Melody Gardot – The Absence album review

In preparation for recording her new album “The Absence,” Melody Gardot traveled around the world in search of inspiration. And she found it in spades. She is more than just a musician; she is a storyteller. The narrative Gardot crafts takes her audience on the journey with her, showcasing the skills and artistry she gained along the way.

Gardot has all the makings of a traditionally successful jazz artist—an ethereal, bluesy voice; seamlessly executed scatting; beautiful, yet surprising syncopation and rhythms. But that isn’t enough for Gardot. She blends timeless jazz traditions with her own world music style and ability to create her own stories. On “So Long,” subtle clicks in the background evoke the feeling of listening to an old record, the record player’s needle skipping just the tiniest amount on the vinyl.

Gardot’s travels served her well. The tribal vibes and Latin influences on “The Absence” elevate the complexity of Gardot’s neo-jazz style. The opening song “Mira,” an upbeat, cheerful track, begins with a verse in Spanish, a clear indication to the listener that whatever they thought they were in for, they were wrong. The track moves back and forth between Spanish and English, between classic and neo jazz.

“The Absence” as a whole moves in this sort of ebb and flow. Where “If I Tell You I Love You” embodies a classically sultry and elegant interpretation of jazz, “Impossible Love” tells its story through French interludes and Portuguese guitars. Gardot has a minimalist aesthetic, often accompanying her singing with just piano in the background or a plucked guitar, like on “Amalia.” It’s at times like these when the music becomes a bit thin. Neither the vocals nor the instruments command the stage, instead standing towards the back while they, and the listener, wait for something else to fill the void.

That’s not to say there isn’t beauty in the understated. “My Heart Won’t Have It Any Other Way” is slow and soft in all the right places, but it’s on the more bombastic tracks “Mira” and “lemanja” where Gardot, and her music, really come alive.

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Baio – Sunburn EP album review

It’s impossible not to compare Baio with Vampire Weekend, most obviously because Baio’s sole member, and namesake, is Chris Baio, Vampire Weekend’s bassist. On the “Sunburn” EP, Baio moves away from the indie pop ensemble he’s best known for and adventures into mixing and DJing. The result echoes the most useful aspects of his previous work: the tunefulness, the buoyancy and the effortless musicality.

Released on May 12, 2012, the “Sunburn” EP moves fluidly through three tracks of melodic, upbeat dance music. Baio’s style is surprisingly subtle; the songs are cheerful and catchy without being overly poppy. You’ll find yourself tapping your toe or nodding your head to the beat, not breaking out into a giddy flash mob. The tracks express an obvious optimism, but the overall softness of the music adds a dimension of muted joy.

The entire album, but especially leading track “Sunburn Modern,” would not be out of place at an urban luau. Melodic handclaps, steel drumming and characteristically electronic beats work together to give voice to a distinctive moment, manipulated to create a harmonious narrative out of seemingly incongruous components.

If there’s an issue with Baio’s sound, it’s that the tracks are too similar to one another. They bleed together in a way that undermines the immense amount of time Baio spent constructing each track. He plays effortlessly with a myriad of instruments and sounds—rhythmic tambourine, truncated chanting, hard piano lines—that are distinctive enough to be picked out of the overall melody. But when these effects are used multiple times across multiple tracks in such a sparse frame, the music isn’t allowed to progress, to evolve.

Baio’s “Sunburn” EP is a great summer playlist. He mixes an endless array of recordings to fashion the ultimate beachy dance soundtrack. If Vampire Weekend plays during the afternoon beach party, then Baio arrives after the sun’s gone down and the bonfire’s started up. After all, if you don’t survive summer without at least a little burn, then you’re not doing it right.


Sleep Maps – Fiction Makes the Future album review

Sleep Maps (also known as Ben Kaplan) describes his sound as, “The music of a lost future.” His new EP, “Fiction Makes the Future,” marries what sounds like vintage film and news clips with prog-rock, sci-fi compositions. Kaplan leads the audience on a literal journey from the words of the past to a metaphysical narrative of the future. It’s up to the listener to fill in the specifics, but on “The Eternal Wanderer,” you’re assured that, “The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic.”

Kaplan’s role is entirely instrumental, but in no way boring or hindered by the fact that the music seems to be entirely guitar and drum driven. His guitar work especially is thrillingly vibrant, filling the speakers and the audience with his determination and vision. On “Forbidden Light,” Kaplan’s pick slides simulate the sounds of screams and sirens, embodying the chaos and urgency of his impending fictional future.

For as singular as Kaplan’s mission and style are, his execution betrays him. He adheres to a fairly fixed formula; a rousing spoken recording followed by heavy, driving guitar work, occasionally throwing in a reprise of the recording halfway through to remind the listeners of the journey they’re on.

It’s expertly effected; Kaplan splices the two together seamlessly and he can manipulate guitar strings and distortion with the best of them, but with five tracks following the same blueprint, it becomes predictable. The music grounds itself in the recordings that put tangible words and thoughts to his abstract vision, giving him the freedom to create an even more progressive and conceptual future, but he falls back on his undeniably adept post-rock laurels instead of creating new rules.

“Fiction Makes the Future” isn’t an easy record. With the shortest track, the opening “Men Against the Stars,” clocking in at just over six and a half minutes, each song is its own record, its own commitment. But with Sleep Maps’ distinctive medium and focus, it’s a commitment worth making.


mewithoutYou – Ten Stories album review

The stories of mewithoutYou’s new album add up to, in more ways than one, an incredible journey. On “Ten Stories,” lead singer Aaron Weiss’ lyrics tell the listener of a 19th-century traveling circus’s train crash. This type of pandemonious scenario plays perfectly to an experimental rock group, inviting an influx of screaming vocals and hard drum lines. But mewithoutYou embodies the story subtly, opting instead to begin the narrative, and the opening track “February, 1878,” with a spoken monologue over distorted guitar riffs.

The album moves along much like a novel, pushing forward with increasing drama and complexity. The melodically-light “Cardiff Giant” (the lyrics, including “I often wonder if I’ve already died,” remain largely morose) transforms unexpectedly into a chaotic crossroads, a shouted soliloquy joining the tuneful chorus. Like an artist mixing metals, mewithoutYou combines different vocal styles—including guest appearances from Paramore’s Hayley Williams–to create intricate, layered pieces, like the choral mastery of the final track, “All Circles.”

“Ten Stories” starts off strong, with a clear theme and a cohesive yet evolving song sequence. But like many narratives, the album lags towards the middle. Weiss pulls back vocally in tracks like “Elephant in the Dock” and “Nine Stories,” his monotone and a steady drum beat marking them as a sort of “falling action.” Though less bombastic than the drum-heavy and Williams-featuring “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume,” the songs hold their own acclaim in their effortlessness.

The real journey lies within the music itself, within mewithoutYou’s progression into a confident, versatile musical force. The traveling circus ensures a common focus for “Ten Stories,” while giving the band enough room to show their stuff. And show they do. “Ten Stories” delights the listener as a more dimensional and complex record that equally showcases the post-hardcore techniques they’ve been perfecting for the past decade and the newer skills they’ve developed along the journey. If it took a traveling circus’ truck crashing and burning to bring mewithoutYou to this accomplished denouement, well, then it was a worthy sacrifice.