Monday, May 28, 2012

Georgia Anne Muldrow
Fatbeats [2012]

This lackluster Madlib production had all the key ingredients of a successful soul revival LP but just didn't make the cut. The flattering album cover image gracefully depicts Muldrow as a cosmic dandelion- wielding soul goddess, but once the needle drops you might not be so convinced. Not only do most of the tracks seem to ignore a necessary low end, but they become meandering, anticlimactic, and unmemorable. The beats and samples contained within the album sound like stock loops that any entry-level, digital recording equipment might come loaded with. The album has its moments, Muldrow can carry a wonderful tune, and there are a few focused gems on here, but by the time they hit you, some new unfavorable sound swoops in and destroys the brief, magical moments. Seeds may have been rushed or just poorly executed since evidence of great concepts can be found buried within the distractions, but this record just comes off as passive and halfhearted.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Weird Dreams

At some point in time (most likely the oh-so-formative 1980’s) a deep, passionate love for plucky, jangly, bittersweet pop was wired into my brain. Not an uncommon story for someone who grew up in the era I did, and certainly plausible reasoning for the explosion of bands with a similarly intrinsic desire for this sound. Several months ago, after a chance sampling of the exquisite track “Little Girl”, the question became not if, but how much, would I love Weird Dreams’ Choreography… This twelve track escape of East London psych-pop is undoubtedly my early choice for Album of the Year, and will be hard to top in this, as yet, fairly quiet 2012. Every track on Choreography lurks with shadowy post-punk cool, while also managing to overflow with pop hooks, engaging harmonies, and cautiously bright guitar work. Songs like “666.66” and “Holding Nails” are gorgeous, radio-ready singles recalling the true golden-era of British new wave. There’s something haunting familiar about “Faceless”, “Michael”, and title track “Choreography” – a sort of intelligent rock flexibility that could have seen them as either long-forgotten Bunnymen B-sides, or seamless staples of the Valley Girl soundtrack. “Vague Hotel” and “Suburban Coated Creatures” are slightly more contemporary bringing to mind the subdued enthusiasm of Let’s Wrestle and the side street romanticism of The Clientele (though both Merge acts, were Weird Dreams from the states, as a point of reference, they’d more than likely find their home on Slumberland or Captured Tracks). “Hurt So Bad” caries on the tradition of feel good songs about masochism, and unsurprisingly “Velvet Morning” is an enjoyable flirtation with shoegaze. “River of the Damned” is quickly recognizable as an experiment in the tranquility of early Shins work, and is the perfect track to repeat as you sit in your car, alone and heartbroken. The aforementioned “Little Girl” is, personally speaking, outright pop perfection – like some kind of glistening mutation of everything irresistible about music, the Wolverine of modern British pop. Not to gush (too late) but for a genre currently overrun with pretenders, Choreography is an absolute standout. Whether or not you’re culturally predisposed to ravenously consume this type of release, I have to think it will leave its mark given the opportunity. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Allo Darlin'

Allo Darlin' , the Aussie female fronted indie/twee sweetheart rock group currently residing in London secure another full length and call it Europe. I wasn't impressed by the first track, "Neil Armstrong" until my second listen when I read along with the liner notes and was then finally able uncross my arms and actually relax.  The second track "Capricornia" is a stand out track with an ensnaring quality that should have been the lead track to avoid any confusion about what was to (mostly) come of the album; the song reminded me of a b-side off of the Sundays's Reading, Writing And Arithmetic. The title track "Europe" made me think of the group Phoenix… it's poppy, catchy, worthy, and growing on me with each listen (car commercial material?). It was during "Some People Say" that I realized how amazing singer Elizabeth Morris's random vocal melodies actually are. "Northern Lights" came at me like a whirlwind of tolerable female emotion and ended side one with a pleasurable bang.  Side two begins with "Wonderland" and it's not the strongest lead in again and is followed by "Tallulah", the skippable vocal and ukulele track that seems to meander with mostly anticlimactic moments. "The Letter" may be the best track on the album. This side two track three is good enough to want to plow through the rest of the record and leave the sour moments behind. It's followed up by "Still Young", another great track with guts and the enthusiasm most of Allo Darlin's songs need, and the album closes with another boring slow burner that could have been better buried within the album or omitted. My conclusive thoughts on Europe?  I wish this record was a five song EP instead, but I can live with it. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Death Grips
The Money Store
Epic [2012]

Few things are as genuinely stimulating as when nihilism breeds creativity. Sacramento's Death Grips are a peerless and aggressive concoction of conspiratorially threatening punk and hoarse cerebral rap presented with a relentlessly individual style that would just as soon bludgeon its influences as pat them on the back. My rabid interest in all things Zach Hill (DGs drummer/contributor/producer) alerted me to the group shortly before last year's Exmilitary was released.  The album's (I refuse to say 'mixtape' about anything that is not an actual cassette) lack of polish gave it inescapable grit and only heightened the hyper-realistic vibe of vocalist/shouter/instigator Stefan Burnett's lyrics. Only a matter of months later, DG's topped Best-Of lists, were a hype-hungry media's wet dream, and had two albums slated for 2012 release on major label Epic. This scenario isn't exactly new but historically it tends to set those involved up for a fall. Luckily, building on the laissez-faire approach of the label and Death Grips' own collective devotion, The Money Store has paid off on every but of potential it generated. The methodic cut-and-paste of the beats that make up tracks like "Double Helix", "Black Jack" and "The Cage" is in stark contrast to the up-tempo focus of opener "Get Got" - though all succeed in their respective attempts. "The Fever" takes a would-be anthem and pushes it down the stairs with a couple of dust-covered Casios, and "I've Seen Footage" effortlessly (and maybe even accidentally?) recalls Salt-n-Peppa's "Push It" in the brightest moment of an admittedly dark collection. Closer/stand out track "Hacker" could be mistaken for an LCD Soundsystem collab with its unrelenting high energy, consistent ramp-up, and oddly taunting chorus of "I'm in your areaaaaaa." Somehow Death Grips have shed the stale antiestablishment deviance of punk and rampant homogeny (no homo) of rap to create something challenging and mysterious yet utterly thought-provoking and enjoyable. Of course, I am speaking relatively; this is outsider music for those fed up with subcultures, labels, and outsiders. We won't have to wait long to see if they can maintain this pace (No Love is set for release in the Fall) but as for right now The Money Store is as hard to deny as it is to define.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

VICE Records [2012]

Legendary Cali punker, Keith Morris and his aggro super team of punk and rock veterans (D. Coats - Burning Bridges, S. McDonald - Redd Kross, M. Rubalcab - Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes) cram sixteen explosive tracks into one full length, self-titled album, OFF!. Morris has not ceased to excite and entertain; his vocals are loud, mildly distorted, and in your face…like a bedraggled rendition of Iggy Pop's New Values alongside the charm of eighties American punk influenced throw-backs. The songs (which all hover around a minute each) squeeze in as much technical riffage possible without completely overwhelming the targeted listener. The lyrical content is intelligible yet somewhat cryptic, most of which focuses on Morris's discontent with who knows what, of which he makes one thing abundantly clear: He's ready to fight for it.  OFF! is a story of apocalypse, disease, social disorder, mania, paranoia, drug abuse, and anger.  Morris lays out his thoughts briefly enough to send your imagination a thousand miles in multiple directions, that is, if you are actually listening and not skating, fighting, or partying while this record spins. Regardless, OFF! is a Rorschach of sorts. When you finally believe that you know what's going on, you still won't be able to decide if it's you or Keith Morris who is the patient who needs the immediate clinical attention. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cheap Time
Wallpaper Music
In The Red [2012]

Here's the latest from Tennessee garage rocker Jeffrey Novak and his ever-changing line up of supporting musicians. Wallpaper Music has what it takes to be an enjoyable and memorable album. Just from the look and the feel of the record (heavy cardboard gatefold cover with artwork reminiscent of Led Zep's Physical Graffiti) and the luring invitational opener, "More Cigarettes", Wallpaper Music could hook almost anyone. The rest of the album spans genres from power pop to folk to classic/southern rock.  The influences found within are solid enough and interesting enough to keep the listener wondering what or who the next song will sound like without feeling that annoying obligation to actually pay attention.
Cheap Time come off as a group of really cool dudes that my dad would've hung out with in the early 70's. Think texas orange ringer tees and those Michelob bottles where you had to tear the gold foil off of the top before opening, and maybe some Aviator sunglasses -- but they're a current group, with contemporary indie rock aspects. Wallpaper Music might be a collection of songs that could end up hanging around for awhile without the deserved amount of people noticing, but, like a fine wallpaper, they're good enough and timeless enough to be appreciated for years to come.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Downtown Struts
"Anchors" b/w "Mexican Graffiti"

Over the course of the past few years we've all seen a ton of Americana-influenced pop punk groups come and go. I'm not really sure what happened to cause this musical phenomenon; could it just be the right time in a lot of punk rocker's lives to present a newer version of this classic angle, or is it simply an example of exponential trend growth? Regardless, some of these bands have done it better than others, while others ended up "hanging up their leather jackets and cowboy hats" before too many people ever even had the chance to experience them.  The Downtown Struts go down that dusty path, but from the looks of things, their lengthy journey has just begun.  The two tracks on this single (which support their full length, Victoria!) do exactly what a single should do: they make me want to hear the album.  The songs are raw but the musicianship is tight, the vocals have a melodic blue collar scruff to them, but I'm not the slightest annoyed. It's about time I heard a band and didn't say "Oh God, here we go again." but instead thought "Oh man, where is this going to take me?". 

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Sidekicks
Awkward Breeds

I've been introduced to The Sidekicks at just about the worst possible time, how can I be expected to maintain my introspective melancholia with this posi post-rock bulls eye of a record staring me in the face? The unassuming back cover painting these unimaginatively named fellows as three skaters-turned-hippies and the "came with the frame" guy from The Burbs did not prepare me for the bright, hooky, late 90's wail contained within. "DMT" is a pitch-imperfect opener, an instantly hummable dervish with just enough whirl readymade for summer mixtapes. It also serves as your initiation to The Sidekicks' earnestly ear-splitting vocal style, shipwrecked somewhere between harmony and cacophony, it's this heartwarming howl that'll keep you coming back. "The Whale and Jonah" kicks off side B like a sucker punch and is conclusive evidence that these guys wore out their Pinkerton cassettes and had to call out The Wall on its Lifetime Guarantee policy. Yes, that wildly popular worst-best Weezer album is everywhere on this record, but because of the sheer energy hitting you in the face, I'm also reminded of Superchunk or a slightly more gruff Ted Leo as well as 90's mainstays like Sensefield, The Get Up Kids, and the all-but-forgotten-yet-brilliant For Squirrels. It may be a diverse sampling, but The Sidekicks seem to have an uncanny ability to weave together genres while creating their sound. The track I revisit the most is the inconspicuously radio-friendly "Baby,Baby", a straightforward yet bizarre rock amalgam both drowning in, and escaping all modern influences. "1940's Jet Fighter" and "Incandescent Days" are also strong, though lyrically they don't differ much from the rest of the record, stories of girls who were good, bad, or (as in most cases) indifferent. "Looker" and "Peacock" are not particularly strong, but the use of an absolutely Piebaldian falsetto eventually endeared them to me, and closer "Daisy", is both predictable and appropriate. Though personally I may have strayed a bit from this type of youthful caterwauling, records like Awkward Breeds make me regret that choice and remind me that this is essentially the soundtrack of the best days you'll have. If you've got a heart that's perpetually on the mend, a beer in both hands, and you're not too cool to sing along -- you're sure to love this record as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nude Beach
Nude Beach II
Nude Beach Records [2012]

Nude Beach. (I had to say it one more time). Brooklyn garage revival meets poorly produced power pop…if there was ever such a thing.  It's an applaudable formula when you can throw catchy, rugged middle class vocals over paisley twinkling riffs and a filthy, aggressive rhythm section. The tracks on Nude Beach II borrow from sounds as distant as 60's San Francisco hair farm rock, 80's and early 90's obnoxious melodic garage and snotty British new wave, and the growing, popular sounds of grungy, regional indie. Every other song on this record sounds like that one ignored track on a popular classic rock LP that I love more than any of my friends can openly admit enjoying. Decent stuff.