Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

The Horrors, SKYING : Album Review

The Horrors

tACKY Grade: 7.6/10

1. Changing the Rain
2. You Said
3. I Can See Through You
4. Endless Blue
5. Dive In
6. Still Life
7. Wild Eyed
8. Moving Further Away
9. Monica Gems
10. Oceans Burning

A lot of the talk you’ll hear about the Horrors will center around the attempt to fit them into a particular genre, whether that be goth rock, 80’s new wave, shoe gaze, blah blah blah. It gets a little tiresome to hear people prattle on, trying to classify a band that is far more complex than these tried and simple-minded labels can encompass. Certainly, these budding stars have shown (in spurts) a tendency towards some of these styles, but they are a lot bigger than just what you hear in those moments. Skying, the third album from the Horrors, taps into that notion extensively and manages to push their sound forward without entirely abandoning its origins.

There are all sorts of influences at play here. Of course, there are the obvious and easily-detectable sounds of bands like (let the usual post-punk runoff ensue) Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Cure, et cetera. But the more impressive feature of the Horrors’ sound and especially that of Skying is the incorporation of external styles into the goth rock base they’ve been heralded for. Most notably, there is a strong element of early- to mid-90’s twee rock, particularly in the mold of some of the artists that made their home with Sarah Records, Postcard Records, and in the early days of K Records. You can hear that sound in the swinging melodies, both in the general songs themselves and in the vocal direction, in the strolling bass and the washed out but twisting guitars, the simple but ever-evolving percussion, and the suppressed, soft-voiced, shrugging lyrics. For instance, the second track “You Said” could have easily been released 20 years ago on an Orchids EP and fit in perfectly. Its whirling pop fashion and punk “don’t care” attitude, its awe-inspiring unison and echoing guitars, and especially its lyrics would do all the long-gone twee tape masters proud.

“You said I had what I came for,
And the whispers had washed you away.
Held yourself at the window,
But the rivers were turning your head.

After the crash, after the crash
Come the waves,
And leave you with nothing –
At least next to nothing.

You’ve gotta give me love,
You’ve gotta give me more.
You’ve gotta give me love,
You’ve gotta give me more.

Now the echoes are endless.
Whenever you say it aloud,
All the whispers are heavy,
And the whispers they wear you down.

After the crash come the days,
After the crash come the waves,
And leave you with nothing –
At least next to nothing.

You’ve gotta give me love,
You’ve gotta give me more.
You’ve gotta give me love,
You’ve gotta give me more.

Stretching far into another night,
A landscape with no heart.
And no one sees her above,
Oh, there’s nothing more to it now.

Put aside and forgotten, barely left alive,
And forgotten, too far gone to see you.
And her eyes are too far gone to know.
And her eyes are too far gone to know.

You’ve gotta give me love,
You’ve gotta give me more.
You’ve gotta give me love,
You’ve gotta give me more.”

Perhaps the most promising development to take away from Skying is the emergence of an undeniable intelligence from the band. This is evident both in lead singer Faris Badwan’s approach to the writing and performance of this album, and in the band as a whole. Their first two albums were good, fun music: interesting and enjoyable, but not necessarily concerned with pushing forward or bulldozing a new path through the forest that is indie rock. Skying, while still a charming and gratifying listen, pays more attention to artistry, forging a niche, and making something that will stand the test of time as a testament to what the Horrors are all about. They execute each song’s intent wonderfully, displaying an enhanced ability to capture your attention both with for-the-audience pop songs like the aforementioned “You Said” and with experimental songs that step away into their own weird little world like “Moving Further Away”, which swishes in and out of its engagement with the listener, sometimes thrashing away and sometimes soaking in.

All in all, this is a much more mature effort from the Horrors, and one that manages to grow from its predecessors without sacrificing the things that made them great. It latches on to your mind and refuses to let go, demanding more than just a couple listens. A lot of attention is being paid to Skying, and rightfully so. It’s not the best album of the year. Hell, it’s hardly the best we’ll get this month. But don’t let that fact fool you – this is not an album to be taken lightly, and certainly one you cannot possibly ignore. Whether you appreciate the gothy garage rock of their older work, or the masterful blending of an even wider array of influences, this album is most definitely for you. Don’t go out specifically to get your hands on it, but make it one you throw in the bag when you make a trip to the record store to pick up the new Malkmus or Merritt or any of the other great albums we’ve discussed in the last couple months or will be discussing in the next few weeks.

Pepper Rabbit, RED VELVET SNOW BALL : Album Review

Pepper Rabbit
Red Velvet Snow Ball

tACKY Grade: 7.1/10

1. Lake House
2. Rose Mary Stretch
3. Allison
4. The Annexation of Puerto Rico
5. Family Planning
6. Murder Room
7. In Search of Simon Birch
8. Dance Card
9. The Ballad of Alessandro Moreschi
10. Tiny Fingers

Upon unwrapping Red Velvet Snow Ball, I admittedly had no idea what I was in for. Sure, I remembered Beauregard, Pepper Rabbit’s first attempt at etching their name into the memory of folk pop fans. It was cute and a really good album to keep on the back burner for that special occasion when you needed the perfect background music, but was often too loosely executed and lacked deliberation and detail in the sound. It was one of those where you couldn’t put your finger on a particular problem that was holding it back, but the whole of it just seemed like it wasn’t the best they had to offer. Pepper Rabbit’s second album corrects all of those shortcomings, while dialing up the fun and charm of its predecessor.

Red Velvet Snow Ball is a much more focused record on many levels. Lead singer Xander Singh brings a notably stronger energy to the vocals on every track, something was altogether absent from the band’s previous effort. This new, fresh vocal energy does not sacrifice quality or individuality, as can be the case in other artists. Rather, it highlights Singh’s prowess and status as a budding star of a frontman. The instrumentation broadens itself even wider than before and creates a much rounder, more expansive sound, a necessity for what Singh and percussionist Luc Laurent are as a band attempting – to create a full-bodied and wild sound with as few people on as many instruments as possible. Everywhere you look here, there is more and more depth and sonic substance to unfold and scratch at with your mind. Every new listen allows you to dig another level or two deeper into those tangibly thick layers that twist and mingle with one another to create a lively musical whirlwind.

The second track “Allison” is a good example of the differences between the first and second album from Pepper Rabbit. It is finely tuned, more polished, and a tight, refined pop track centered around a catchy but far from flashy piano line, subtly streaked with the spontaneity of a variety of chimes and synths and an assortment of other backing instruments. It is like a sugar cube – inexact but certainly holding a proper and measurable shape, sugary sweet but granular and fuzzy, simple and yet intricate. To a further extreme of these changes, “Family Planning” is an absolutely delirious song. It is jam packed with imaginative drumming and synthesizers and guitars and vocal harmonies that are constantly in motion and constantly playing off one another to produce something wild, complex, and about to burst with emotion, but which has been tamed and spun masterfully into form by the hands of its creators.

In relation to Pepper Rabbit’s peers, this album is a bit hard to place. Conceptually, its home is somewhere between Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs and Strawberry Jam. Obviously, in songwriting talent and in just about every category, you cannot compare Red Velvet Snow Ball (or just about any other album) to such classics, but it does draw a lot of its influence from that period of Animal Collective’s career, and from similar psychedelic folk/pop artists like their Kanine Records label mates Braids. It doesn’t quite stack up, pound for pound, against some of the other indie rock releases of the summer, but it is both a much improved work for Pepper Rabbit themselves and one of the most re-listenable albums (especially in the off-pop arena) that we’ve come across in a while. If you recognize their concept and the things they are doing and the brilliance of their execution, the mileage you will get out of this album makes it incredibly purchase-worthy, but it might not be the most easy to warm up to if you’re unfamiliar with the band or the genre. That being the case, I suggest you check it out before buying, but I highly recommend getting to know these guys because they will likely be making all kinds of waves in the next few years.

Richard Buckner, OUR BLOOD : Album Review

Richard Buckner
Our Blood

tACKY Grade: 9.0/10

1. Traitor
2. Escape
3. Thief
4. Collusion
5. Ponder
6. Witness
7. Confession
8. Hindsight
9. Gang

Richard Buckner (Photo by Jill Draper)

It’s been five long years since Richard Buckner delighted his cultish audience with Meadow, a deftly high-powered and keenly refined record. That was in some ways a culmination of the branches and divergences his career had to that point taken, a fresh and new place at which all the various traveled roads agglomerated. In its aftermath, no one – not even Buckner himself – could have foreseen a hiatus of this duration. In fact, the silence from him was entirely unintentional, or perhaps more apropos it was altogether accidental. Between stolen laptops, busted tape machines, a series of odd jobs, one serious brush with the law, and a score to a never-actualized film, the story (which borders on legend) leading up to 2011’s Our Blood is more a long tale of many deaths and reincarnations of an album than it is the birth of one. Whether in the light of all that or in its own light as an artistic piece, what subsisted through all those struggles and was released Tuesday is a magnificent treasure, like finding a beautiful gem that had been forgotten and lost in the rubble of a demolished jewelry store.

Our Blood takes on the mood you might expect knowing the circumstances of its conception, destruction, reimagining, and revival, and knowing the history of Buckner’s music. It delicately balances soft-spoken honey-smooth evenness and the subtle turbulence, a sonic symmetry to which he brings a mastery that is – if not unmatched – unique and uncanny. You can hear little bits of his all his different works from the late 90’s on, particularly in the compositional concepts and in his distinct construction of sound. The depth and richness of his guitar (both in how it’s written and played) on tracks like “Collusion” will wrap itself around your mind and leave it soothingly overwhelmed by his genius. Every note of every track is struck with such purpose and passion, every tilting phrase built with such cunning and woven with such effulgence, that it feels as though the album can barely contain the swell of ardor in Buckner’s soul.

Lyrically, much the same. All the losses suffered in the making of Our Blood could not hold back Buckner’s overriding knack for writing nor his undeniable intelligence. He just has this unexplainable way of taking the most real words and mundane situations and twisting them into unimaginably artistic expressions. And, on top of that, his phrasing is as abstract as you will find in all of indie music, perhaps all of current music. To see his lyrical brilliance, one needs not look very far; the first track “Traitor” puts it on full display. I haven’t seen how the lyrics are transcribed in the album’s liner notes, but I imagine they’re probably listed much the same as on his website – each sentence written as its own verse, a line break after each period. But to illustrate his masterful phrasing, you have to see beyond that and see the way he mangles the sentence structures and molds them to the musical/vocal structure necessary for the song.

You woke up too late,
but know what they thought.
While you were waiting
for the strangers that had gone
somewhere to stay
where everyone traded
as they faded in the dark,

caught in the lights they couldn’t show through
and just beyond. They’d always known you

would give it away,
even as dust,
falling just out of frame,
leaving everything untouched,

held and returned. Who did you cry to?
Was someone else too close to find? You

sold what you’d saved,
woke where you’d lie
and said what they wouldn’t say
to the shadows in the night
left in your place
and still lashing out,
coming to life to make
you finally live it down.

watch that temper, now.
Is it worth it, wasted?
How far will you get?

Sentences are strewn across verses and bridges, and if you listened to the song without seeing the words as he wrote them, you might get a different idea of which words should be attached to which phrases. One such example, and perhaps the most obvious, is the end of the first bridge where he sings (seemingly) “And just beyond, they’d always known you…”. This whole song, and other parts of the album, are littered with his unique artistic and poetic view of lyrical form. Unbelievably good in that department.

In looking at Our Blood as a whole, I can’t see any way around acknowledging it as amazing in regards every objective measurement conceivable. Lyrically, this is the best album we’ve reviewed in a long time, hands down. Vocally, Buckner is still astonishing in his grasp of his own voice; he doesn’t try too hard to be unique and always remains true to himself, comfortable in his own shoes. Musically, it’s phenomenal and mastered perfectly, and also you get an incredibly sincere feeling from knowing that he played just about everything on this album after being known for his epic collaborative efforts (including ex-GBV members, ‘nough said). The guitars, the harpsichords, the perfectly complimentary percussion, all of it is gorgeous. You could listen to this album for days and not have discovered all the intricacies and bends and textures, all the details it has to offer. Perhaps we’re still basking in its freshness and all it has to offer, but in all honesty it seems the kind of record you could never get tired of listening to. This is a special album, one well worth the 5+ years’ wait. It is not, however, one you should wait to get your hands on now that it’s available.

Fruit Bats, TRIPPER : Album Review

Fruit Bats

tACKY Grade: 6.2/10

1. Tony the Tripper
2. So Long
3. Tangie and Ray
4. Shivering Fawn
5. You’re Too Weird
6. Heart Like an Orange
7. Dolly
8. The Banishment Song
9. The Fen
10. Wild Honey
11. Picture of a Bird

While Tuesday was a huge day for album releases in the indie world, we were more curious about what we would be getting from one band than from all the others combined. Sure, you knew Beirut would put out a fine work, and you knew you’d be excited for new Richard Buckner material, and you knew Moonface and Boston Spaceships would both have quality releases, but what could you expect from the Fruit Bats and their newest album Tripper? The early years of their career were spent largely exploring acoustic indie rock/folk in the mold of the Dodos or early work from the Shins, but the first single that was released a month or so ago shows a heavy divergence from that sound. Often, the Fruit Bats have made their stamp on the music world with a soft and suppressed mastery of the pastel, but “Tangie and Ray” features much louder percussion, vocals even further pushed into the falsetto range, and only distant hints of their former acoustic guitar prowess. It is very much a pop song, albeit a very good one, and after delving deeper into the album, you find (not surprisingly) that on the whole it follows suit.

Eric D. Johnson, the only remaining member from the Echolocation days, has either lost his knack for or given up his interest in being a soft-spoken musician; vocally, musically, and to a lesser extent lyrically, the changes made over the course of the last three albums have made for a tense and laborious finished product. Johnson has been quoted as saying that he wanted the band’s last album The Ruminant Band to feature the voices of the band to be heard, to be predominantly featured, because of the trust he had developed with them and their overwhelming amount of talent. That’s all good, and in fact a wonderful place to arrive at for him personally, but its effects on their works have been detracting and at times negative ones.

The biggest distraction on Tripper is Johnson’s insistence on pressing his falsetto voice more openly. If you go back and listen to the early albums, the only use of his higher register is in sound-building: harmonizing and creating a sky of vocals in the albums’ landscape paintings. Here, it is used more directly, in what seems a blatant attempt to cast himself as a pop singer. Even when the band backs away from the pop arrangements later in the album on songs like “Wild Honey”, and Johnson eases off the falsetto a bit, his voice is still strained and sticks out like a sore thumb. The Eric Johnson that sang on Mouthfuls would have made a perfect fit with a track like this, but this new voice of his pulls you out of the song right as you were being enveloped by it. Sadly, you don’t get a brilliant vocal performance from him until the last song of the album and even then, if this track were included on any album prior to 2009, it would only be considered a mild success of a song.

Musically and lyrically, the skies are much sunnier for Tripper. Sure, there are moments where it’s forceful in trying to project itself as a pop album, and other moments where it seems unsure of its intent by way of waffling between that sound and the softer, gentler, folksier sound of days that are now far behind the Fruit Bats. But whatever it is currently attempting on any given track, it does quite well in terms of the musical composition, instrumentation, and mixing. It is layered just well enough to have a soothing feel, and written by far well enough to make it an enjoyable listen. Lyrically, Johnson’s work here is as strong as could be expected. To demand the lyrical genius of Mouthfuls (see: “A Bit of Wind“) might be a little too high of a standard to hold it to, but it is gratifying and easy to connect to and teeming with individuality.

If you were seeking an album on the level of Mouthfuls in any manner of speaking, you will be sorely disappointed, but that’s not to say that this new piece is a bad album. It has its shortcomings, certainly. It takes a lot of chances, and even though some of those turn up as failures, it still manages to yield a pleasurable experience. It doesn’t strike a chord in the soul of the listener, but doesn’t need to in order to be enjoyed. On the whole, Tripper leaves you nostalgic for bygone Fruit Bats magic, but also with the grounded realization that you have to take it for what it is and like it for that.

Beirut, THE RIP TIDE (Album Review)

The Rip Tide

tACKY Grade: 9.1/10

1. A Candle’s Fire
2. Santa Fe
3. East Harlem
4. Goshen
5. Payne’s Bay
6. The Rip Tide
7. Vagabond
8. The Peacock
9. Port of Call

On first listen, The Rip Tide comes off as just another Beirut album, which is to say it’s pretty damn good but pretty much what you would expect from them. After two or three more plays, however, it is plain to see that this is not your typical Beirut but the epitome of their career to this point, their master work, among their best to date. A beautiful amalgamation of brass and accordion and ukelele, the newest album from Zach Condon doesn’t break out with any surprises or disappointments. What it does do is ever-so-slightly reimagine a sound he has declared as solely his, repackage it into something more available and more open to the unacquainted fan while still retaining – perhaps strengthening – its artistic integrity. The Rip Tide gives us a few songs in the band’s classic form, but also incorporates some of the songwriting styles of his side projects like Realpeople with the sonic scenery of Beirut. On the whole, it is contentedly sad, emotionally unsheathed, and patently romantic; that is, it is quintessentially Condon in every way.

There are a few notable differences between The Rip Tide and anything prior to it. The most easily discernible change is the heavy role played by the piano on the album, as it’s as much or more of a driving force than the horns which usually take that role. The piano is a welcome addition to the band’s standard instrumentation, but at times feel a bit like it’s been forced in against its will. Certain songs like “Payne’s Bay” could probably have done without any piano whatsoever, but that’s an exaggerated example. “Vagabond” is another instance where the piano doesn’t play a vital part, but is merely there. That being said, there are some tracks on which the keys or piano are brilliantly played and critical to the make-up and quality of the song. The title track, for one, is a slice of genius, both at the keys and in the overall blend of sound created between them and the strings and horns.

Part of that song’s magic, as well as the album’s, is also in its lyrical inventiveness. This is where Condon’s work with Realpeople most evidently comes into play. So often on this album, he chooses to say only what needs to be said, not get caught up in trying to expand every thought beyond its natural perimeter. There are times where he elaborates as much as usual, but the album is largely comprised of songs that have one or two verses but feel like they are far more wordy because of the ability the band has to tell the full story with more than just words. “The Rip Tide” and “Vagabond” are both great examples of that, each merely four and five lines (respectively) but as full of songs there are on the album.

Another big change on The Rip Tide is that there isn’t a single skippable song. Every single track is amazing in its own right, but more importantly plays perfectly in its position on the album. The two opening songs are brilliant for that purpose, introducing the listener to the hour long expedition they’re about to take. “East Harlem”, a great first single from the album, sits in the classic third track spot and transitions you wonderfully into “Goshen” and on into the artistic meat of the album. “The Peacock” begins to wrap up the ideas previously put forth, and takes you from the simplistic yet moving 5-7 tracks into the closer “Port of Call” which is as close as you get to classic Beirut here. The composition is not far removed from that of “Nantes” – it builds from a burning ukelele solo at the start, crescendo-ing into a huge, complex full-band tempest of horns and strings and drums and guitars, but at the heart you have Condon’s yearning voice and ukelele throughout.

Altogether, you get one flowing 34-minute piece of music that makes you feel like you’ve just spent hours with Condon, listening to his thoughts on love and existence. There is not one song that stands out, as there have been on his previous albums. There’s no “A Sunday Smile” or “Nantes” or “Postcards from Italy” in that regard, except that in a way every song could fit those standards. Perhaps you can say that “East Harlem” or “Port of Call” or “The Rip Tide” are the best, but then you listen to the whole album again and realize how three others could just as easily be deemed that. There are a couple of minor “dislikes” associated with The Rip Tide; as mentioned previously, there are moments where the piano is unnecessary, and it is rather short even if you don’t feel its brevity while listening. But those are so nitpicky, it seems, that they’re nearly irrelevant. This is probably the best album you could give someone to introduce them to Beirut. Only the test of time will tell if it’s his best yet, but it’s certainly in that conversation. The two things you can be certain of are that this album continues to set him farther apart from his contemporaries, and that The Rip Tide is far and away our favorite album of the year as of the time of its release – not even close – and will likely only be rivaled in that regard by one release on the upcoming schedule. But for now, it’s the cream of the crop, and an album you must get out there and purchase. I would say wait for the hard copy, the vinyl, when it’s released on August 30, but that means waiting to hear it and I don’t think anyone should have to wait for this one.

Album Review: Release the Sunbird, COME BACK TO US

Release the Sunbird
Come Back To Us

tACKY Grade: 5.9/10

1. It’s All Around You
2. Come Back To Us
3. Always Like The Sun
4. No Light
5. Why Can’t You Look At Yourself
6. Best Thing For Me
7. A New You
8. Back Strikes Back
9. Paper Allies
10. Running Away From Me
11. Everytime You Go
12. We’ll Begin Tomorrow
13. Outlook’s Anonymous

For those fans of Rogue Wave out there, Tuesday brought an exciting new album, but not one from the band itself. Rather, the band’s front man Zach Rogue has released his own album under the solo project moniker of Release the Sunbird. It is warm and inviting, if simplistic, and welcomes both long-time fans and those who are unfamiliar with Rogue Wave with its comforting friendliness. This is one of very few records released under Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records that we consider up to our tastes or standards, and is certainly adequate in relevance to both of those.

Come Back To Us lacks the firepower of Rogue Wave’s recent endeavors, like 2010’s Permalight LP, but holds onto some of its ideas and outlooks. It is rather more like a buttoned-up, more reserved cousin of the band’s older albums like Out Of The Shadow in its outward sonic appearance; it is heavily dominated by acoustic guitar and simple male-female vocal harmonies. It does have considerably more maturity in its writing style and diction, but that was never what you loved about the old stuff – its lack of maturity was actually more appealing. This new work runs a wide-ranging gamut of emotions, but is at its best when opening up into a comfortable and carefree sunniness. The title track and “Best Thing for Me” demonstrate this best, but several other tracks walk the line between straightforward fun and shrugging apathy. Sometimes they get lost in the middle of the two moods, however, and are quickly forgotten.

In fact, as good as Come Back To Us could be from a technical perspective (it’s really not even greatin that regard) and as joyful as it is to listen to, it lacks the ummph, has nothing that stands out about it from any other acoustic pop album, and feels thrown-together without much thought at times. Most of the tracks are in the 2-3 minute range, just long enough to entertain but not to capture the mind. It is the kind of record from which you could take any track and throw it on a mixtape, but there is no song that transcends the “filler” label. It is very listenable, but attempting to come up with an ideal situation in which to listen to the full album is quite difficult. It’s not made for the beach, driving, sitting at home sad, working out, walking down the sidewalk, waiting in line at a shop, or just about anywhere really. The only setting in which it feels like it would truly make a home would be sitting alone at a park and people-watching. Is it purchase-worthy? Sure, it’s not by any means bad. It’s just not at all a necessary addition to a collection unless you’re in desperate need of quality background music.

Album Review: Memory Tapes, PLAYER PIANO

Memory Tapes
Player Piano

tACKY Grade: 7.2/10

1. Musicbox(In)
2. Wait In The Dark
3. Today Is Our Life
4. Yes I Know
5. Offers
6. Humming
7. Sunhits
8. Worries
9. Fell Thru Ice
10. Fell Thru Ice II
11. Trance Sisters
12. Musicbox(Out)

We’ve had a slew of fantastic albums coming across our desk lately here at theanimalscankillyou. While this year has a ways to go before it catches up to the craziness that was 2010’s album release schedule, June and July have gone a long way to leveling the playing field. We had Sarah Jarosz and Bon Iver, the Rosebuds and Ladybug Transistor, Crystal Antlers and Washed Out. Last week gave us one more piece to remember, Dayve Hawk’s second release under the Memory Tapes moniker, Player Piano.

Memory Tapes (also having released under the names Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes) has been an innovator and vanguard on the indie scene for several years now. His first album as Memory Tapes, Seek Magic, was one of the earliest experiments in the late 00’s chillwave movement and remains a defining work for both that style of music and indie pop in general. The stuff he released as Memory Cassette was similarly on the cutting edge of electronic music, but not as widely renowned. Player Piano is probably his first truly anticipated album, and while it diverges quite a bit from the path his early works blazed, it is still a very good album.

There are a lot of stylistic changes here. Player Piano is less textured across the board than any of its predecessors, but more heavily layered with conventional instruments. It is also less introverted than anything Hawk has released previously, which is a little disappointing when you understand that quiet distance as having been the pivotal dimension of his sound. The fact that he has opened up, however, does not in and of itself make Player Piano a failure, but it certainly gives it an awkward feeling that makes you examine the album with a more critical eye.

When you do that, you see a number of delightful songs. “Offers” is an effervescently dancy tune, and one on which the piano and synth blend creates an odd but effective pairing. Perhaps because of its gushing lyrics or the mind-lulling pop grooves, this track absorbs the listener in its lighthearted flow and romance. And it leads perfectly into our favorite song from Player Piano. “Humming” opens with a simple, droning synth underneath a parallel female vocal part that compliments the sound perfectly, then both fade away to leave a delightfully weird electronic transition out of the intro and into a complicated concoction of upbeat hip hop-influenced percussion, piano, and layers of synthesizers. “Humming” fades and then drops out, but if you’re not paying attention you won’t even notice the shift into “Sunhits” which is a completely different kind of song, but flows perfectly out of the previous two. This time, it’s a standard pop instrumentation – electric guitar (which seems a little forced at times, but is good), synth, basic pop drumming – which is fitting because this is pretty much a standard pop song in the traditional sense, or as close as an artist like Memory Tapes has come to it.

It may lack in a couple of areas that Hawk’s other works have been brilliant in: it is not the most subtle of albums, it is not consistent or comprehensive, it severely misses the texture he is known for, it does not have a tremendous amount of structural artistry as an entire work. Above all else, however, it is a huge shift in direction from Seek Magic and previous endeavors. Player Piano feels a lot like Passion Pit’s transformation between first and second albums – like a move towards conformity, towards popular relevance and away from artistic relevance (although far less egregious than that example). There are some truly mind-blowing songs and aspects of the album, for which he should be commended, but it falls a little short of what we expected in almost every category. We still dig it, and enjoy listening to it, but don’t revel in its brilliance as we have before with Memory Tapes (or any of the other names he goes by).

Album Review: Crystal Antlers, TWO-WAY MIRROR

Crystal Antlers
Two-Way Mirror

tACKY Grade: 9.3/10

1. Jules’ Story
2. Séance
3. Summer Solstice
4. By The Sawkill
5. Two-Way Mirror
6. Way Out
7. Fortune Telling
8. Always Afraid
9. Knee Deep
10. Sun-Bleached
11. Dog Days

In early 2009, we were introduced to Crystal Antlers by way of their first full-length LP, Tentacles. The swinging, screaming lamentation of their first single “Andrew” extending to the indie rock world a refreshing and unexampled branch, provided a perspective on rock-and-roll that we hadn’t seen in a long time, if ever. It was bluesy, distorted, torrid, and in constant flux, but incredibly gratifying in every way. Even after dozens of plays, you could always find something new you loved about the song. The drums had a liveliness to them that was unparallelled. The guitars screeched along with the drums, emphasizing every rhythmic intricacy and bringing their song to life. The backing organ that only rose to the forefront in the key interchanges of the song was dazzling, wrapping you up in its welcoming arms. And the lead vocals and lyrics, above all else, endeared these Long Beach rockers to droves of indie fans.

The album itself was far less in touch with its pop consciousness: more experimental, louder and more raucous at times, abstract and entrenched in eccentricity at others. Tentacles was all over the place, and left many listeners brought in by “Andrew” wondering what the hell they had stumbled upon and a little put off by its striking contrast to the single, but left others captivated by its imagination and wonder, enthralled by its theory and execution of concept. Either way, no matter what you made of their first album, you wondered what you could possibly expect from its follow-up.

What we got was in part a continuation – deep and layered and often drowned in pure volume but artistically a step above anyone else. The differences and changes made between Tentacles and Crystal Antlers’ second full-length, Two-Way Mirror, are subtle and indistinct on the first listen. The most overt difference is the stepping back of the organs that played such a critical role in the sonic makeup of the first album. There are still a few tracks, like “Séance” that strongly feature the organ, but not in the same garage rock revival style as before. They were largely replaced by piano and synth, almost entirely relegated to a backing role, but a understatedly important one in the development of the depth and overall sonic landscape of the album. Where the organ was at times the central force behind Tentacles, this new work is driven far more heavily by guitar and Jonny Bell’s unmistakably bold vocals.

“Jules’ Story” kicks off the new album with a percussive flurry. Bell’s lyrical prowess is immediately on display with a violent and yet passionate fury that would rival that of any old school At The Drive-In tune. Something about his voice makes the words even more potent than they are on their own. The second verse, in particular, demonstrates this as he sings,

“Pray for signs from somewhere else
Where eyes still see the truth
Behind dead criminals.
Cast a cloud of a fake account.
Lights went out with an ounce of clout.
Lies were spread/fires fed.
We’re all misled/kids still dead.
Fell in love with the gun,
And it shot my son.
Fell in love with the gun,
He was 21.
Who was touched by the hand of the grace of god,
Who was touched by the hand of the chosen one.”

Much of the album continues in this style: fast-paced, high-energy, and drenched in layers of loudness. There are a few more shaded tracks like the piano-heavy “Summer Solstice”, and the 1:42 instrumental track “Way Out” that features a wailing organ over static-laden guitars and soft underlying percussion that feels both out of place and yet perfectly complimentary. That, as well as a few other tracks, are far more experimental than many of their post-punk/garage rock contemporaries tend to get into. Our favorite track is somewhere in between their experimental and straightforward sides. “Knee Deep” is a quick (2:24) blend of swinging blues, refined and yet openly raw guitar work, driving piano, and simple drumming. On an album that features great song after great song, each in its own unique way, it is difficult to pick a favorite track but this would probably be the one. The closer, “Dog Days” would probably be another – a fun bringing-together of a lot of the sounds they attempt on Two-Way Mirror that seems like it will be perfect material for their live show for years to come.

Overall, this is a brilliant album. It is a collection of great tracks, but pieced together and ordered perfectly. There is a lot to take in from it, and we still learn something new every time we delve in. It’s great for nearly every listening situation – sitting in your room on a rainy day and cranking the stereo, road trips, walking up the street with your headphones on, and everything else in between. You can lose yourself in it easily and immediately, and come out of the haze it encompasses you in feeling like something just knocked the wind out of you. It meets the artistry of many of the indie post-punk bands, like No Age, with an unrivaled energy and intensity that is all their own. Love everything about this album, and even though Washed Out just set the bar for indie albums in 2011, this leaped psat that mark and set a new one. Instant classic? Must buy? Album of the year contender? Emphatically, yes to all of those. This is about as perfect an album as you’ll find, and continues Crystal Antlers’ legacy of crafting a genre of their own.

Album Review: the Rosebuds, LOUD PLANES FLY LOW

the Rosebuds
Loud Planes Fly Low

tACKY Grade: 7.7/10

1. Go Ahead
2. Limitless Arms
3. Second Bird of Paradise
4. Come Visit Me
5. Without a Focus
6. Waiting for You
7. Woods
8. A Story
9. Cover Ears
10. Worthwhile

Upon hearing the news a couple months ago that we were to get another entry from Raleigh’s own the Rosebuds, to say our interest was piqued would have been an understatement. Certainly, our expectations were not the highest after the last couple albums. Night of the Furies was a let-down in nearly every sense – inconsistent and waffling between dark bass-centric indie rock and synth-driven electropop. It was a complete shift in style, conforming to the dance pop/indie rock movement, that was entirely unnecessary. This dance pop tangent was frustrating, tiresome, and bland – an utter disappointment from a band that was always flavorful and stood alone as the most defined and unique of all the indie rockers arising from the Triangle area in the mid 00’s. Not only was it not a good style for them, but it felt like they should have stayed away from the idea altogether, as they certainly were not the first one to that party, nor were they good enough at it to do justice to either themselves or the genre.

Life Like similarly felt unimaginative at times and, while more mature and a small step in the right direction, was merely almost good enough to make you forget how far they had strayed in an obvious attempt to pander to the popular scene. Both albums garnered huge critical acclaim and massive national fandom, but forced long-time fans of the band to question whether they would ever again see the Rosebuds as they were in the back room of the old Kings Barcade on McDowell Street. This month’s Loud Planes Fly Low goes a long way to answering those questions.

The newest work from Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp is in much of the same mold as their last album, sonically, but carried out with much more lyrical thought and compositional care. If you had to define it as a blend of two of their previous albums it would be the dark sound of Life Like combined with the confidence and intelligence of Birds Make Good Neighbors, which still stands (in our eyes) as their best album to date.

The album opens with “Go Ahead”, a doleful reminiscence of what once was a quietly perfect relationship, and ultimately the dreaded end of it all. Howard sings of the small activities that kept them entertained, like coffee-drinking and people-watching. He sings of the overriding feelings of ecstasy and love that the relationship was built on, as in the opening lines

“Go ahead and be my world
And everything will be okay.
Just hide there in plain sight,
Too big to see, yeah to see.”

He sings of the things they did for (and with) one another, like the symbolic planting of a forest to provide cover and an escape when the civilized world rejects them or gives up on them. This is an image strikingly evocative of the language and ideals of “Boxcar” or any number of songs from Birds Make Good Neighbors. He then transitions smoothly into discussing the end of the couple, where the two throw all their clothes out, and looks hopefully towards a future date that they can come back to the lake and find the waves had washed up all of the dresses on the shore. This is a great symbol, the two throwing out all their emotions to the open world, perhaps never to find them again, and he doesn’t seem to care if his ever get found again, but only that hers will get pulled together by nature or random chance or whatever force it takes.

“Let’s go ahead and grab our clothes,
And walk together where the water knows us.
And toss them over the edge
Into the lake and watch them sink.
Let’s make a pact, set a date,
Meet back up here at this same place,
And maybe brim will make beds in your dresses.
In your dresses, in your dresses.”

“Go Ahead” also introduces a compositional and vocal theme that runs through the rest of the album, a sort of sighing or shrugging nature, especially at the end of phrases and verses. This is audible on “Waiting For You”, “Without a Focus”, and every other track. The only song that has a little more vocal force is “Woods”. All of the songs deal with the end of a relationship, which makes plenty of sense as Howard and Crisp’s relationship has played an integral role in the content of their music from a very early point in the band’s history and as this is the first album they’ve released since the end of their marriage. It is quite an interesting way to address such a personal matter, publicly and together airing their emotions and the things that they have witnessed.

Musically, the divorce has not driven them apart – the vocal harmonies and direction of the music is on point as ever. The only part it plays, other than in lyrical subject, is in the mood of the album, which is almost entirely somber and suppressed, like a stifled cry from someone who wakes up in the middle of the night forgetting they’ve lost their love and and reaches for a hand to grasp, only to be reminded of their loneliness by the vacant space beside them. It is similar in this regard to the Mountain Goats’ Get Lonely.

Loud Planes Fly Low isn’t an album that shakes up their discography or takes their standing to new heights or even distinguishes them as a great band, at least not to the level that they have already done with previous releases. It is, however, a reaffirmation of their ability to put out a consistent album and one that you can enjoy without being taken out of the moment by forced stylistic changes or mediocre lyrics, as was so often the case with the last two works we’ve seen from the Rosebuds. If you liked Birds Make Good Neighbors, then you will probably enjoy this one. Its mood and subject matter is completely different, but some of the imagery and musical ideas conveyed are similar. Definitely give it a try, no matter what you think of the Rosebuds. It’s worth at least hearing a few times, and (for us, at least) is really a very enjoyable album that we’ll come back to more often than anything they’ve done in the last few years. I’d call it a very good, thoroughly consistent work; perhaps it isn’t great but in light of what they’ve done recently and what this could have been, it’s quite exciting just to have another very good one from these guys.

Album Review: Washed Out, WITHIN AND WITHOUT

Washed Out
Within and Without

tACKY Grade: 8.5/10

1. Eyes Be Closed
2. Echoes
3. Amor Fati
4. Soft
5. Far Away
6. Before
7. You and I
8. Within and Without
9. A Dedication

Independent music, over the years, has been responsible for many different movements and innovations in the music industry. It has advanced our understanding of punk rock, brought life and color to folk music, and stripped electropop of its enormous amount of cheesiness and infused it with intellect, but most importantly has introduced us to all sorts of amazing blends of genres and ideas that would otherwise not have been available, all by way of exposing to the listener bands that are not hindered by the necessity to pander to the almighty dollar, but contrarily can master their talents and revel in obscurity, crafting a sound that is perfectly conceived and wholly theirs. Sometimes, these bands forge new genres, or revolutionize a tried genre to such a radical level that it may as well be brand new.

This is the case with Washed Out, who from his bedroom studio took the blossoming genre of chillwave to all new heights. Ernest Greene’s self-produced EPs and Myspace-released material invigorated the uber-intelligent underbelly of the indie pop world with its subtety, ecstasy, and artfulness that his predecessors had hinted at or displayed in small part but not perfected or extensively explored. This, coupled with the simplicity and minimalism of his stage act, endeared Washed Out to music bloggers everywhere and hordes of fans seeking something new and something brilliant. Even without a full-length album, Washed Out almost instantly became the most recognized name in chillwave music, perhaps in part because of his perfectly appropriate band name, but mostly due to his talent and uniqueness.

All too often, bands in this mold become stale by trying to recapture their initial success, or even worse try to break that stereotype by quickly shifting away from their sound and trying to become something they are not and are not good at. Within and Without suffers neither of those tragic failures, but gracefully walks the tightrope that so many other bands readily jump off of. With his newest album, Washed Out manages to advance his original sound without either growing stagnant or changing so many aspects of his brilliance that he becomes an altogether new artist. It is more full, sonically, that his early works and more confidently written, but retains its artsy yet dancy nature in every way. Lyrically, Within and Without is not far superior to Life of Leisure, but its slight superiority in that aspect is clear to see. The beats are still rooted (perhaps more heavily so) in hip-hop, but more inventive and more unpredictable. The interwoven sampling on tracks like “Before” is ingenious, as intricate and involved as it is simple and uncomplicated. It is a little quieter and more removed at times, but this is what I expect he would say he was attempting to accomplish with prior releases.

There are no tracks that stand out from the rest, only because each is phenomenal in its own way but also interlaced into the fabric of the album as a whole. Whereas Life of Leisure and the tour EP and his other small releases were punctuated by tracks like “Feel it All Around” that leaped through the speakers more so than others, every track on Within and Without has a sort of equality in that regard. Sure, tracks like “Amor Fati” and the first single and opening track “Eyes Be Closed” are certain hits and widely talked-about, but they aren’t far removed from the other songs or the feel of the album. Each one settles in, makes its home in your headphones, and sends your mind lilting and spinning through a maze of simultaneous color and colorlessness. It’s a bit like seeing the Northern lights while tripping acid on a frozen lake; at any moment, there is brilliance and flavor and spirit flying in every direction, but at the same time you are well aware of the dull and dreary natural world surrounding you, and the two feelings juxtapose themselves in your eyes to create a harmonious equilibrium.

Altogether, you have to say this is Washed Out’s best work to date, and all the more remarkable for that fact. It’s incredibly difficult, it seems, for electropop (see: Passion Pit) or chillwave (see: Toro y Moi) bands to recapture their genius in their second major release, whether because they are trying to reach new audiences or change their make-up for the sake of changing or trying the same thing without growing and advancing. But Washed Out takes a mature step, a step in the same direction he has been walking since his arrival. Within and Without is a mark of progression, development, and improvement in his career, and a statement that Washed Out is far from a one-hit wonder but rather an artist that will continue to march on as the advance guard in cutting edge music for (we hope) years to come. Moreover, it is – on its own musical merits – a great album, perhaps the best we’ve seen all year. It is perfect for headphones, but just as perfect thumping through car speakers while you drive downtown in the middle of the night. It is a must-buy for every indie fan, and ought to make for great live material.