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An Horse – Walls album review

Lacking any substantial shift in style from 2009’s Rearrange Beds, Australian duo An Horse seem to be treading water with their follow up effort, Walls. Sound wise, Kate Cooper and Damon Cox do show a marked improvement. Cox’s drumming is definitely more precise, while Cooper’s vocals and guitar are equally as cutting.

Notable tracks such as “Airport Death”, “Not Mine” and the standout “Trains and Tracks” are a testament to the duo’s chemistry, a charming blend of traditional indie song structure perfect for late night drives, but the angst and humor tends to fall a bit flat.

Yet while it may be a solid indie rock record, Walls offers nothing new in terms of style and tone Rather than explore the depths of possibility, An Horse leaves us with the sense that these are songs that we’ve all heard before. For fans of their previous work, this should come as a pleasant surprise, but those who were hoping for a bit of evolution from the band may find themselves a bit disappointed.

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EAR PWR – EAR PWR album review

Strange and inventive all at once, EAR PWR has concocted a musical anomaly with their self-titled fourth album. A mix of both electronic and live instrumentation, the group’s sound harkens back to the days of early 80’s pop, evoking memories of Genesis and Talking Heads, a sound more performance art than contemporary alternative. Listening to it may be challenging. If one is looking for an indie-electronic dance album, you’re out of luck. EAR PWR is definitely an acquired taste. While it may be something of a retro sound, the duo has taken their influence and melded them into a sound that is completely their own.

The interesting thing about EAR PWR is that the songs are not traditionally structured. The verse, bride, chorus blueprint is nowhere to be found. Instead, the songs seem to come in a stream of conscience, a dreamlike wave spiraling out into the ether with no real sense of time and space. This seemingly directionless approach is remarkably effective, placing the focus on the emotion rather than the subject material.

It enables the listener to absorb the bare feeling of the record, from horror to elation to paranoia, sending us through a synthesized kaleidoscope of sound that, while aesthetically pleasing, is often challenging in its beauty. While this style choice may destine them to obscurity, it certainly makes them an incredible find.

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Woods – Sun and Shade album review

Summer’s here guys, and I think I just stumbled across my new favorite late night bonfire record. A perfect mixture of jangly folk and breezy indie pop, Sun and Shade (the sixth studio effort from Woods), is an easygoing record that wraps around the listener like a warm blanket. Woods has always implemented lo-fi production techniques, and it’s refreshing to see that they’ve stuck with the same formula; a homemade, blissful, spooky yet always melodic mash up of various styles that retains both instrumental mastery and an almost child-like sense of optimism. Front man Jeremy Earl has certainly found a sound that beautifully accompanies his voice, which is strikingly reminiscent of a young Neil Young (no pun intended).

Taking queues from 60’s pop groups like the Hollies and The Lovin’ Spoonful, Woods have managed to harness the brilliance of the past, yet at the same time bring something new and exciting to the table. This isn’t just the same old recycled folk from the 60’s. It’s much more than that.

Standout tracks include “Who Do I Think I Am”, somber and self-deprecating but unusually hope inspiring, featuring a nice vocal pairing and interesting, upbeat guitar riffs throughout. It’s defiantly the most pop-infused track on the album, a sound akin to that of Belle and Sebastian or the Sundays.

The bongo-driven “White Out” is another highlight on the record. Tribal and experimental, it features a slew of bizarre instruments accompanied by haunting vocal harmonies that meld into trance-inducing indie perfection.

“Hand It Out”, featuring Brian Wilson-influenced percussion, is arguably the albums masterpiece. Here, the entire band shows off their strengths in producing truly uplifting, quirky, ingenious lo-fi folk. Woods are slowly setting themselves apart as a band that cannot easily be pigeonholed into any one genre, nor do they want to be. Hopefully they’ll stay as consistent as they’ve been with their material output, because this is definitely a band that you want on your radar.

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My Morning Jacket – Circuital album review

Not many groups can consistently reinvent themselves over and over again with any measure of success. My Morning Jacket seems to be among the few who can. For fans of the Louisville quintet, Circuital will no doubt stir up some mixed feelings. But therein lies the beauty of Jim James and his band of psychedelic funk rockers. Like Radiohead, My Morning Jacket will always face harsh criticism from long time fans, if only for the fact that, since they are so experimental, each new album with either surpass or fall short of any expectation from the listener.

If you’re already a fan of My Morning Jacket, there’s no use explaining this to you. You’ll buy the album regardless. For the casual listener, Circuital is an interesting record, both edgy and slow, yet with a keen alt pop sensibility. Unlike past albums such as Z or Evil Urges, James moves the sound towards a more succinct pop structure. Need proof? Turn on your radio right now. Chances are you’ll hear “Holdin on to Black Metal”. A hit single from a spacey jam band? It sounds crazy, but with a talent like My Morning Jacket, anything is possible.

Circuital doesn’t soar to any remarkable heights. It may be the most mainstream material they’ve ever put out. Recorded in a church gym in Louisville, its all echo and reverb, hazy and raw all at once. It definitely has the feel of a live jam session. Jim James, famous for his soaring falsetto wail, keeps his voice at an even keel, and as always, adds a bit of humor to the music. Check out his Southern crooning on “Slow Slow Tune”.

Circuital may not be the groundbreaking, mind blowing, brain twisting hallucinogenic experience we all wanted, but it’s a solid rock album from a band that, despite what most critics might say, have nothing to prove.

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Jeff the Brotherhood – We Are the Champions album review

In the world of music, influence is a good thing. After all, every band has another that inspires them, that fills them with the drive they need to perform and create. There must always be a starting point, a base from which to build your own vision. Without the Pixies, there would be no Nirvana. Without the White Stripes and the Rolling Stones, there would be no Black Keys. Unfortunately, every so often, influence becomes imitation. In the case of Jeff the Brotherhood, we get a clear sense that, though musically talented, it is an album filled with songs that we’ve all heard before.

Before I continue, I just want to say that for what they were trying to accomplish, JEFF the Brotherhood did a good job producing a catchy punk rock/power pop album. Not all music is grand statements and attempts at high art. Sometimes it’s just something to drive to, or put in your ear buds when you’re snowboarding. Its good background music, but that’s about it. Like all pop music, its fun and stupid in a good way, and by the tongue in cheek title, We Are the Champions, JEFF the Brotherhood proves that that’s just what they set out to be.

Unsure of whether or not they want to sound like Weezer or the Ramones, the album is a strange mishmash of power pop and old school punk. Listening to the album, one gets the sense that they would be more comfortable fronting a cover band. After all, Orall completely rips off Joey Ramone’s style, especially on “Diamond Way” and “Shredder”. If no one told you, you’d think it was the real deal. Why does this guy from Nashville sound like he was raised in Queens? Like a vocal chameleon, he is easily able to switch over and sound just like Rivers Cuomo. Just listen to “Bummer”.

It’s okay to have idols. Just don’t copy them outright. You don’t see Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian singing with the same vocal inflection as Morrissey. It would be a good punk album if they had they’re own style. But they don’t, so it sounds desperate.

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Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi – Rome album review

On Rome, Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi take us on a mind bending trip through the old West, channeling legendary composer Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti-Western style to produce a truly majestic album with such breadth and elegance that it plays like the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. A fan of Morricone’s work (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon A Time in the West) Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) recorded the entire album in Rome, Morricone’s hometown. Lucky for us, he brought some friends along (Jack White and Norah Jones) to lay down the vocals.

With any other artist, the idea of making an album based on the music of Italian Western films of the 60’s wouldn’t sound all that promising. Indeed, it would most likely end up a novelty record, all camp and no substance. However, Burton has slowly been proving himself as one of the most capable and innovative producers in the industry, from the critically successful The Grey Album (a mash up of Jay-Z’s vocals off his Black Album and the instrumentals of the Beatles’ White Album), to his work on the Gorillaz’ Demon Days, being one half of Gnarls Barkley, and his work with The Shins front man James Mercer in Broken Bells. Now, teaming with Italian composer Daniele Luppi, Burton has constructed a record that would make Sergio Leone proud.

Vocally, Jack White is a perfect choice, singing with a sense of angst and urgency fitting for a lone gunslinger. His tracks (“The Rose With A Broken Neck“, “Two Against One”) evoke a sense of danger and desperation synonymous with the subject matter, building in anticipation like waiting for a duel at high noon.

Norah Jones is as graceful as ever, adding her own unique pop sensibility on “Season’s Trees”, a catchy track that, while not necessarily keeping with the flow of the rest of the album, is a welcome addition that warrants its own radio play as a single.

Though Rome features some big names, its true genius lies in the instrumentation, even on the short interludes tying it all together. More often than not, it’s the instrumental tracks (“Roman Blue”, “The Gambling Priest”, Theme of ‘Rome’”, “The Matador Has Fallen”) that really grab you. With beautiful string arrangements, Spanish guitars, well-placed percussion, and haunting chamber-choir harmonies provided by Cantori Moderni, Burton constructs a record in which the listener is easily swept away to another place and time.

Rest assured, Burton’s take on the Spaghetti Western is no cheap imitation. It’s the genuine article.

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The Antlers – Burst Apart album review

For those who have been following the Antlers since the masterful heart-wrenching Hospice, their newest effort, Burst Apart, may come as a shock. Listening to the records back to back, it doesn’t even really sound like the same band. Hospice, a loose concept album concerning a romance between a patient and caregiver, seemed, for all intents and purposes, like front man Peter Silberman’s solo project. Slow, moody, and painfully angst-ridden, it was an achievement that caught the Antlers a lot of buzz around the New York indie circuit, and caught a lot of critic’s attention. In many ways, it was an unbeatable record.

Burst Apart, on the other hand, has a completely different feel. Ever wonder what Silberman could do with the full force of a backing band? Now we know. Burst Apart is the Antlers reaching their full potential. And guess what? It works. Don’t cry that it’s not as good as heartbreak. There’s no comparison, dummy. It’s a completely new sound. We all know Silberman is a master of constructing dark, lo-fi tunes of indie heartbreak. Now we know he can write some pretty elegant and catchy rock compositions.

It’s different, yes. No longer content to bum us out, Silberman instead tries to lift us up. Well, musically he does. But don’t run for the hills, Antlers fans. Lyrically, all that patented pain is still there.

Notable tracks include “I Don’t Want Love”, some serious piano driven-rock that rivals the Cold War Kids. On “Parentheses”, Silberman shows off his vocal chops with a style akin to Britain’s Wild Beasts, a soaring falsetto over some heavy guitar. “Putting the Dog to Sleep”, the albums closer, is very catchy. Stark and brooding, it’s an old school rhythm and blues track. Something the Rolling Stones would have written if they were manic.

While Silberman gets the lion’s share of credit, much respect must be paid to the rest of the Antlers, who until recently, have been kept away from the spotlight. The instrumentation on the album is superb. Burst Apart isn’t Hospice. That’s for sure. Its big and theatrical, a baroque record like a modern Queen’s News of the World, and it works. The Antlers have finally shown us what they can do, and the results have exceeded all expectations.

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Chrissy Murderbot – Women’s Studies album review

Sexually charged and utterly danceable, Chrissy Murderbot’s Women’s Studies is a raga-jungle romp that demands you get up off your ass and move. A mash up of grime, dancehall, jazz, and pure acid-house, Women’s Studies, loud and dirty, is just what the doctor ordered.

With some seriously heavy bass lines, even listening on headphones it would be easy for one to feel the heat of a packed dance floor, sweat pouring down and alcohol coursing through the veins as you grind away. With songs titles like “Bump Uglies”, “Pelvic Floor”, and “Heavy Butt”, it would be hard not to. Guest appearances by Warrior Queen, Rubi Dan, and MC ZULU lend Women’s Studies an undeniable Caribbean flavor, and gives the impression that this Chicago native would be right at home in the dancehall basements of Kingston.

Right away, Murderbot lets the listeners know what they’re in for. The first track, “Break U Off”, is smooth and flirtatious, a somewhat laid back jam that has elements of lounge and jazz, all the while the frantic pounding of 808’s underneath letting us know that, sooner or later, its time to get busy.

The true gem of the record though, is the 90’s throwback “Under Dress” featuring Warrior Queen. On a record that is so incredibly original, it’s hard to believe that Murderbot would include a track that might sound a bit dated. Surprisingly enough, it works. Warrior Queen’s deliciously dirty vocals over some ingeniously retro sampling produce a dance track that brings us back to the old school without feeling lame or stale.

In the disposable world of electronica, it’s hard to set oneself apart from the pack. Very few have managed to do it with any measure of success. Stylistically, Murderbot surpasses all competition with ease, managing to carve out his own niche, and possibly formulating his own genre in the process. Women’s Studies delivers the fun, sexy, unabashedly raunchy album that partygoers the world over have been waiting for.

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EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints album review

Deeply personal and oftentimes downright frightening, EMA’s debut album Past Life Martyred Saints taps into the listener’s psyche like a lullaby from beyond the grave. Whether the subject matter, grim as it is, is meant to be sarcastic or sincere remains to be seen. Stylistically, EMA (Erika M. Anderson) does little to hide her musical influences. At first, you’d swear you were listening to an LP by Kim Gordon’s long lost little sister. Think a slightly stripped-down Sonic Youth.

That being said, don’t label Anderson an imposter. She sets herself apart by implementing some intriguing, albeit daring production techniques. What makes this album work so well is the…well…emptiness of it.

Filled with remarkably haunting songs about self-mutilation, depression-numbing drug use, and relationships gone horribly, horribly wrong, Anderson matches this bleak and brutal subject matter with an equally stark, chilling ambiance. Often accompanied by nothing more than a lone, demented guitar or piano, Anderson’s voice echoes out into the ether with unbridled intensity and longing. Past Life Martyred Saints is a back to basics album completely stripped of any high production value, and its supposed to be that way. Channeling the likes of Kurt Cobain and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, the album is sparse and chilling, and plays like a horror soundtrack recorded in a dank, deserted mansion or cobweb infested dungeon. Listening to it, we are torn to shreds, compelled to wallow in her tangle of agony and paranoia as she lays her torment bare for all to hear.

With sudden shifts in mood and intensity and anxiety-inducing breaks in the songs, we are instantly pulled out of our comfort zone and thrust into a uniquely terrifying soundscape. Take, for example, “Grey Ship”, in which, halfway through the song, all instrumentation suddenly drops, leaving us alone with only her voice.

Other notable songs such as “Coda”, a bizarre, shrieking accapella track that attacks the eardrum like nails on a chalkboard, stand out. While it might be a challenge to listen to, it certainly shows that Anderson is a one-of-a-kind artist who deserves our attention.

Tough to digest, Past Life Martyred Saints is not a universally appealing album by any stretch of the imagination. But through its brutal honesty and wholly original production, it does show that artistic integrity is still alive and well. Plus, next time the crew on Law and Order: SVU finds a murdered teenager in the woods, we know whose music they’ll be playing during the cut scene.

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David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights – Left By Soft album review

With his seventh solo effort, Left By Soft, David Kilgour has crafted a record of wistful, breezy indie-pop that will be sure to please longtime fans. Although relatively unknown in America, Kilgour has become something of a legend in indie circles, many dubbing him the Lou Reed of New Zealand.

Its been said that after listening to the Velvet Underground in the late 60’s, teenagers nationwide grabbed their guitars and rushed to the garage to start a band. Just as Reed’s group spawned countless sound alikes in it’s wake, Kilgour’s seminal band The Clean has been lauded as forerunners of the Lo-Fi scene of the early 90’s. Fun, brash, and painfully poignant, bands from Pavement to Yo La Tengo to The Apples In Stereo have sited these Kiwi rockers as a pivotal influence on their sound. Sadly, The Clean ruled the airwaves in their native New Zealand, but save for the occasional play on college radio, were largely ignored in the United States. Still, Kilgour has remained one of the most consistent songwriters of his time, never afraid to cross genres from post-punk to psychedelic pop.

By laying off the electric guitar (mostly), and allowing his acoustic side some breathing room, Left By Soft is, by all accounts, exactly what the title would suggest; soft. Kilgour certainly seems to have slowed down. But with his ear for melody and lyrical wit, this pace seems to suit him.

Standout tracks include the instrumental “Left By Soft”, a surf rock tune with a Pixies-style guitar lick. On “A Break in the Weather”, undoubtedly the most accessible song, we see Kilgour at his most philosophical, reflecting on, well, the weather. Like most of the album, it’s mellow, slightly abstract, and proof of Kilgour’s 30 years of pop sensibility.

On Left By Soft, we see a man comfortable in his own skin. There’s not much to shout about here, but nothing to criticize, either. He’s not trying to prove anything. He’s simply playing what he knows, and playing it to perfection.