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Cement Stars – Geometrics album review

While Cement Stars just released their latest album Form and Temper a few months ago, the re-release of their first album Geometrics treats listeners to a dream pop indie rock sound with a modern twist.

Brothers Shaun and Bryan Olson—originally from Chicago but based in North Carolina—formed Cement Stars in 2006, the result of a lo-fi project with individual and collaborative songwriting. In 2009, the band released their first album Geometrics after working with producer Paul Jensen. Since then, the band has become a quintet, with percussionist Cody Hare (no longer a member as of March 2011) and guitarist Joshua Faggart joining in late 2009, as well as background vocalist Enid Valu and bass player Kurt Dodrill joining in 2011. The band’s mix of indie rock and new wave/experimental sound would reach the Electric Mountain Music Group label, culminating in the band signing with them in late 2011. Other album releases include Small Seas in 2011 and Form and Temper in 2012.

The August 7th, 2012 re-release of Geometrics by Ten Millimeter Omega Recordings is a limited-time opportunity to get a copy of the band’s first album. Its ten tracks are a medley of modern rock and 80’s dream pop-inspired tunes. “Ringing” starts off the auditory experience with an intensely alluring new wave sound while tracks like “City Snow” and “It’s Too Late” are of the delightfully laid-back acoustic variety. “We’re All Gonna Get Our Way” is the album’s most standout track, thanks to its semi-eerie piano and synthpop-infused sound. While it may be possible to note limited lyrics on occasion, it’s to give full reign to the band’s instrumental talents.

Geometrics will delight fans of artists such as Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and Radiohead. Lead vocalist Bryan Olson’s alluring voice—somewhat reminiscent of Ian Brown’s of The Stone Roses—is very well an added bonus.

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Grace McLean and Them Apples – Make Me Breakfast EP review

I just wanna know if he would make me breakfast… cook my eggs in your bacon grease.

If one thing is sure, it’s that we don’t hear lyrics like these everyday, and Grace McLean and Them Apples’s EP Make Me Breakfast is sure to deliver on that front.

Grace McLean has been writing her own jingles since 2007, during which she formed her own naturally witty style. Along with her band Them Apples—including members Kate Ferber and Liana Stampur as back-up vocals, Hiroyuki Matsuura on drums and percussion, Idrissa Kone on talking drum and Justin Goldner on bass, guitar, keyboards and banjo—the band’s career began with their first performance in New York City’s Joe’s Pub in September 2009. Soon after, Grace formed her solo show named “Grace McLean Lives in Concert,” a show focused on her music and concert techniques. The show has performed in Ars Nova’s ANTfest in 2010 as well as its Uncharted series in 2011.

Make Me Breakfast—the band’s debut EP—was released on August 1st 2012. Its five tracks are fun and catchy; its engaging and enthusiastic vibe likely to induce mass sing-alongs. But that will not be before absorbing Grace’s seductive, soulful voice, whose witty and sharp lyrics just might trigger a ‘say what?!’ out of you. “My Friend’s Roommate” is a very sexy tune whose tale of longing is all too relatable while “Cabbie Landlord” explores loneliness to the sounds of her piano and ukulele. Sauciness aside, “Haven’t You Noticed” is a moving tune that could easily be labeled the year’s most romantically honest song.

With a voice somewhat comparable to Paula Cole’s, Make Me Breakfast is highly recommended for fans of soulful, jazz-pop music and tongue-in-cheek humor. It feels so good, croons Grace in “Secret Song.” And that’s likely to be the feeling induced by hearing these tunes.

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Antony and the Johnsons – Cut the World album review

Live classical orchestra, mysticism and warm feminine voice notwithstanding, rest assured Antony and the Johnson’s new release Cut the World is anything but an innocent, light-hearted fairy tale. Perhaps one has only to explore Cut the World’s dark and painful—yet simultaneously gentle and hopeful—realm to discover its multiple layers.

The septet band Antony and the Johnsons is fronted by British-born singer, composer, and visual artist Antony Hegarty. Other bandmembers include cello player Julia Kent, drummer Parker Kindred, bassist Jeff Langston, horn player Doug Wieselman, violinist Maxim Moston, and guitarist/violinist Rob Moose. While Antony’s childhood years entailed growing up in the UK, Amsterdam and the San Francisco Bay Area, his move to New York City in 1990 to attend NYU would prove a rewarding choice for his artistic and musical career. Antony’s early NYC years would be spent forming and performing via his experimental drag performance group dubbed Blacklips, as well as write and perform in other theatrical productions. It’s in 1997 that Antony and the Johnsons would perform for the first time as an ensemble—after having earned a grant from New York Foundation for the Arts, no less.
Fate would have it that British experimental artist David Tibet would hear their work, resulting in a Durtro record label release of Antony and the Johnsons’s self-titled debut in 2000. The second album—I Am a Bird Now released in 2005—featured Boy George, Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright and was highly acclaimed, earning them the UK award of the Mercury Music Prize. The Crying Light would follow in 2009, and Swanlights in 2010.

Cut the World—the band’s 5th album—was released by Rough Trade on August 6th 2012 and on August 7th 2012 by Secretely Canadian. Its 12 tracks are a result of a live session recorded in Copenhagen with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra in late 2011 and are a compilation of songs from the band’s previous four albums. What ensues is a highly moving and heartfelt experience which the classical music beautifully evokes. The title track is the album’s new emotional track which is as likely to make an impression as its intense video. The intimate “Future Feminism” discourse elaborates on the album’s recurring themes, with concepts such as spirituality, patriarchal vs. matriarchal societies, and ecology discussed. Tracks like “You Are My Sister” and “The Crying Light” carry notes of optimism yet—like much of the album—allow for a variety of interpretations.

A poignant work of art set to the dream-like notes of skilled musicians, Cut the World is likely be a welcomed addition to fans’ collections as well as serve as an appropriate starting point for newer listeners.

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Paul Banks – Julian Plenti Lives EP review

If you’ve been feeling the void that has been Interpol’s absence for the past couple of years, you may rejoice and get your fix through Paul Banks’s latest solo EP release Julian Plenti Lives.

Paul Banks seems a man of many faces, what with being rock band Interpol’s lead singer as well as solo artist via alter ego Julian Plenti. His background seems to testify to this diversity as well, given his childhood and younger years spent in England, the U.S., Spain and Mexico—bilingualism included. Banks’s career with Interpol began in 1997 after meeting fellow Brit-born member Daniel Kessler. With a style comparable to the likes of Joy Division and The Smiths, Interpol has released four albums thus far: Turn on the Bright Lights (2002), Antics (2004), Our Love to Admire (2007), and Interpol (2010). By 2007, it seemed that Interpol would not be the bandmates’ sole focus, what with drummer Sam Fogarino joining a side project early that same year and Paul Banks’s alias Julian Plenti emerging in 2009 in his own first solo album titled Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper. Banks’s solo work encompasses experimentation and individuality while faithfully delivering his signature powerful set of pipes.

The Julian Plenti Lives EP—Paul Banks’s second solo project—along with the track “Summertime is Coming” were released on June 26th 2012 on Matador Records. The limited quantities—2300 vinyls and 1800 cd copies made available worldwide—may create a sense of urgency for die hard fans. “Summertime is Coming” appropriately channels the spirit of the season while Banks’s voice in the haunting “I’m A Fool to Want You” hits eerily—yet pleasantly, no doubt—close to the original. Although the EP only consists of five tracks, the Frank Sinatra, Harold Faltermeyer, and J Dilla remakes along with the two originals are sure to delight alternative rock fans.

The only complaint may be the album’s noticeable briefness. But it just might be the perfect tease needed to build up to the climax that will be Banks’s second full length album release in October 2012.

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music videos reviews

The Sanctuaries – Not Guilty EP review

There are times when indie rock music may conjure a kind of laid-back soundtrack to life, with videos showcasing a variety of everyday activities, such as walking your dog, exploring your town, and/or hanging out. However if you’re a fan of such tunes set to a slightly faster beat, you may need look no further than The Sanctuaries’s Not Guilty EP.

The NYC-based band started off in 2010 when singer/guitarist David Stern and drummer Brian Indig were both musically-inclined Skidmore College students. Organ player Alex Northrup along with a variety of bass players soon joined the lineup. Soon after, the band self-released its first vinyl record. Northrup’s departure in 2011—right as they were beginning work on their first full-length album—would lead to a temporary break and a new member, Ross Edwards, as organ player. Shortly after, the band went on to release its eleven-tracked album Annette—written by David Stern—on January 7th 2012 under Mecca Lecca. With influences such as Yo La Tengo, The Byrds and The Clean, The Sanctuaries deliver a light-hearted pop-rock sound.

The Not Guilty EP will be released on August 28th 2012 under Mecca Lecca. The witty “Judging You Is Easy” was released both as a track and video—complete with cooking lesson and well-earned ping pong playing—on July 19th 2012. Of the EP’s eight tracks, five are remixed songs from their previous album Annette. The remixes carry a mix of ambient and house music influences resulting in dreamy undertones, providing an alternate way to enjoy the band’s pop-rock sound.

Erik Gundel’s remix of “Heaven Is A Mountain” has a laid back Caribbean island vibe thanks to its steel drums while the energetic house music sound of BILO Remix’s “House of Noise” easily makes it the EP’s most high-powered track. The acoustic “Hey Brooke” reflects yet another aspect of relationships through the longing for someone else.

Listeners keen on the alternative indie rock sound of bands like Real Estate, Outrageous Cherry and Beachwood Sparks will welcome The Sanctuaries among their music collection. With its blend of dance and rock influences, Not Guilty can be thought of as a more upbeat way to wind down.

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Foxygen – Take The Kids Off Broadway album review

Foxygen. A name that’s open to various interpretations. A new way of envisioning one of our body’s much needed elements? An appealing alien substance that seduces the mind? Foxy generation? In any case, perhaps an immediate opportunity for the band to showcase their cleverness and vision.

Foxygen comprises 22-year old band members Sam France from Olympia, Washington as vocals and NYC native Jonathan Rado as guitar and keyboard player. As teenagers, they were both involved in other bands, but it was differing artistic visions that caused Sam and Jonathan to form their own band in 2004. Since then, the duo has grown from writing songs throughout high school to exploring different genres and sounds, including rapping. Although the band took a break to pursue college education and join other bands in the meantime, the duo never officially broke up and ended up conglomerating once again. To date, they’ve written and recorded at least eight albums, leading up to their latest EP Take The Kids Off Broadway.

Take The Kids Off Broadway—the group’s first physical EP—was released on July 24th 2012 under Jagjaguwar. “Make It Known” was the album’s first release. Its tracks pay homage to psychedelic punk rock, with sounds reminiscent of The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and MGMT. The most romantic track on the album, “Waitin’ 4 U” channels love and restlessness with a Mick Jagger-like vibe. The far out “Teenage Alien Blues” is psychedelic voyaging at its best while Sam’s voice divulges strong emotion in “Why Did I Get Married?,” with intense shouting lyrics asking “does it matter?!” hinting at irony and frustration.

Fans of ‘60s psych-rock music will relish Take The Kids Off Broadway. There’s no denying that the high school years spent experimenting have contributed to a polished sound. While Sam France and Jonathan Rado are young and will doubtless further grow in their craft and artistic interests, if the skillfully crafted EP is any indication, then the future looks nothing less than promising for these kids.

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Van She – Idea of Happiness album review

What constitutes your version of happiness? Does it involve a particular place or event? Is it centered around a certain person or group(s) of people? Is it tradition-based or more of a spontaneous nature?
In their latest album Idea Of Happiness, electropop band Van She takes listeners along for a ride as they reveal their own rather convincing ideas of happiness.

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Van She formed in 2002 after the members met through friends. The band consists of quartet Nicholas Routledge on vocals/guitar, Matt Van Schie on bass guitars/vocals, Tomek Archer on drums/sequencer and Michael di Francesco on synth/guitar. The band went on to release their first self-titled EP in 2005. Van She’s popularity grew as they toured with the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Daft Punk and Phoenix, leading to the 2008 release of their first studio album titled V. A remixed EP version of V was then released in 2009 titled Ze Vemixes. The electropop/nu-gaze sound make for danceable 80’s inspired tunes with a modern twist.

Idea of Happiness—Van She’s second studio album—was released on July 10th 2012 by Modular Recordings. The fun and catchy title track is the album’s first single and was released on May 4th 2012. The single—if not the album as a whole—is well timed in that it perfectly embodies summer in all its glory. The album’s shoegaze, disco and 80s elements combined with themes of escape, vacation, dancing and love make for a dance-based beach party experience.

Tracks like “Jamaica” and “Coconuts” instantly trigger images of blue skies and sandy beaches while “Calypso” and “You’re My Rescue” could easily have made their home in 80s teen movie soundtracks. However, even the darker side of paradise can be explored through tracks like “Sarah” and “We Move On,” both of which reflect a moodier tone with their Depeche Mode-like vibes. “We Move On” might be the album’s most standout track in that it has an 80’s feel with an unexpected hint of dubstep.

With a style reminiscent of Chromeo and Miami Horror to name a few, it might be hard to resist these upbeat tunes. Regardless of one’s idea of happiness, Van She’s exploration on the matter is likely to seduce a variety of listeners pining for carefree, relaxed fun. “We’ve got so much time to think about yesterday,” says a lyric in the single “Idea of Happiness.” Perhaps this album may prove to be the soundtrack for some to eventually look back and do just that.

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Dirty Art Club – Hexes album review

The sky, stars, planets, constellations. Asian fusion. Dark crypts and cellars, creepy vibes, Halloween. The ‘70s, tan leather, sideburns, psychedelic culture. Bright colors, vivid block-lettered graffiti, hip hop swag. What do these images have in common? Why, they might be none other than a fraction of the images conjured up in one’s mind as they venture into Dirty Art Club’s second album, appropriately named “Hexes.”

North Carolina-native Dirty Art Club producers Matt Cagle and John “Madwreck” McKiever have already recently graced the world with their musical talent with their 2011 hip-hop based debut “Heavy Starch.” Their second album delivers the same beloved beats combined with further musical experimentation whose medleys are a delight to the ears.

“Hexes” was released on July 3rd 2012 on Phonosaurus Records. Its eight tracks are intense and other-worldly, combining hip-hop, electronic and psychedelic sounds. “Black Acid” starts off the experience with a chilled-out, psychedelic mood complete with Indian-infused notes. The hip-hop based “Full Metal Jacket” is most reminiscent of the duo’s first album, and therefore arguably the album’s safest track. The hypnotic title track “Hexes” just might be the album’s pièce de résistance, what with its shifting tune at the track’s final minute. The transitioning from one tune to another within the same song—also heard in Minilla and Slow Burner—masterfully crafts a dual auditory experience in the space of barely three minutes.

As the album’s title predicts, “Hexes” is likely to send you on a colorfully dark—or is it the inverse?—experience, resulting in a pleasantly unpredictable ride. Listeners keen on Pogo, Dirty Elegance and RJD2, as well as listeners yearning for experimental-instrumental tunes may feel drawn to Dirty Art Club’s style.

“Hexes”: a definite spell whose effects are likely to be as varied as its listeners.

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Hard Drugs – Party Foreverer album review

Ah, the big city and its endless possibilities. Many an artist has dreamed of taking the leap and making the crucial move to a new place in pursuit of their dreams. However, as anyone who’s ever relocated will likely say, such an experience is not all a walk in the park. In Party Foreverer, folk-punk band Hard Drugs has chronicled a variety of experiences resulting from such a challenging, yet undoubtedly rewarding, endeavor.

Canadian artist Jeffry Lee first formed the band Hard Drugs in 2006 with two members of his Blood Meridian group, as well as additional friends, including his then-fiancée Jenni Nelson. The Vancouver-based project—which started off as a rock-opera and was meant as a pastime for the couple to partake in their love of music together—was put on hold when Jenni’s fashion design career drew her to Brooklyn, NYC. Jeffry would join her a year later to pursue editorial illustration. It’s their meeting with David Bason that would lead to the recording and release of their self-titled debut album in 2008. It’s also through Bason that the Lee’s would meet award-winning producer Michael Tudor who would help produce the band’s second album titled Party Foreverer.

Party Foreverer—mostly recorded in Tudor’s Upstate New York home—was released on June 19th 2012 under Storyboard Label. Aside from husband and wife duo Jeffry Lee as lead vocals and guitar and Jenni Lee Nelson’s vocals and tambourine, the lineup includes members Shira Blustein, Pete Dionne, Colin McKill, Jake Goodman, Ashley Weber, Jason Dana, Josh Wells, and CC Rose.

The 10-track concept album—with its accompanying 52-page black and white book illustrated by Jeffry—makes it both an enjoyable auditory as well as visually stimulating experience. The songs reflect various aspects of city life with themes of love, loss, temptation and the longing for simpler life. “Hardest Part II” addresses the difficulties of long-distance relationships while “Easy St.” dabbles with identity issues and the true meaning of happiness. Many a couple may find themselves relating to the humorous “She’s Hot But I’m Married” whereas “I Wanna Move To The Country” is likely to be an anthem for anyone who’s ever felt they needed a break from city life. In contrast to other songs, “1500 Miles” has lovebirds Jeffry and Jenni singing together as one voice.

It may be difficult to resist partying foreverer to these highly relatable and catchy country-folk tunes, but what might be just as endearing is the band’s down-to-earth attitude and sense of humor. Given Jeffry and Jenni’s decade-long relationship and continued commitment to artistic growth and exploration, it’s a party that’s unlikely to stop anytime soon.

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Oh Laura – The Mess We Left Behind album review

Oh Frida, what a voice you have. Some might say almost a cross between Joni Mitchell and Maja Ivarsson. Regardless, clearly a voice destined to trigger events into motion. It caught my attention in a moment, and I was definitely not the first, and nor will I be the last.

Swedish band Oh Laura—formerly Laura—started off as college friends Jocke Olovsson’s and Jorgen Kjellgren‘s songwriting project. Things quickly changed when Jocke met Frida Ohrn at one of her performances and, captivated by her voice, proposed her to form a band together with him and Jorgen. Thus the band—whose name is inspired by television series Twin Peaks heroine Laura Palmer— was formed. Eventually two of Frida’s friends—bass player Rikard Lindhamn and drummer Magnus Olsson—joined in, completing the band.

Live performances and their growing fan base eventually led them to meet Swedish indie label Cosmos Records in 2006. The label would end up releasing Oh Laura’s first album in 2007, named “A Song Inside My Head, A Demon In My Bed.” “Release Me,” the album’s first single, would go on to become a hit—peaking at #2 on Swedish charts—as well as appearing in a Saab commercial aired in various European countries, New Zealand and Australia.

Their second album titled The Mess We Left Behind was released on June 13th 2012 under Cosmos Records. With a 20 track count, it consists of 10 remakes from their first album and 10 new songs. There are also two rather impressive live performances, both of which are songs from the first album.

The album consists of mostly slow, moody country tunes. “California” kicks off the album as the ideal escape/start-over destination. “The Mess You Left Behind” is a beautiful, if sad, catchy tune while “Kennedy” and “Lucky Tonight” pack major kick-bum attitude. The limited instruments and slower beats of “A Friend Like Me” and “One Dance” further allow the uniqueness of Frida’s vocals to shine through. Fans of Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman would enjoy this set, as may anyone looking for some authentic, mellow country tunes.

Hard liquor in hand or not, it’s a “mess” one won’t mind getting into.