The Memories – Love is the Law album review

The Memories are a sun-soaked, dreamy power pop band based out of Portland, Oregon, sharing members with the punk outfit White Fang. Their most recent release (on Burger Records, a label with an impressive repertoire, to say the least) Love is the Law features seventeen songs to the tune of short and sweet. Simplicity, then, is the key stylistic element. The bare-bones guitar riffs supplement lyrics that stick to talking about girls and weed. Sound easy to get into? Transparent, almost? That’s absolutely right.

Simplicity should never be interpreted as a flaw. Some of the most beautiful songs ever written have been created on the foundation of just four chords (and sometimes even less). What The Memories have going on Love is the Law is a prime example of what critics and music dorks alike refer affectionately to as “slacker pop.” Not to be confused with actually lazy songwriting (and make no mistake, the lines can often blur), the songs are crafted in such a way that would inspire visions of the band members sitting together in a cramped apartment or practice space thick with pot smoke, banging out these songs in rapid succession. The lyrical content seems to be hastily concocted, scribbled on crumpled scraps of paper salvaged from old notebooks and the backs of fast food receipts. With this comes a certain charm that many bands try to emulate, but few are successful in.

Standout tracks on the album include “En Espanol,” “You Need a Big Man,” and “Go Down On You.” With the song titles as straightforward as they are, the feeling of the album is easy to pin down. “You Need A Big Man” is entirely absurd, which makes it a great (albeit questionable) addition to the album. The lyrics are lewd, childish, and terribly tongue in cheek, with a hummed vocal part in lieu of a guitar solo. In a strange way, it sort of embodies Love is the Law. It’s respectable pop without taking things too seriously. This is a fun listen above all else, and easy to immerse oneself in. The attention to sound and atmosphere, appearing in short bursts yet leaving an impression on the album as a whole, make the record that much more substantial.

The overall impression to be drawn from Love is the Law is face-value: what you see is what you get. It seems like common sense, or even lackluster to a certain degree. There is no package here, nothing to be sought after or understood. No big picture, no pretense, just a collection of summery, jangling pop songs. And sometimes that’s all you need.

Vondelpark – Seabed album review

Despite “Seabed” being the English electronic act “Vondelpark”‘s first proper full length, it is safe to say that it is quite a shift in form from their previous musical identity. Prior to this release, Vondelpark released a series of EPs that was more in the realm of dance/house/electronica. With Seabed, the band wanted to challenge themselves a bit more to create a self-proclaimed “real album” and not just a collection of songs with a simple house dance-party vibe. While their signature R&B luster remained in tact, Seabed showcases a much more lo-fi and introverted musical vision, allowing a greater deal of longevity as a result.

Mentioning a comparison to James Blake is almost unavoidable. Vondelpark has an incredibly similar vocal aesthetic (see: heavily processed, heavily somber, and heavily English) to Blake, and at first the similarity may be off-putting as it’s such an intense likeness, but when you put that aside there is clearly a great deal of individuality in the musical vision behind what’s presented. What stands out to me, besides the samples of computer mouse-clicking and default Windows “bloop” sounds on the track “Blue Again,” is the heavily rhythm and blues influenced guitar riffs and well-fitting mumbled vocals. Your typical American Idol fan surely would have a hissy fit about the lack of lyrical clarity and showoff-ness, but artistically it works perfectly to both draw more attention to the music and add to the demure attitude of the album. Ultimately, even what could be seen as flaws on the album add to the intimacy of the music.

What really gives the album the longevity it has is that even though the tracks are so low to the ground and emotional in nature, the melodies are so tastefully done that they provide a perfect balance so that they’re intensely catchy but not too cheesy or labored in that regard. It’s easily to get hooked on the album by the immediacy of these hooks, and then later relish in the finer details as the ideas of the songs are already embedded in your brain. It’s tough to pull something like this off when 90 percent of your lyrics are unintelligible, but somehow Vondelpark pulls it off. In my opinion, the album is best listened to alone, with the lights out, when you’re about to go to sleep and the subconscious is at its most dominant.

Yellow Ostrich – Ghost EP review

Yellow Ostrich may have released a full-length album earlier this year, but that hasn’t stopped their creative juices from concocting yet another, more aurally uniform piece via their moody and appropriately dubbed Ghost EP.

If the name Alex Schaaf rings a bell, it’s because he also figures as lead singer for Wisconsin-based band The Chairs (not to be confused with the British band). Yellow Ostrich started off as Schaaf’s solo project in 2009. The following year, Schaaf relocated to Brooklyn and added drummer Michael Tapper to the lineup, with bassist Jon Natchez joining in 2011. In the few years they’ve been together, the trio has been nothing less than prolific, releasing 3 albums—Wild Comfort (2009), The Mistress (2011), and Strange Land (2012) as well as 3 EPs—The Serious Kids EP (2010), The Morgan Freeman EP (2010), and Fade Cave EP (2011). Their sound blends indie rock, indie pop and lo-fi influences.

Ghost—the band’s 4th EP—was released on October 22nd, 2012 on Barsuk Records. The tunes are mostly mellow, dreamy slow tracks that bring to mind acts like Radiohead and Grizzly Bear. “Ghost” starts off on a slow, cautious note before building up momentum to brutally honest lyrics while “Here Today” has an ambient-acoustic vibe that diffuses the theme of uncertainty.
“Chills” packs the EP’s strongest punch, with its intense acoustics and drumming whereas the intensely dreamy “Already Gone” may be the album’s most experimental track, with the sound evolving three times in the span of less than three minutes.

Overall, Ghost is a brief, mellow airy-acoustic experience. Compared to previous EPs, Ghost is not as vocally-focused (Fade Cave EP), and is neither Hip Hop-tinged (Morgan Freeman EP), nor dance-based (Serious Kids EP). By adding Ghost to the list, they show their experimental tendency to immerse themselves into a specific genre, making for varied EPs that are unique in style and range while remaining easy on the ears. Some may also check out a live rendition of the EP via their tour that kicked off on October 26th, 2012.

Sera Cahoone – Deer Creek Canyon album review

Let’s get out of here a while, I’m counting down every mile, suggests Sera Cahoone in “Oh My.” But you won’t need to wait until the last track to realize that you’ve long been lured into her charming indie rock country-western Deer Creek Canyon with little desire of coming out anytime soon.

The Littleton, Colorado native traces her love of music back to her younger years, when she learned to play drums at 11 years of age. Her move to Seattle in ‘98 would lead her to drum for band Carrisa’s Wierd, Betsy Olson, Band of Horses, and singer-songwriter Patrick Park. In 2006, her self-titled solo debut was released, with the praiseworthy Only as the Day Is Long following in 2008. Her blend of country-western, indie rock and lo-fi music makes for a moving, genuine Americana-based experience.

Deer Creek Canyon—the singer’s third album—was released on September 25th, 2012 on Sup Pop Records. Recorded in Washington and Los Angeles, the album was co-produced with Thom Monahan and includes performances by her live band. The spellbinding indie rock country-western tunes channel themes like love, relationships, home and the need for change. From the title track’s autobiographical undertones—the canyon being where Sera grew up and where her mom still resides—to “Oh My”‘s longing for escape, there’s an ever-present yearning and search for home. Just as challenging is the ever-present complicated nature of love; its bittersweet longing effect explored in tracks such as “And Still We Move” and the slow, lyrically seductive “Here With Me.” “Any Way You Like” stands out with its peculiar vibe; its violin bridge adding intense layers to its romantic yet cautionary tone.

With its simple yet moving acoustics set to Sera’s soft, soothing voice to wrap you up like a warm blanket, Deer Creek Canyon is simply irresistible. Amidst the chaos of life and its constant emotions, a sense of purity and innocence abounds. And what more appropriate setting for purity than verdant grounds—fitting metaphor indeed.

You’ll waste the rest of your days if you worry all your life, she says in “Worry All Your Life.”
Truthful words, and truly one can be nothing less than relaxed and—dare I say happy and right at home—as they get whisked away to her naturally rich and beautiful Deer Creek Canyon.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo review

This publication missed Kurt Vile’s excellent Smoke Ring for My Halo when it came out in March. But now that Kurt’s got an EP coming out, I figure it’s as good a time as any to review the album.

The cover of the forthcoming EP, So Outta Reach, shows a bunch of different shots of an unkempt Kurt Vile asleep sitting up in a big armchair at some party, and in each picture somebody has their arm around him and is smiling at the camera. Your first reaction is laughter, but there’s a certain seriousness to the title that makes you unsure. Certainly the songs on Smoke Ring for My Halo suggest a guy sleepwalking through life. In fact, on the final track, “Ghost Town,” Kurt sings, “It’s all right to peel myself up sleepwalking / in a ghost town / Think I’ll never leave my couch again / ’cause when I’m out I’m only in my mind.” Sleepwalking in a ghost town is a perfect image for a guy who says he can “see through everyone, even my own self.”

Kurt Vile’s spaced-out music, drenched in reverb heightens the effect of separation. It’s as though there were a membrane over whatever it is Kurt’s feeling or trying to tell us. Not only that, but he seems torn as to whether he even wants to say what he’s thinking, often saying dark and immediately countering it with some self-effacing joke. For example, in “On Tour,” Kurt sings, “I wanna write my whole life down / burn it down to the ground,” but goes on to laugh, “Nah, I’m just playing, / I got it made”–and then adding uncertainly after a pause, “Most of the time.” It’s like something is holding him back, making him play down his feelings.

Lyrically the album packs a punch. Kurt’s imagery is personal and dark. But because of the casual way it’s delivered, it comes off more as a prolonged whatever than some attempt at profound insight. It’s much better that way. As it is, listening to the album is like talking to some apathetic friend who’s lost his way, come unattached from the earth and started floating around aimlessly. But if Kurt took the songs more seriously, listening to the album might have been like talking to some insufferable know-it-all who was trying to convince you his feelings were mega important.

The album is not perfect. “Puppet to the Man” and “Society Is My Friend,” both the album’s heaviest songs and also the only ones not about him, are a drag. Since “the man” and “society” are two things people love to stick it to, it’s like Kurt Vile’s gotta get those out of the way before he can keep going with the rest of the album. He does give both themes sort of an original spin, I guess, since in “The Man” he readily admits that he’s a puppet to the man, and in “Society” he seems to lose focus before he can even get to his message. All the same, the tracks feel perfunctory, and stick out from the rest of the album.

But overall, it’s an excellent listen, one of the year’s best. As on the cover of So Outta Reach, there’s an ambiguity to it: underneath the casualness, how serious is he about the emptiness, the detachment, even at times what seems like suicidality? Thematically, that’s what’s cool about it, but the best thing is the music and the way he sings.

Seapony – Go With Me review

The year is 2011, yet for some reason the trend in Indie music is to make music that sounds like it was recorded using equipment that was found in the closet of the recording studio collecting dust. Seapony is a three piece indie pop band that has found a niche using jangling guitars , catchy hooks and lo-fi production qualities to craft a pretty impressive debut record, Go With Me.

The band hails from Seattle but you can hear the SoCal surf sound and 60’s girl pop all over this record. The songs seem to just be made for sipping a beer in a beach chair. There are some really great harmonies in these songs from Jen Weidl, the lead vocalist. However the sound quality they landed on for this album makes it sound like she’s singing into a tin can at times, which is a detractor from the music. There are times on songs like “Blue Star” and “So Low” where you can hear what seems to be an Alt Rock, almost Smashing Pumpkin’s vibe to the tone and ferocity of the backing guitars.

A majority of the songs do stick to the formula that is set up on the LP’s opener “Dreaming.”  Songs open with sugary sweet lyrics from Weidl, followed by an instrumental break which doesn’t expand at all, it just repeats the pre-established rhythm and melody, then more lyrics from Weidl and possibly a quick guitar solo to close. This is the thing that pulls this album’s credibility down for me. If I’m not looking at the tracks as they play, I cannot tell you which song is which.  They all seem to just run together, which might be fine for some listeners, but I would have really like to have seen them expand their sound a lot more.  Hopefully they will attempt this in future records.

Despite the lack of color in some songs there is plenty to enjoy about this record. The times that Seapony does venture away from their formula it’s stunningly catchy, and the songs are well crafted pop songs. If you have ever found yourself tapping your foot along to Best Coast or Beach Fossils then you will enjoy this record. It’s fun, it’s relaxing and the hooks will live in your brain so long you should charge rent.