repetitive to say the least. Not that it’s all a walk in the park either, as bittersweet numbers like “Not That Bad,” “Much Too Late,” and “Ten Dollars I Found” reflect. While the lyrical content is often simple and repetitive, the impression is that Matt & Kim could probably get more abstract if they chose to. It’s almost as if Lightning seeks to strike a balance between the struggles of adulthood and the remnants of a youthful, carefree outlook.

For some, a fitting soundtrack to a house party but one whose experience might not be entirely memorable.

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Sera Cahoone – Deer Creek Canyon album review

Let’s get out of here a while, I’m counting down every mile, suggests Sera Cahoone in “Oh My.” But you won’t need to wait until the last track to realize that you’ve long been lured into her charming indie rock country-western Deer Creek Canyon with little desire of coming out anytime soon.

The Littleton, Colorado native traces her love of music back to her younger years, when she learned to play drums at 11 years of age. Her move to Seattle in ‘98 would lead her to drum for band Carrisa’s Wierd, Betsy Olson, Band of Horses, and singer-songwriter Patrick Park. In 2006, her self-titled solo debut was released, with the praiseworthy Only as the Day Is Long following in 2008. Her blend of country-western, indie rock and lo-fi music makes for a moving, genuine Americana-based experience.

Deer Creek Canyon—the singer’s third album—was released on September 25th, 2012 on Sup Pop Records. Recorded in Washington and Los Angeles, the album was co-produced with Thom Monahan and includes performances by her live band. The spellbinding indie rock country-western tunes channel themes like love, relationships, home and the need for change. From the title track’s autobiographical undertones—the canyon being where Sera grew up and where her mom still resides—to “Oh My”‘s longing for escape, there’s an ever-present yearning and search for home. Just as challenging is the ever-present complicated nature of love; its bittersweet longing effect explored in tracks such as “And Still We Move” and the slow, lyrically seductive “Here With Me.” “Any Way You Like” stands out with its peculiar vibe; its violin bridge adding intense layers to its romantic yet cautionary tone.

With its simple yet moving acoustics set to Sera’s soft, soothing voice to wrap you up like a warm blanket, Deer Creek Canyon is simply irresistible. Amidst the chaos of life and its constant emotions, a sense of purity and innocence abounds. And what more appropriate setting for purity than verdant grounds—fitting metaphor indeed.

You’ll waste the rest of your days if you worry all your life, she says in “Worry All Your Life.”
Truthful words, and truly one can be nothing less than relaxed and—dare I say happy and right at home—as they get whisked away to her naturally rich and beautiful Deer Creek Canyon.

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Jason Collett – Reckon album review

Does your conscience keep you up at night? wonders Jason Collett in “Don’t Let The Truth Get To You.” It’s but one of the many weighty questions Collett explores in his latest release Reckon.

Toronto native singer-songwriter Jason Collett’s love for songwriting dates back to his childhood years. With a musical career dating back to 1999—including brief membership in Canadian alternative band Bird, participating in Toronto’s indie music event dubbed Radio Mondays, and joining indie band Broken Social Scene—Collett’s career has covered quite some ground. Aside from his varied musical commitments, Collett went on to produce a number of solo albums, including Motor Motel Love Songs (2002), Idols of Exile (2005), Prodigals EP (2007), Here’s To Being Here (2008), To Wit To Woo EP (2010), Rat a Tat Tat (2010), and Pony Tricks (2010).

Collet’s 6th full-length album Reckon—produced by Howie Beck—was released on September 25th, 2012 under Arts & Crafts, with vinyl copies set to be released on October 9th, 2012. Its 15 tracks are a compilation of alternative country-folksy jingles that are as soothing to the ears as they are tinged with sadness. The gently acoustic “Talk Radio” calls to mind struggling families, bordering dangerously close to tearjerking emotion. The conceptually similar piano-backed “When The War Came Home” delivers equal emotion in the face of harsh realities. While “King James Rag,” “You’re Not The One and Only Lonely One” and “Black Diamond Girl” are praiseworthy upbeat tunes in a sea of sorrow, the humorously blunt “I Wanna Rob A Bank” takes the cake. I wanna know where did the money go, Collett sings, and something tells me he’s far from alone in his need for answers.

With its political undertones, the album clearly highlights Collett’s questioning of authority as well as his liberal inclinations. The mellow, alternative-country feel of Reckon generates a sense of intimacy and authenticity that is hard to remain indifferent to. Bittersweet though the honest struggles may be, at the very least, you’ll likely crack a smile when picturing a “Jesus-approved” bank robbery.

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Grizzly Bear – Shields album review

Three years after their hit album Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear returns with Shields, an enjoyable mellow 47 minutes of psychedelic-baroque rock tunes.

Grizzly Bear—initially lead singer and songwriter Edward Droste’s solo project—was formed in Brooklyn, New York in 2002. The quartet also includes vocalist/guitarist Daniel Rossen, bassist Chris Taylor and drummer Christopher Bear. The first album Horn of Plenty—released in 2004 as Ed Droste’s solo work but featuring Christopher Bear contributions—was met favorably by Rolling Stone. It was followed in 2006 by Yellow House—the second but first album which the band created as a quartet—which ranked among Pitchfork Media’s yearly top ranking album list. Further success came with 2009’s pop-influenced Veckatimest, which reached #8 on US Billboard 200 chart and topped a variety of hit album lists such as Time, Pitchfork, and New York Times. Known for their psychedelic-experimental-baroque pop sound, the band has also performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and opened for Radiohead.

Marking the end of a brief hiatus, Shields—the band’s 4th album—was released on September 18th 2012 under Warp Records. Its first two singles are “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again,” both of which were released in summer 2012. Despite its air of melancholy and desolation, the album’s varied approach to moodiness makes it an approachable exploration of the matter.
It might not be by coincidence that its first and last tracks figure as the album’s most intense. “Sleeping Ute” is an amazingly powerful kick-off; its earth-shattering percussions and acoustics conjuring images of clashing waves and lightning-filled storms. “Sun In Your Eyes”—the album’s longest track—creeps up on you more cautiously via piano before breaking into its powerful orchestra-like chorus. Sandwiched between these are tracks such as “The Hunt,” the mellow acoustic-piano-based tune that instantly brings to mind Radiohead and “Gun-Shy,” whose quirky pop-experimental vibe softens its dark lyrical content.

With its low-key baroque pop and art rock tunes, Shields is one you’ll want to explore on a repeated basis. I’m never coming back, proclaims Ed Droste in “Sun In Your Eyes.” But that’s where you’ll disagree, most of all for said epic introductory track.

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Cottage Jefferson – 8/7 Central EP review

If you’re always up for some easy on the ears indie rock tunes, then you’ll most definitely want to check out Cottage Jefferson’s 8/7 Central EP.

Hailing from Rochester, New York, members Dan Jackson (vocals/guitar), Erick Perrine (guitar), Katie Preston (vocals/boards), Jim Hill (bass/backing vocals), and Alex Northrup (drums) formed Cottage Jefferson in late 2011. As of mid-July 2012, the current line-up consists of Dan Jackson, Erick Perrine, Jim Hill and drummer Atom Mac. Thus far, the band has played shows mostly in upstate New York, as well as NYC, Cleveland and Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The 8/7 Central EP—the band’s first EP—began recording in April 2012 at two locations which included a campground convenience store in Darien, NY and drummer Alex Northrup’s Rochester apartment. Mastered by Stephen Roessner of Calibrated Recording, it was released on July 1st, 2012. The 80’s rock influenced tracks are catchy and addicting, channeling shoegaze-jangle pop vibes to both Dan and Katie’s vocals. “Pilot Episode” is a catchy rocking kick-off followed by the laid-back “Victory Song,” whose tongue-in-cheek chorus and jangle pop vibe makes it an irresistible anthem. “Boy Meets World” is a beautifully melancholic tune matched by Katie’s angelic set of pipes whereas “Rerun” delivers combined male-female vocals amidst enthralling guitar riffs.

Fans of bands such as Oasis, The Stone Roses, and The Verve will eat up the highly addicting 8/7 Central EP. Its combination of high-powered and moody tunes makes it a brief but rewarding aural experience. With the band planning to tour in early 2013 and set to start working on their next EP in the near future, we can only hope the next release will consist of more than six—albeit rather amazingly well-crafted—tracks.

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The Killers – Battle Born album review

Four years after the release of their infectious Day & Age, The Killers have reconvened for their Americana-rific creation Battle Born.

Originating in Las Vegas, Nevada, frontman Brandon Flowers and lead guitarist/backing vocalist Dave Keuning formed the band in 2001, amidst the garage rock and post-punk rock revival era. Drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr. and bass guitarist Mark Stoermer joined the following year in 2002. The band quickly gained fame with the 2003 UK single release of their first song “Mr. Brightside,” leading to significant buzz as a result of extensive touring. After signing with Island Records in 2004, their first album Hot Fuss was released, marking the band’s first success. Combined with 2006’s Sam’s Town and 2008’s Day & Age, band album sales total over 15 million copies worldwide. In early 2010, the band went on a brief hiatus, during which Brand Flowers, Ronnie Vannuci and Mark Stoermer released solo albums. Their new wave-heartland rock blend of hard-hitting anthems and catchy rock tunes have garnered worldwide fans and awards, securing them as a popular rock band.

Battle Born—The Killers’ 4th album—was released on September 18th 2012 on Island Records. The album boasts 12 tracks however the deluxe edition packs three additional tracks, including a house-techno remix of “Flesh And Bone”. The album will likely draw comparisons to Sam’s Town, with its Americana feel and historical references. Indeed, the very title gets its name from a term printed on Nevada’s state flag while “Miss Atomic Bomb” hints at 1950’s nuclear testing in said home state.

“Runaways”—the album’s first single—drafts a history of a lifetime with a certain eagerness for the future. “The Way It Was” addresses troubled love set to a nostalgic alternative rock vibe while “Deadlines and Commitments” channels an uplifting message with new wave influences. In contrast, tunes like “Heart Of A Girl” and “Be Still” might leave you rather disappointed.

Battle Born is likely to induce mixed emotions. Recurrent themes of young love—“standing in the street with her friends” seems to be the thème du jour—as well as repetitive imagery and word usage—time, horses, hell, God/Lord, neon lights, battle born—give it a somewhat redundant feel. There might also be more ballads present than would be expected of an album titled Battle Born. Pleasant tunes notwithstanding, the battle might be in finding that anticipated amazing moment triggered by its namesake.

New territory to be explored indeed, but with conquered grounds to be revisited at will.

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The xx – Coexist album review

Three years after their hit debut album, The xx’s latest release renews your opportunity to plunge into your realm of deep, dark, and mixed emotions.

Hailing from the U.K, band members Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim met as students at London’s Elliott School and began performing in 2005. The following year, they added member Jamie Smith to the group. Their self-produced debut album xx, released in 2009, met with high acclaim, ranking amongst the top 10 on Rolling Stone and NME’s “best of the year” lists. After extensive touring, TV shows and media airings, the album went on to earn the Barclaycard Mercury Prize in 2010 and was soon certified platinum. Drawing from a variety of influences such as pop, post-punk, R&B and EDM, theirs is an intensely morose, airy sound through which to channel your own painfully delightful heartbreak.

The xx’s second album Coexist was released on September 11th 2012 by Young Turks, with a deluxe vinyl LP release date of September 25th 2012. The dreamy, acoustic “Angels” and the ambient-entrancing “Chained” were released as the album’s first two singles. “Fiction” is a keenly moving ode to longing while “Reunion”‘s dreamy steel drums and subsequent EDM vibe renders it a multi-layered experience. “Swept Away”—with its dance-tinged beat—provides the album’s most upbeat moment.

Overall the album is a distinct chill-out, lounge-appropriate compilation of darkly intense tunes. Its themes of love and heartbreak makes it a highly relatable and influential piece, luring you into a world of nostalgia in mere seconds. If it must be compared to the previous album, Coexist channels a more uniform sound as well as more EDM influences than its predecessor. Part of its appeal might be in having a different impression during the first few listens, almost as if paralleling the complex nature of emotions.

Out of sight, out of mind, it doesn’t mean you’re not mine, croons Romy in “Unfold.”
Just the excuse I need to relish in my sporadic possessive-obsessive tendencies.

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The Sheepdogs – The Sheepdogs album review

It’s been an eventful past few years for The Sheepdogs; a journey with highs and lows to be explored via the new fourteen rock ‘n’ rolling tracks of their latest self-titled release.

Hailing from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canadian band The Sheepdogs consists of vocalist/guitarist Ewan Currie, guitarist Leot Hansen, bassist Ryan Gullen, and drummer Sam Corbett. Theirs is a story of humble beginnings—combined with drive and dedication no doubt—as their self-funded first three albums and subsequent triple 2011 CASBY awards reveal. Their first three albums—Trying to Grow (2007), The Sheepdogs’ Big Stand (2008), and Learn & Burn (2010)—were released in Canada, amassing fans with their down-to-earth ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll sound. But clearly this signaled only the beginning, as winning Rolling Stone’s “Choose the Cover” competition in 2011 would make them the first ever unsigned band to grace the magazine’s cover. Later that year, the band also had their song “Who?” appear in CBS’s CSI show. To date, The Sheepdogs have also toured with the likes of Kings of Leon, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and John Fogerty, as well as performed at festivals like Coachella and SXSW.

The Sheepdogs’ self-titled fourth studio album—their first released in the US—was released on September 4th 2012 on Atlantic. It was produced by the The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney and Rolling Stone’s Austin Scaggs. The soulfully rocking “The Way It Is” is the album’s first single, packing a bittersweet reminder of the way life can be. The acoustic “Laid Back” starts off the ride on a chill note while “Feeling Good” is a good ‘ol classic ‘70s rocking track that delivers the intended mood. “Ewan’s Blues” is a beautifully moody piece while “Is Your Dream Worth Dying For?” addresses the question and difficulties of pursuing your passion. While half the album entails tracks with less than three minutes of play, the acoustics coupled with Ewan Currie’s gently commanding vocals compensate for the brevity.

And so it seems the symbolism is in full effect, what with their history and a US tour taking off on September 16th 2012 to show that these sheepdogs are steering themselves right where they want to go.

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Alanis Morissette – havoc and bright lights album review

With two hit albums released in the ‘90s, it might be habit to visualize Alanis Morissette in that time frame. But while quite a bit has changed in seventeen years, Havoc and Bright Lights is likely to please fans keen on a softer approach.

Alanis Morissette’s career began in her teen years, releasing her first two pop albums—Alanis in 1991 and Now Is The Time in 1992—in her native Canada. Things quickly progressed when, after signing with American record label Maverick in 1995, her album Jagged Little Pill was released worldwide, garnering international success. In an era known for its grunge rock scene, JLP’s alternative rock sound and edgy lyrics led to several hit singles and Billboard labeling it the number one best-selling album of the 1990’s.
Although JLP saw Alanis at her peak, other successes came in the form of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998), Under Rug Swept (2002), So-Called Chaos (2004), and Flavors of Entanglement (2008). Throughout her career Alanis also explored the acting world, appearing in film, television, and stage roles.

Havoc and Bright Lights—Alanis’s 8th studio album—was released on August 28th 2012 under Collective Sounds, with Guy Sigsworth—who also produced her previous album—and Joe Chicarrelli as its producers. Its twelve tracks are a conglomerate of pop rock sounds, with catchy acoustic tunes and piano-backed ballads. Although some themes are familiar—such as identity, anger, loneliness, and love—the lyrical content consistently underlines its spiritual nature.
“Guardian,” the album’s first single, is a catchy alternative tune with spiritual undertones while the slow, piano-based ballad that is “Havoc” sets a beautiful background to its theme of insecurity. “Celebrity” is an intense rock-influenced critique on the lifestyle while the most surprising is “Woman Down,” whose hint of EDM sharply contrasts Alanis’s typical style, but which she balances out with her tough attitude.

If there is occasional ambivalence, the source is likely to be Alanis’s songwriting. Repetitive lyrics (“Numb”) and ambiguous, perhaps too abstract meanings (“Edge of Evolution”) are disappointing—if not unexpected—of such a skilled artist.

Overall, if spiritual allusions are right up your alley, then Havoc and Bright Lights definitely delivers. Alanis having given birth but two years ago, the outcome can’t be said to be a huge surprise, as motherhood tends to have that effect (Madonna’s Ray of Light, anyone?).
It might not figure as your favorite, but there is enjoyment to be had.

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Yeasayer – Fragrant World album review

If I say that Yeasayer’s new release brings to mind images of a futuristic-electronic-R&B voyage through outer space with occasional stints in the desert—complete with Cubist wardrobe and/or perspective—then you’ll know that Fragrant World is anything but a banal experience.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, the quintet band formed in 2006 with members Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton, Anand Wilder, Ahmed Gallab, and Jason Trammell. Performing at SXSW festival in 2007 led to the release of their first album All Hour Cymbals later that year, its contents blending psychedelic, soul, snap and Middle Eastern elements. After various appearances around the world—from the Paris metro, Lollapalooza, and Leeds Festival in 2008, to the Coachella Music Festival in 2010—the pop-influenced second album Odd Blood came forth in 2010. The 2-track EP End Blood followed in 2011, a brief work recorded during the Odd Blood sessions.

Fragrant World—the group’s third album—was released on August 21st 2012 under Secretly Canadian. Fans were treated to sneak peeks, as “Henrietta” and “Longevity” were both released as singles prior to the album’s drop date. “Devil and the Deed” was also premiered in May 2012 via performance on Conan O’Brien’s late show. Vinyl enthusiasts will surely have noted its limited 300 copies with its exclusive tracks of “Fragrant World” and “No Bones” remix present on the glitter-pressed vinyl.

Much like its predecessors, Fragrant World is a complex work of art, blending psychedelic, R&B, electronic and pop, with an occasional dab of subtle Middle Eastern sounds. “Henrietta”‘s R&B swag will pull you in then wind you down with its ethereal change of pace, making for a track that’s just as remarkably significant as the woman’s story it’s inspired by. “Devil and the Deed” is catchy with its futuristic space alien sound and romantic undertones while “Damaged Goods” channels a slower, moodier tone with its blend of electronic and Middle Eastern sounds. “Reagan’s Skeleton” is the album’s safest track with its more consistent 80’s-electronic vibe, which only serves to show that Yeasayer can deliver the unusual and the mainstream with equal talent.

Although Fragrant World is definitely unconventional and is likely to shake you up, it just might be the catchiest unconventional album you run into this year. The songs are pleasantly addicting and reflective of so many different genres that it might be hard not to find something in the album that resonates with you. Blasting through headphones optional yet highly recommended.