Lorde – The Love Club EP review

Sixteen year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter has been making waves since the release of her first EP titled The Love Club. Her single “Royals” has been picked up by US independent and college radio stations and is gaining traction. Her voice sounds mature despite her young age and is cleverly recorded with complex, minimalist, yet forward-thinking beats. Lorde, born Ella Yelich-O’Connor, was actually signed to Universal at age 13 after an A&R scout saw video of her performing at a school talent show. Years later, she unveiled her talents to the world. Since blowing up the charts in New Zealand, Lorde released The Love Club EP in the US this June and saw it sell 85,000 copies in it’s first week.

Her songs are poppy and vocally driven, with innovative beats to rival the best in hip-hop. “Bravado” opens the collection with a sort of personal admission that she knew she was destined to be here someday. Our heroine sings: “I was raised up to be admired, to be known.” Layered vocals preclude the entrance of a dynamic beat. Lorde, who writes her own songs, sounds confident in her delivery. The nuances in the production make for a well-rounded and exciting listen.

“Royals” is far and away her strongest song on the EP. Witty lyrics describe an opposition to the materialistic boasting that is often found in pop-culture and popular music. She bounces through the pre-chorus, singing: “Everybody’s like: ‘Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on a time piece, jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash,’ we don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair… we’ll never be royals….” This type of perspective is perfect for a generation more in tune to the issues of the world. The generation who is growing up with iphones giving them a world of information at their finger-tips… subsequently creating a generation too knowledgable to be caught up in meaningless materialism, especially in the midsts of today’s world economy. The layered chorus almost literally soars, bringing the listener to new heights of appreciation. “Royals” is infectious and content driven; it is no surprise this song is such a hit.

More impressive production is displayed on “Million Dollar Bills” and “The Love Club” which feature beats created out of Lorde’s own vocal samples. This innovation gives Lorde a unique sound. “Million Dollar Bills” has the energy of a club song mixed with the lo-fi keys one might find in a Foster the People tune. These tow songs sound more typical for a high school artist: cheeky and energetic. The closing track, “Biting Down,” has more of an experimental, “out-there” vibe, with Lorde unexplainably repeating “it feels better biting down” over a pulsing beat. 

Lorde has released a few singles since the release of this EP, namely “Tennis Court” and “Swinging Party.” She has plans to release her first full length album in September 2013, which will be titled Pure Heroine. With The Love Club EP, Lorde has successfully provided a teaser to build hype for a huge response on her first full length album. Stay tuned.

Toy Boats – Diamond Teeth EP review

Hugo Costin-Neilson, of Toy Boats, points to The Cure as a band whom he would love to get in bed with musically. In an interview following the release of EP Diamond Teeth last April, Costin-Neilson says “I’ve covered ‘Love Song’ in the past and every time I listen to them I find a new song that I want to cover.” When asked if he could fill in with any band on tour, he responds again, “The Cure. I’ve always wanted to cover their songs, so why not play the original?”

While the influence of The Cure is not lost in Diamond Teeth, the EP manages to position itself as a very stout piece of effort. Rent’s dream-pop guitar riffs and playfully melancholy vocals are laced with hope and an air of rainy afternoon longing. These nostalgic wanderings are entwined with a hazy veil of the gloom rock of the late 80’s/early 90’s mixed with chord progressions reminiscent of Carissa’s Weird and Catherine Wheel (remember them?). Yet, while summoning the past, Diamond Teeth shoots beyond into new territory. Encountering this EP is much like meeting someone you feel you were born with. Exciting, comforting, and a little unsettling. (Are you sure you haven’t heard this before?) This particular EP is a collaboration with Hugo, himself, and the past.

Diamond Teeth touches the senses much like a walk along a city river at night, or perhaps New Year’s morning. Perhaps you’re hungover, perhaps you don’t know where your car is parked (or even if you have a car): there’s solitude, and yet in that solitude exists a feeling of comfort and solidarity with the unsettling of the world. Like a fever dream you never want to wake from. It beckons you to kick off your shoes and waltz with yourself in the kitchen. The vocals embody a maturity and age far beyond the youth Hugo encapsulates in his physical attributes, embracing and exploiting the wistful landscape of time. Diamond Teeth hasn’t left my stereo since I bought it, and it won’t for a long while.

David Martel – Versus Us EP review

While earnest indie folk bands like Mumford and Sons and Fleet Foxes have dominated the college radio airwaves over the past several years, some sensitive guitar-playing boys have chosen to stick to the solo singer/songwriter route. One of these artists, David Martel, has just released his second EP, the four-song, seventeen-minute “Versus Us.”

Martel, based in Montreal, burst onto the music scene in 2008 with his first album, “Hardly Knew Me.” After tours across North America and France, including a spot at SXSW and a gig opening for Adele, he has released two EPs and zero full-length albums. 2011’s “You’ve Heard The Best, Now Try The Rest…” is followed by 2013’s “Versus Us,” and Martel’s website promises another full-length album coming soon.

With acoustic instruments, layered vocals, and yearning lyrics, Martel sounds like more mainstream songwriters Matt Nathanson (“Come On Get Higher”) or Eric Hutchinson (“Rock’N’Roll”). Martel’s sound would be right at home on an adult contemporary radio station in Middle America, despite his Quebecois roots – half the reviews in his press kit are in French, praising his presence on “la scene musicale montrealaise angolophone” (English music Montreal music scene), though you’d never guess it to hear him.

The EP opens with a 5-minute ballad called “I’ve Got It All,” featuring Patrick Wilson. “Faith, love, and happiness is a starting point, I hope you can agree,” Martel begins. “It’s what I always wanted, it’s what you crave the most, and no one’s gonna tell you that it’s gotta be this way.” The song is part love song, part apology, part promise and completely sincere.

The next song, “In the Middle,” has a slightly harder edge, with Martel placing some blame on the song’s addressee. “In the middle of your mess / Wanna try to understand,” Martel sings. “Sick and tired of your mess.” The song is accusatory and longing, though still as sweet as maple syrup.

“Lovesong,” the third offering, is the most traditionally romantic folk song of the EP (and also the longest, clocking in at just over five minutes). “Hair’s made of gold, I’m tired of chasing these things / Too many pills to swallow, a life to rethink,” Martel sings. It’s sweet and sad and my favorite of the EP by a long shot.

“What’s a Truck?” featuring David’s older brother Marc Martel, also a staple of the Montreal music scene, is a fun, energetic tune asking and answering the title question (and a few others: “What’s a man? What’s his love? What’s his shame? What’s a life? What’s a dream?” etc.).

You can buy “Versus Us” on Martel’s bandcamp here. It’s also available to listen to on Spotify.

Anna Scouten – Anna Scouten album review

If you know Anna Scouten, you probably know her from YouTube, where her covers of indie folk hits like Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” and Bright Eyes’ “First Day Of My Life” have earned her millions of views over the past four years.

Now, Scouten has released her first EP made up of four self-penned songs and a cover of Feist’s “Intuition.” The self-titled EP, running just over 15 minutes, proves that Scouten is more than just a YouTube cover artist – she’s a talented singer/songwriter in her own right. Scouten’s four original songs are indie folk melodies that remind you of Ingrid Michaelson, Joanna Newsom, Jenny Lewis, Feist, or if go back further, Joni Mitchell. The stripped-down acoustic ballads put the focus on Scouten’s unique voice and her songwriting abilities, and she proves that she’s more than up to the task.

Taking inspiration from more than just her favorites’ sound, themes of longing permeate throughout the EP, though Scouten makes sure that things never get too heavy.

The opening song, “All Out,” is a perfect introduction to Scouten’s voice and songwriting style. Just 20 years old, Scouten sings of the frustrations of a can’t-live-with-it, can’t-live-without-it relationship with an unexpected maturity. “All the love lost over / all the lovely years I’ve known / crawl into your bed dear / it’s as if I think it’s home,” she sings.

Next comes the Feist cover, “Intuition.” A new cover for fans of Scouten’s YouTube hits, though she’s covered another Feist song(“The Park”).

Then, there’s “Just for Show,” one of the album’s standout tracks – a quirky, sweet story-song that could be twins with Ingrid Michaelson’s “Far Away.” “Monsters” is another standout and also the shortest track, clocking in at 2 minutes and 17 seconds. It’s a sweet lullaby with surprisingly dark lyrics.

“Monsters under my bed give me such a fright / Monsters in my head come out at night,” Scouten begins, before adding a tender reassurance: “I don’t mind falling as far as I can / If it’s into your arms, I’m sure that I will land.”

The EP closes with “Show Me,” a simple yet heartfelt entreaty to someone who’s hurt her. “Show me your words / Yeah, all of them hurt,” she sings.

A self-described “broke student,” Scouten is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds to create physical CDs for this EP. You can donate to the campaign here or buy the digital EP here. After this five-song sample, I can’t wait to see what Anna Scouten comes up with next.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Patterns EP review

Indie pop tweekers from Detriot, Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein keep the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. hype alive with the upbeat Patterns EP, their second major label release.  The four songs that make up Patterns represent the duo’s ability to creatively mix excellent production and an all-out dance party.  Their vibrant pop-songs tend to provide extra surprises in every bar, making for eclectic combinations that keep listeners anxious.  The vibe of Patterns is ultimately a dance-able blend of pop styles with a disposition of fun.

From the acoustic guitars that begin “If You Didn’t See Me (You Weren’t On the Dance Floor),” you are pulled in to the Patterns experience.  As the song falls into its groove and hits the chorus, you begin to realize Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jr. are not kidding about tearing up the dance floor.  Upbeat production and effects pump through the downbeats, proving Zott and Epstein came to party and we should expect a good time.

On “Dark Waters,” DEJJ show their depth by stretching the listener’s imagination.  As the bass grooves, eerie whistling and light chimes sit on top of the mix as a spacey synthesizer plays call and response with the vocals. Some well-placed harmonies in the chorus accentuate their songwriting. There are some bold creative choices in this track, which are pulled off with grace. An interesting dynamic can be found between the happy vibes from light melodies in the chorus and the evidence of somber-ness of the vocals: “Baby you were always drowning, and you just now realize…”

Ironically, “Hiding” sounds more like a bold announcement that Jr. Jr. is coming out to play. Distorted effects and guitar samples bounce off the walls and the dance party is kept alive. Saxophones and cheers back up the heavy beat and glitch-stop groove. Head bopping is inevitable. Finally, the work is pulled together when their acoustic folk chant meets a neo-tribal beat on “Habits.” Harmonies and reverb that could fill an airfield garage are grounded by positive and thoughtful lyrics: “If there’s life, let it shine.”

For the home recording gurus that are well on their way, Patterns EP is a nice tease for their full-length album due out this summer, “The Speed of Things.” Their indie pop party music has obviously progressed from their breakout album “It’s a Corporate World (2011).” Following the release of the vinyl for the “Patterns EP” on record store day, April 20th, DEJJ embarked on a small spring tour throughout the U.S.  Fans should remain excited for even more to come from this creative duo. After all, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr are certainly supplying the grooves to hang on the dance floor all night, and they expect to see you there.

Dan Croll – From Nowhere EP review

With his first studio release, Dan Croll gives listeners an alternative take on the electronic indie pop genre that is so prevalent today. With bands like Phoenix and Passion Pit dominating the genre, Croll’s From Nowhere EP is a refreshingly stripped down version of bigger albums and with a much less sweeping sound, Croll sounds like a mixture of Spoon meets Arcade Fire at an Paul Simon show. Hailing from Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, Croll was actually hand selected by Sir Paul McCartney to have a one on one with him so it comes as no surprise that his music follows a similar pop sensibility. The EP is extremely accessible, with pop melodies and pinking guitars abounding throughout and every song promises an infectious melody, catchy synth loop and generally danceable tunes for listeners to enjoy.

“From Nowhere” opens with a repeating drum loop and almost immediately Passion Pit-esque synths fill over the percussion. Croll joins the tunes crooning over the keys “Every now and then I fall/Every now and then I lose control” as the tune picks up speed and swells into a nautical sounding chorus and Croll singing “Cause every now and then I fall a bit behind/ Every time I stare into your eyes.” On the following track, “Compliment Your Soul”, Croll showcases why he was chosen by McCartney as a promising young artist, singing “I just want to compliment your soul” over a horn section that would be as at home on a new Peter, Bjorn and John album. In an interesting move, Croll recruits up and coming producer Baardsen to remix the title track as the close to the EP. By adding a wholly new ethereal vibe, Baardsen manages to make a killer track that simultaneously encourages listeners to dance as much as to melt into their desk chairs.

The biggest flaw of the album however is this lack of diversity across the five song EP. If it weren’t for breaks between songs, listeners could just as easily think they were hearing the title track as last non-remixed track “Only Ghost”. After enough listens the songs begin to differentiate themselves but on the first few listens through, it is inevitable that listeners will be lost amidst the pop gems. This is not to say that Croll has created a bad album by any means however and for a freshman effort, the From Nowhere EP does a fantastic job at pique-ing listeners interest in hearing the rest of the album which we can only hope is soon forth coming.

Dirty Projectors – About To Die EP review

Let’s get this out of the way at the start, Dirty Projectors are not a band for those that are fans of music that is accessible to the masses. Dirty Projectors are strange and as far as I can tell…they are ok with this fact. About To Die is the four song EP that follows their summer release Swing Lo Magellan is where the title track originally comes from. The rest of the EP is all new material though.

Kicking off the four song EP is the rerelease of the title track. About to Die is a quirky and strange tune and is the perfect opener to the mini album. This is a track that tells you everything you need to know about the band’s musical sensibilities. The song has a great experimental feel to it where an almost reggae feel to the bass and percussion support a smooth vocal melody that rises and falls all over the place. Don’t let the title deceive you, About To Die is a cheery sounding tune and triumphant in tone.

From here we move to While You’re Here and the experimental sound isn’t finished yet. This song builds off of a string instrumentation that hovers on the edge of discordance without ever quite plunging over. Added to this is a vocal line that moves all over the place. This song isn’t soothing background music, yet it remains oddly compelling sounding almost like a plea to the song’s audience.

Washed out guitars and a strong bass line are the sounds that capture my ear on Here Til It Says I’m Not. Vocally, it feels that this is where Dave Longstreth really lets himself cut loose. His melody moves all over the place with all his usual flourishes and embellishments but when he gets to the chorus it grabs your attention and refuses to let go.

The EP finishes on what is perhaps the most conventional of the songs, Simple Request. The acoustic guitar, the drums, the reverbed vocals…all of this feels like a song with retro 60s roots. Unfortunately, by this point I’ve become used to the risk taking musical adventures of The Dirty Projectors and this feels a bit disappointing. A song that is fine by its own merits but doesn’t quite match the level of the previous tracks. In comparison it is left a little bland.

All in all, About To Die is an impressive EP that stands as a cheap and worthwhile introduction for new listeners. The band is quirky, and strange, but I will be damned if that change isn’t refreshing.

Adios Amigo – Dos EP review

Adios Amigo, a band spearheaded by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Johnny Major and fellow musicians based in San Francisco, have prepared a delectable EP of indie rock and mildly psychedelic tones and served it to us on a platter. It’s their second album release to date, following their first self-titled EP released in August of 2011. The five-song sophomore album, appropriately titled Dos, touches on familiar themes of love, life, and remembrance, yet does so with the intermingling of various styles and vocal stretches.

A remarkable quality of this group is their ability to channel different kinds of music yet achieve the same result; some of their tracks are similar to the poppy British alternative band Bombay Bicycle Club, yet others are purely Californian, sounding like Gomez or Dirty Gold. Either way, the ears are placated with a jangle of instruments that invoke a beachy bliss.

The album as a whole is easy on the ears, starting off with “Colony’s Dead,” a warm, reflective track ending with a beautiful deterioration of instruments until a sole guitar leads you through what feels like a dream sequence, leaving one at bliss.

The most poppy song of the five is up next, “Chicken.” It begins with the thrumming of strings in an upbeat, dance worthy indie shuffle. The hushed tones of vocalist chime in, slightly muted but present nonetheless. You’ll find yourself mindlessly bobbing your head to this track, reminiscing of summer days. It screams California.

“Never Forget” is a soothingly tropical song with hints of electronic chimes accenting the lyrics. “Take me to Heaven” is a sentimental daydream of the afterlife, promising seasons of sunny days. “Pretty Pretty Princess” is a nostalgic ballad of “star crossed lovers” as the chorus of four shows off the range of their voices, trailing off in high notes that tingle the ears.

The release of this album is perfectly timed, as it demands a summer atmosphere and a drive to the beach, surfboards in tow. Carefree, mellow, and genuine, Adios Amigo has created an original sound in Dos that somehow, quite puzzlingly, draws on rockers such as The Shins and injects an eclectic, electronic spin, surpassing masses of cookie cutter pop-rock songs.

Sleepy Turtles – Summer, Hither EP review

The Sleepy Turtles, a folk rock band rooted in Atlanta, are set to release their new EP, “Summer, Hither” on June 29, 2012 after signing with Autumn + Colour Records earlier this year.

Vocalist and Guitarist Dylan Higgins, along with Tim Friesen, Will Parker, Marcus Trail and Mike Vanklaveren, together make the Sleepy Turtles, a group devoted to the creation of songs that bring one’s mind back to the simple pleasures of day and allowing procrastinations to eliminate worry. By winding harmony and dreamy lyrics together to emulate the idea of “humans sharing the human condition,” the Sleepy Turtles unwind the complications of synthesized rhythms and simplify their world to Higgins‘ soothing, warming vocals and the tweaking of strings. “We hope to portray through the music,” Higgins explains, “that all of us are a part of the same journey.”

“Summer, Hither,” embodies this message with 5 earthy tracks that wander through the intricate, wavelike structure of our existence and condense it into one simplistic sound of raw expression of human emotion.

The namesake and first track, “Summer, Hither,” is comfortably reminiscent of the Fleet Foxes, and the addition of the banjo midway through seems to alter time and bring a joyous, hopeful note to the closing of the track.

“Reason to Hope” brings out the softer notes reminiscent of the likes of Iron and Wine, as Higgins’ strong vocals wind into a melody that wraps your mind into the many paths that a troubled individual may endure if their “mind won’t play along,” as Higgins soothes. It is an attempt to find clarity.

The central theme of soul searching remains, as the tracks journey through the complications of life, where “Being Small” brings up the question we sometimes find ourselves asking- “Where did the time go?” on a deeply reflective ballad that soothes the mind yet reminds us that growth is inevitable and ultimately rewarding.

Claude Violante Interview

Claude Violante is one half of the musical duo Haussmann. This talented writer and producer is more than capable of standing on her own though as can be evidenced by the release of her first EP, For You, which hit international markets on April 23rd.

Violante was kind enough to take a break from her schedule and answer a few questions for me about her music and recording process.

Do you find it challenging writing songs in English? Is your process different than when you are trying to write in French? Is it harder to express yourself?

It is very challenging for me to write in English! I never tried to write in French so I couldn’t really tell you anything about the process, but I believe it is easier in English. Writing in French would feel like being naked, but the words in English don’t come as naturally as in French. The challenge would and will definitely be singing in French, but I plan on doing it sometime.

You have just released your solo EP but have already established yourself on the musical scene as part of Haussmann. How would you say the experience of solo is different than working as a team? Any particular troubles or benefits you had not expected?

Writing alone is both easier and harder. I can only rely on myself, that’s great and that’s also very frightening. The best part of it is that it can go a lot faster but in my case it’s not even accurate since I torture myself about stupid details that I should, or not, change or delete. But it is also a way of proving something to yourself, a challenge that may or may not be successful… That’s exciting.

Your song, “For You,” is about a relationship gone bad. It juxtaposes nicely against the catchy and danceable beat and supporting music. How much of your music is autobiographical and how much is just fiction?

That’s funny, to me the song is about a difficult love situation, but I believe it will end well because the girl is very optimistic and believes truly in the relationship. What is the most important to me is the intention. In this song the lyrics are the way I say it, but the intention is the true part, the autobiographic part. It depends on the songs, sometimes the lyrics are the message and sometimes the tone or the melody is the message.

Who do you currently find yourself influenced by?

Hard to tell, I don’t like being directly influenced, but all the music I listen to are definitely a part of what I do. Not precisely, not voluntarily. I listen to many various kinds of music, from classical to reggae, it’s even hard to pick ten bands that really influenced me.

Related, what is the last album that you found you couldn’t stop listening to?

I recently discovered Planningtorock’s last album, and I thought it was great. I am also completely crazy about The Dream’s “Love King” in a totally different way. I am also very found of Joanna Newsom, all of her albums are amazing, these are the three things I listen to the most right now.

What are the biggest differences that you see between the music that is coming out of the clubs in France versus the music that is coming from the club scenes in the States right now?

I don’t know very much about the club scenes in either of these countries, but from what I hear in the hip hop scene for instance, the US are far more exciting! For the electronic scene, I couldn’t really tell you anything interesting except that what I like in general comes from the UK or the US, that’s where most of the good music comes from.

Having recorded and released your EP, is there anything that in hindsight that you wish you could have done differently? Any lessons learned to carry forward?

Yes, plenty of things I would have done differently, but I like to think of my EP as not being perfect, simply being my first. That’s already a great thing for me, to have my EP out there! I learned a lot by working with Alf (the guy who mixed the EP), and I am happy that I am just at the beginning of things so I can keep on learning and getting better at what I do. Hopefully!

If there is one thing in your life that you could change right now, what would it be?

I only wish I had my driver’s license, that would be great!

Where do you see yourself going from here? What’s your next step now that the EP is out?

I am planning on doing my best to put out an album one of these days, that is as far as I can go!