Io Echo – Ministry of Love album review

Synth pop duo Io Echo takes influence from the Eastern world to create a style of pop with depth and layers. Their debut full-length album, “Ministry of Love,” combines a number of different sounds—from delicate singing to traditional Asian instruments to heavy distortion—to create new, complex sounds.

Io Echo often juxtaposes Gika’s feminine, ethereal vocals with harder, more electronic instrumentation into tracks that manage to highlight the power of each without sounding discordant or chaotic. Title track “Ministry of Love” gives off an alternative, garage band vibe, with heavy drums and distortion. Though it sounds like it’s been put through similar filters, Gika’s voice stands out against the melody as its soft, elegant counterpart, adding a lightness to it that’s both unexpected and refreshing. “Ecstasy Ghost,” on first listen, seems to have a fairly straightforward pop melody with layered vocal tracks to add interest and depth. Both parts, however, are more complex than they first appear, with strings (they sound like a Japanese koto harp) and vocals arranged in the round bring color to the song and add to its catchiness. Gika sounds more indie on “Addicted” than most other tracks, the deeper tone complimenting the avant-garde, experimental melody.

On other songs, the different components fail to come together cohesively and instead create a whole that is less than its parts. For instance, “Draglove” attempts to unite an overly fast-moving, techno-esque beat with more moderately-paced pop vocals. Unlike the albums more successful tracks, these two elements are out of sync the entire track, the vocals constantly trying to catch up to the instrumentation. “Outsiders” combines the use of the tradition Japanese koto harp and a modern, drum-driven beat effortlessly, but the addition of Gika’s voice complicates the balance. The track is quite beautiful, but its elements are all beautiful in the same way, in the same style so they end up blending together into a fairly one-note piece. And on a totally subjective level, I have no patience for final tracks that end with a secret song after several minutes of silence. Even without that personal peeve, “Ministry of Love” hits several notes of genius, but does take some missteps on its journey to them.

James Blake – Overgrown album review

James Blake has, and utilizes, so many ideas that he runs the risk of becoming unintelligible or muddled. Fortunately, he has refined his style in a way that keeps the tracks of his second album, “Overgrown,” interesting and complex without being chaotic.

The album’s title and opening track, “Overgrown,” couldn’t give the audience a better introduction to the record. Relatively one of the slower tracks, “Overgrown” is an amalgamation of all the musical prowess Blake uses and manipulates throughout the rest of the album—echoing, layered vocals; strong, soulful beats; and impressive musicality to keep the two in harmony.

“Retrograde,” the album’s first single, pulls from a number of different musical standards and reimagines them as part of one, new era. The track opens on Blake humming, sounding much like a theremin, and quickly layers soulful piano and refreshingly unaffected vocals to create a futuristic R&B sound that’s easy to bury oneself in.

“Life Round Here” is a bit more traditionally electronic, with a catchy keyboard beat and effortless, airy vocals that feel new again. Blake’s ability to move easily between building, intense pieces and more mellow, dreamy sections within a single track brings listeners along on his journey instead of making them feel like they’re always a step behind. The ballad “I Am Sold” leans heavily on spacey, futuristic distortion effects that transport the listener to a different world full of pulsing reverb and ambient beats.

The album isn’t without its misfires. The Brian Eno-written and –produced “Digital Lion” isn’t a bad song, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the record. The album shines because of the effortless musicality and passion that Blake radiates. Songs like “Digital Lion” and the disjointed and overly elaborate house track “Voyeur” stick out even further because of the rest of the album is so cohesive.

Various Artists – Sound City: Real to Reel album review

Dave Grohl, current lead singer and guitarist for the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana, makes his directorial debut on “Sound City,” a documentary about the iconic recording studio Sound City Studio in Los Angeles. While the film has impressed critics and at the Sundance Film Festival, its totally original soundtrack, “Sound City: Real to Reel” fails to live up

When considered in conjunction with its own unique production process and the film—Grohl bought Sound City Studio’s analog console and each song was written and recorded with it in a 24-hour session at Grohl’s private studio—the soundtrack reads as a great tribute to Sound City Studios and its legacy in rock music. As a stand-alone album, however, it doesn’t have the cohesion or ingenuity to hold its own. On “The Man That Never Was,” Rick Springfield of “Jessie’s Girl” fame, collaborates with four of the Foo Fighters to create a track that would be unrecognizable from other Foo Fighters tracks except for Springfield’s vocals. “Time Slowing Down,” featuring Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine, is actually a fresh, easier take on Rage’s normally driving, intense sound. “You Can’t Fix This” is a stellar track because, come on, it’s Stevie Nicks, but as catchy and dreamy as it is, it’s not saying anything new or different musically that Nicks didn’t say in the ‘80s. Paul McCartney is electric on “Cut Me Some Slack,” showing a bit more of an alternative edge, though the song as a whole isn’t quite memorable.

The best part of the documentary is that it tells a story—the story of rock ‘n’ roll, the story of Sound City Studio, the story of an icon. This is where the soundtrack drops the ball. Instead of telling a united story, its disjointed snippets channel innumerable different eras and genres with no common thread beyond the use of the analog console and Grohl’s participation. While asking over twenty different artists to create and record tracks in just 24 hours is quite an undertaking, the restriction shows in the originality of the songs. Many of them rely on the established careers and sounds of the musicians to make a statement that has already been made before.

Deptford Goth – Life After Defo album review

On his debut album, Deptford Goth (aka producer Daniel Woolhouse) goes big. Using fairly minimalist instrumental layers and ethereal vocal components to create a complex, intense record. “Life After Defo” is a strong first step for Deptford Goth

A foreshadowing of the energy and atmosphere of the rest of the album, opening and title track “Life After Defo” begins theatrically, a slow build of epically intense drum and percussion beats. Scattered throughout the album are hints of a visceral, almost tribal, atmosphere. This song features a number of traditionally tribal sounds—hand drums, effects that sound like shakers and rattlers, chanting background vocals—that juxtapose smartly with the largely industrial instruments to create a haunting, dreamy experience. An exercise in emotion, “Feel Real” builds from a very minimal, sparse beat to an elaborate, encompassing climax that feels like being swept up in the ascension of a roller coaster, gaining more momentum and passion as it continues on.

For as experimental and ambient the album as a whole is, Deptford Goth manages to add a level of catchiness to many of the record’s tracks that is surprising both in its presence at all and in how it sneaks up on the listener. “Union” maintains a bubbly, electronic beat throughout. It’s fairly minimalist throughout the verses, but the chorus, when more ambient instrumentation kicks in to create an atmosphere that’s simultaneously more intricate and delicate, is the track’s star. After the first performance of the chorus, the listener will involuntarily sing its first line, “Everything that comes together,” on its subsequent showings on the track without quite knowing when it entered their psyche in the first place.

While the majority of tracks on “Life After Defo” are quite remarkable and memorable, a few miss the mark and are, unfortunately, boring. “Lions” relies on a scarce keyboard-driven melody that doesn’t work as well as others on the album because it doesn’t evolve at all. The end of the track sounds exactly the same as the beginning, rendering the intervening two minutes moot. It doesn’t surprise me that this track is the album’s shortest; you can only play the same keys and sing the same notes for so long. A couple of missteps are common for a first album, and with its successes far outnumbering its slips, Deptford Goth’s “Life After Defo” is way ahead of the game.

Phosphorescent – Muchacho album review

On his sixth full-length album, Phosphorescent, aka Matthew Houck, channels the ‘70s with a collection of indie folk tracks that wouldn’t be out of place at jam band session around a bonfire. “Muchacho” hits just the right note between more classic, straightforward folk music and incorporating different, complimentary styles and genres.

“A Charm / A Blade” alternates between a slower, folky style and a fuller, ska-esque sound. Though the two techniques seem inherently different and disconnected, Phosphorescent manages to create one cohesive, interesting song by keeping many of the musical components—instrumentation, vocals—the same even though the interpretations are different. “Ride On / Right On” includes both a super distorted electric guitar and what sounds like jingling spurs in its instrumentation, a juxtaposition that finds common ground in the industrialism of the machines. The two fairly commonplace pieces work together to create a fresh, forward rock track.

“Muchacho’s Tune” finds success in its simplicity, in its slow, passionate build. Many of the album’s other tracks rely on the whole being greater than its parts, while this song delights in its own simplicity, in highlighting their effortless minimalism. Set up against a delicate, purposeful piano-driven acoustic melody, Houck’s vocals shine. He croons beautifully, conveying a great amount of emotion and heart. Phosphorescent brings great depth to his songs, whether through brilliantly layering a multitude of sounds or pulling back and choosing just a few elements to take center stage.

While the opening track, “Sun, Arise!,” is strong in its production, its overly ambient, sonorous musicality doesn’t mesh with the overarching vibe of the rest of the album. Though the other tracks on the record find their own miche, it always falls within a more general, shared focus. Except “Sun, Arise!.” The futuristic, sci-fi vibe of it is extremely disconnected from the folky, organic efforts of the tracks that follow, doing a disservice to the ease and charm of the rest of “Muchacho.”

Kate Nash Album & Tour Wrap Party

To celebrate the end of the North American leg of her tour, Kate Nash held a joint album & tour wrap party at Norwood Arts Club in New York. As a Nash fan, I had quite high hopes for the event but was left a bit disappointed, though not necessarily through any fault of Nash’s.

The night began with a smaller group gathered for two screenings. First up was a clip from “Girl Rising,” a documentary that’s segmented into chapters, each focusing on one girl and her quest for education and empowerment. We viewed the “Egypt” chapter, the story of Yasmin that utilized animated footage to protect her identity. The clip was both visually and emotionally stunning, prompting many to use the Q&A time to inquire more about the girls and the film. While I did enjoy the excerpt and Nash using her visibility to bring attention to this campaign, it was also kind of weird because 1. She’s not directly involved with this project so it felt overly tangential, and 2. If the aim were to spread the word as much as possible, it would seem more efficient to open this event to all the people invited to the after party.

The second video was clips of Nash on a trip to Ghana with Plan, an organization with similar values as “Girl Rising” and that works with the documentary’s producers, 10×10. The video of Nash in Africa was, again, quite emotional and entertaining. I did like that they didn’t drag out either of the screenings, which made it feel like they wanted to show them for personal pleasure and informative purposes, not just to try to get money out of those in the room.

The Q&A portion followed the screenings, though the abruptness of it was unexpected and most questions stayed within the realm of the videos we had just watched. Most interestingly, Nash revealed that she began to get involved with UK schools because she noticed there are more male composers than female, that she realizes that ideological thinking doesn’t change overnight so she hopes to realistically help change the next generation, and that she believes one of the most important things that needs to be taught in school is self-esteem. Along with trying to close the gender gap in current composers, Nash was also inspired to help empower girls in other countries because “just because [she’s] not being exposed to that, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

Following the short Q&A session, all guests were invited to head to the bar and “hang out with Kate Nash.” We did as told, though Nash remained in the screening room talking with various people for about 45 minutes. For some reason I had gotten the thought into my head that Nash would be performing at the event, though after speaking with a couple of other people I realized I was the only one who thought that. After waiting for Nash to come mingle and then finding my chance to meet her and say hi, I couldn’t justify another $15 cocktail and left the party a little early.

Nash was so nice and charming to meet; she was so appreciative of literally every person who said hello and met every single with a hug. Though the night as a whole was a bit of a mish-mosh, Nash was quite lovely the entire evening.

Devendra Banhart – Mala album review

On its surface, Devendra Banhart’s eighth studio album, “Mala,” is a somber, serious record of romanticism. A deeper look, however, reveals nuances that keeps the album far from boring and breathes new life into classic styling.

The record as a whole has a bit of a cheeky side to it, interjecting a bit of humor and ease into an otherwise serious, earnest collection. “Won’t You Come Over” is Banhart’s version of a guilty pleasure song. While the track is as meticulously produced and curated as the rest of the album, the poppy, bubbly melody and relatively unsubtle chorus asking a girl to come over give the listener the feeling that they shouldn’t like the song. But it’s impossible not to. On “Never Seen Such Good Things,” an ode to exes, Banhart reminisces about “a ceremony so…empty, bitter, boring and hollow.” Banhart waxes poetic about failed relationships with similar feelings—though

Banhart plays around with different techniques within the context of the tracks, allowing the audience to ground themselves and not feel overwhelmed. “Never Seen Such Good Things” incorporates reverb effects and a steel drum into an old-school Western framework, while “Mi Negrita” breathes Spanish in both language and flamenco-esque melody. “Hatchet Wound” is softer and folkier than its title might suggest. Toward the end of the track, Banhart amps up the energy with secondary, background chanting and what sounds like hand claps.

Though he moves smoothly between different techniques and sounds on the majority of the album, Banhart sometimes falls victim to disjointed transitions, truncating thoughts or movements in a way that makes them sound like half-formed ideas. “Your Fine Petting Duck,” a duet with real-life fiancée Ana Kras, curiously transforms from a charming, ‘50s Americana pop back-and-forth to a techno, futuristic club jam. The track changes genre, decade and language in a matter of seconds, creating two completely separate songs. Three songs on the album, including the title track, tap out at a minute and a half, creating odd roadblocks in the album’s progression. Overall, “Mala” boasts the particular brand of dreamy indie folk that Devendra Banhart’s come to embody, while managing to incorporate new, complimentary sounds.

Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse album review

For his sophomore album, “Wondrous Bughouse,” Youth Lagoon, also known as Trevor Powers, isn’t pulling any punches. Inspired by “where the spiritual meets the physical world,” the record takes the listener on a journey, in and out and up and around a musical interpretation of a metaphysical reality.

Many of the tracks on “Wondrous Bughouse” use lo-fi and distortion effects to create a murky, fluid atmosphere, allowing normally more divisive elements to flow more easily into one another. “Sleep Paralysis” moves from a very dreamy, lullaby-esque sequence to a heavier, more indie pop sound and then back to the original energy. While the track is a bit chaotic and disorganized, the consistent lo-fi style acts as a foundation, making the chaos seem more purposeful, more organic.

For as experimental and psychedelic as his music can be, Youth Lagoon incorporates more traditional thematic aspects into many tracks to help ground the listener. “Dropla” layers sci-fi, echoing effects with relatively lucid vocals and a catchy chorus—the repetition of “You’ll never die” is both infectious and disarming. The zany, festive background of “Attic Doctor” is oddly familiar and nostalgic, like listening in on the outer space version of a circus.

“Wondrous Bughouse” has a bit of a playful side, offsetting what could be overly somber instrumentation with more festive, concrete allusions.  “Pelican Man,” a boisterous, poppy ditty that wouldn’t be out of place at a bonfire on the beach, is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album.  The closing track, “Daisyphobia” could be the future of piano-driven lounge music—in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic lounge, of course. Youth Lagoon has created a complex, developed world that he deftly and charmingly guides his listeners through.

Atlas Genius – When It Was Now album review

When listening to debut albums, many listeners often give the artist a little bit of leeway, chalking up poor production mistakes or quality to, in part, inexperience or naïveté. Atlas Genius needs no such handicap. Their debut record, “When It Was Now,” is a fun, bright collection just in time for summer.

Atlas Genius alternates between two main aesthetics: a ‘60s surf rock vibe and a more modern indie rock energy. No matter which category they identify with more, each track finds a solid foundation in its undeniable catchiness, a theme carried throughout the album.  Though not yet a single, my favorite track on the album was the title song, “When It Was Now.” The super danceable and buoyant cut leans more toward the electronic, indie pop side, exuding an energy that challenges the listener not to at least nod along to the beat (it’s impossible).

Lead single “Trojans” has all the makings of a bona fide summer anthem: catchy beat, beachy guitars, a chorus that begs to be sung around a bonfire. While I find the song itself successful, I also find it overly similar to “Symptoms” and “Through The Glass,” other tracks on the album that boast the same driving forces. The resemblance doesn’t lessen the songs’ likability, though it may make them less notable or effective when considered together.

Three bonus tracks reinvent some of the record’s poppier songs, displaying production and thematic versatility without sacrificing their charm or catchiness, a potential I wish had been explored in the record’s main track listing. “Trojans (Lenno Remix)” incorporates much more keyboards than the original, giving it a futuristic, synthpop vibe. “If So (Electric Lady Acoustic)” goes the opposite route and slows the track way down, creating an emotional ballad from indie pop.

Though I wouldn’t call them genius quite yet, “When It Was Now” is a strong first showing from Atlas Genius and a sign of hopefully just as successful things to come.

Nervous Nellie – Gloves EP review

As a band that has released three full-length albums and consists of two sets of brothers, it’s no surprise that one of the greatest strengths of Nervous Nellie’s new record, “Gloves EP,” is its consistency—consistently catchy, consistently effortless, consistently engaging.

The record opens on title track, “Gloves,” which gives off an ambient, mellow indie vibe. It’s taken to another, more interesting level with the unexpectedly staccato chorus, more energetic and sharp than the verses. Also included on the EP is Adam Olenius’ remix of this song, which changes the driving backing instrument from drums to keys, creating a piano lounge version of the pop track.

Like “Gloves,” “Eaten by Bears,” the second track, amps up on the volume on its chorus. On both tracks, Nervous Nellie show their prowess for creating foundations of solid, strong beats for their songs to build on. The spine carries through the track and gives the audience something to grab onto (and tap their feet to) while navigating the layers of vocals and ebbing and flowing of the melodic tides.

I really didn’t want to love “Complicator.” Lyrics like “See you later, complicator” make the song seem juvenile and simplistic on first listen. Each subsequent listen disproved this initial impression; the track is undeniably catchy and fun, an impressive tribute to ’60 Americana pop, especially for a band of partial-Swedes.

On their website, Nervous Nellie describe “Oh Sweet Berlin” as a song “about never quite fitting in,” a surprisingly accurate description for an entirely different reason. Unlike the other tracks on “Gloves EP,” “Oh Sweet Berlin” maintains its somber, ambient energy throughout. Especially when considered alongside the EP’s other tracks, this song seems to lack a range of emotional and thematic elements the band is clearly capable of reaching.

Though the playfulness and lightness of the rest of the EP don’t shine as well on “Oh Sweet Berlin,” “Gloves EP” is a strong, enchanting offering from Nervous Nellie that should only intensify the anticipation for their next full-length work.