July 13, 2010
Dear Comrade EP
2010 | Unsigned
I wanted deeply, in my heart of hearts, to not compare Dear Comrade to stellastarr*. But I truly think, even had I not known that Dear Comrade is the work of stellastarr* drummer/keyboardist Arthur Kremer (with the help of Emmett Aiello on lead guitar, bass by Dan Freeman, and backing and occasional lead vocals by Stefani Pekin – who also goes by Dex, and Dr. Dex, though I doubt she’s board certified), my mind would have immediately leapt to that conclusion.
Moody instrumentals, soaring female backing vocals behind almost-speaking-rather-than-singing post-punk male vocals (think almost Interpol), yeah, I could be describing either band. But while stellastarr* began reaching out toward what I would argue is a more gothic sound (in the literary sense of the word) with Harmonies for the Haunted, Dear Comrade is a little less flashy, more stripped down, and attempts to show a broader mix of influences.
“Badlands” opens the album, a semi-political track mostly about apathy. “Conflict of interests, clashing of faith / What would John Lennon fight for today? / Where’s the amber, where’s the glow / Where’s Black Panther, I just don’t know.” While I assume Kremer is referencing the 1960′s radical party, he could just as easily be asking for the Marvel Comics superhero. Oh, the joys of interpretation. The track itself is certainly enjoyable, but I think it lacks a certain spark, especially when compared to later tracks on the album.
June 28, 2010
King of the Beach
2010 | Fat Possum
“I’m stuck in the sky / I’m never coming down,” shouts Nathan Williams on “Linus Spacehead.” It’s more of a sneer really—the bratty whine of a kid who still feels invincible. It was that kind of mentality that landed Williams, better known as Wavves, on stage at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival last May hurling insults at the crowd and dodging flying beer bottles. It was a meltdown you’d expect from an aging rock star, not a 22-year-old who happened to have his
bedroom pop project declared the next big thing. Then again…
But that was over a year ago—in Internet years, a lifetime; Williams is like a seasoned vet at this point. Or at the very least he’s just hitting his prime, something more than evident on Wavves’ newest record, King of the Beach. While at heart Wavves is still the gritty, lo-fi pop-punk group they were on last year’s self-titled breakout, this new record is something completely different. The most noticeable thing: You can actually hear every instrument; the omnipresent, sometimes oppressive, wall of fuzz from Wavves’ first two records has been checked thanks to the simple luxury of having a studio in which to record. And the results are unsurprisingly wonderful.
As a songwriter, Williams has always been strong. On King of the Beach he churns out his usual array of slacker anthems with ease—powerhouse pop-punk gems based around three-maybe four-chord progressions that, this time around, retain just the right level of Wavves original bedroom aesthetic. But mixed in with these tracks are lazier, shoe-gazey cuts like “When Will You Come” and “Baseball Cards,” the latter droning along in hazy synths and vocals, but anchored by clean choral “sha la la’s.” One of the record’s most unexpected surprises is “Convertible Balloon,” a song that’s pure bubblegum doo-wop, carrying elements of “Under The Boardwalk” if The Drifters had smoked weed and played Nintendo all day.
May 13, 2010
At Echo Lake
2010 | Woodsist
It’s been a little over a year since Woods released their last album, 2009’s well-received Songs of Shame, a record of lo-fi folk that garnered the group some pretty significant attention and made them standouts among the rest of the fuzz-heavy Woodsist family (e.g. Wavves, Vivian Girls, et al.). Still, Woods has wasted no time following up Songs of Shame. Their fifth record, At Echo Lake, bears many similarities to the group’s previous releases (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing), but also finds them toying with their rustic-Brooklyn sound.
“Blood Dries Darker” kicks off the record with a sunny guitar lick and a distant tom-and-snare beat that’s right out of 1960’s San Francisco, before floating into an acoustic melody that would make Crosby, Stills, & Nash jealous. “Suffering Season,” one of the record’s highlights, sways effortlessly and cheerily, balancing James Earl’s fuzzed-out vocals and an overdriven electric guitar with steady acoustic strumming and crisp background chimes. “Who knows what tomorrow might bring?” Earl sings, his Neil Young-like falsetto still strong under the heavy bedroom production.
It’s songs like these that show Woods undoubtedly growing as musicians and songwriters. The melodies on At Echo Lake are infectious and never hard to distinguish amidst the wide range of instruments and noises that fade in and out of every song throughout the album. “Time Fading Lines” is, for the most part, hauntingly clean and open, but sporadically the song swells with clatter —“As the hours let go / Time fading lines creep into control” sings Earl, his voice stoic, as the drums grow and a wail of feedback crawls out of nowhere.
May 6, 2010
There’s a special place in my heart for bands like Elephant Parade; that is, bands that are sort of innocuous and unselfconsciously adorable. Those more callous than myself could probably sum up this record’s cuteness by using their index finger to gag themselves. Okay, perhaps that’s an acceptable reaction, especially if one considers the following lyrics, from “For You”: “I like you / You don’t make me cry / I like you / You always make me smile.” As far as I can tell this is delivered without irony or sarcasm. To me, that’s one of the main reasons this record is enjoyable.
It’s a short record, clocking in at about 22 minutes, and as evidenced by the aforementioned lyrics, it’s relatively harmless. They sound like a stripped-down version of Camera Obscura or Au Revoir Simone. It’s an acoustic record, male and female harmonies, with a lo-fi sound to match its title, Bedroom Recordings. The track “Boat Song” shows the band’s potential beyond simple acoustic songs, featuring a beautiful, floaty keyboard arrangement and a breathy melody; I wish the entire record was closer to this sound.
Like a lot of decent pop music, their songs are shallow enough that enjoyment of them beyond the few first listens is contingent on the positive experiences which the songs accompany. I also imagine that one or two of these tracks could nicely round out a mix tape.
by Joe Veix
2010 | Weemayk Music
The Antifolk group Elastic No-No Band is nothing if not prolific on Fustercluck!!!, their second studio album. Spread over two discs and over two hours, this record is a veritable smorgasbord of American folk and rock styles. These guys clearly love music and you’d be hard pressed to fault their energy or their execution. At its core, this record is simply a lot of fun. But it’s also a fairly extensive glimpse into the twisted mind of songwriter/singer Justin Remer (who writes for Jezebel Music) and a good platform for his off-the-wall sense of humor, as evidenced by the self-explanatory first single, “(The Shame About) Manboobs.”
Elastic No-No Band’s music, much like the other bands who make up the Antifolk scene that calls the East Village’s Sidewalk Café home, is quite possibly an acquired taste, but one well worth the plunge. The No-No Band is like the corn ice cream at Sundaes & Cones. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but after you have the sample spoonful, you find yourself ordering a whole cone.
Disc one – let’s call it “Fuster” – opens with a goofy cut from an old scratchy fitness record, and that sets the tone. Fuster is a workout of sorts, an aerobic and bouncy journey through American music that hopscotches from banjo folk to trashy indie to old-school country…you get the picture. The crunchy fuzz of “The Color Machine” stands out on Fuster, a meatball of a track that mashes a stripped down Stooges groove with the dirty alt-rock of Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion project. It’s catchy as hell and a bit of a departure from the rest of the record. Brook Pridemore (who also writes for Jezebel Music) co-wrote the track and sings lead, which isn’t as distracting as you’d think. since one of the album’s strengths is that the dozen or so guests who join in with the No-No Band blend in seamlessly. Debe Dalton, banjo player extraordinaire, is all over both discs and the album is all the better for it. Her banjo picking is timeless, as is her voice. Dalton and Remer’s duet of the old traditional song “There’s A Hole In the Bucket” is particularly funny and sweet.
April 27, 2010
2010 | True Panther
Remember last summer? The muggy haze of humidity that crept over New York City in mid-July coupled with the onslaught of lazy, sticky tunes from Washed Out and Neon Indian? It was like three months of lying on the floor—because the fabric on the couch was too hot—in just a pair of shorts, with a pack of frozen food or a can of beer resting on your forehead, unable to move because, you know, that would just make things worse. A chill-wave summer. Or something like that. But amidst all this was Delorean’s Ayrton Senna EP—four tracks of sun-drenched, electro-dance pop that felt like someone had just dunked your head into a bucket of ice water. Now, one year later, with temperatures climbing, the Spanish four-piece is back with their second full-length, Subiza, a fine record that highlights Delorean’s knack for crafting wonderfully simple yet layered melodies that dance, swell, and fall almost effortlessly.
December 28, 2009
ART OF SONG
Don’t Fear The Reaper [Holy Ghost’s B-Live Mix]
2009 | BACARDI B-LIVE Free Downloads
The year is drawing to a close. I can’t speak for you (though oh, how I try!), but I’m getting ready to put on my sparkliest outfit and go out to some lame New Years party where I will inevitably drink too much and end up trying to kiss too many people when the clock strikes midnight. That’s how I roll.
Do you know what’s as earnestly convoluted as my New Year’s intentions? The Holy Ghost remix of Van She’s cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” (See, I told you it was convoluted.) But as convoluted as this mixture seems (a remix of a cover) it’s really quality. The work and care is present, hence the earnestness of this equation. This wasn’t Van She just crapping out a cover, and Holy Ghost deciding they’ll fuck around with it a little. There appears to be actual effort here, which is something I can certainly appreciate.
A fairly mellow remix (to be fair, “Don’t Fear The Reaper” isn’t exactly a booty-shaking jam), I would imagine this would enter the New Year’s party rotation after the ball dropped, when people are still going, but not with quite the enthusiasm they were previously. A collective breather, if you will.
Van She doesn’t really take too many risks with this cover, instead going with the flow and sticking to the roots of the original. Holy Ghost throws in enough of a backbeat to keep you moving. And it intensifies, hitting the first peak around 1:50, throwing in some swelling piano in the background to add a little drama.
More on Van She | Don’t Fear The Reaper [Holy Ghost’s B-Live Mix]
December 16, 2009
2009 | Gigantic Records
Kids Aflame, the debut record from Brooklyn group Arms, is an upbeat, shiny slice of capital-lettered Indie Rock, and reminds the listener of this fact with every note. While its lyrics treat a range of subjects, not all of which sparkle with the good-time haze of the album’s music, the overall impression is of a forced smile—technically flawless, if spiritually flaccid.
The cleverly-titled but mostly non-musical opener “Sabretooth Typist” is merely a prelude to “Whirring,” which sets a pattern that will prove difficult to break for the rest of the album. Cheery pop instrumentation (complete, on this song, with a quiet guitar/jingle bell interlude) is the rule, while singer Todd Goldstein’s voice glides smoothly over the top like a young lounge singer’s, delivering ever-so-slightly sneering social commentary packaged with a retinue of ooh’s and aah’s. The guitar riffs that drive the song are pleasant and catchy enough, if ultimately not too memorable, and the percussion stays politely in the background, offering only the slightest of kicks when necessary to keep the song moving.
The vocals start inducing motion sickness on “Construction,” where Goldstein’s nasal delivery slides languidly from end to end of the major scale while quiet guitars and near-nonexistent percussion shuffle around trying to look busy. The jingle bells are still here, now joined by a few hand-claps. It’s enough to almost make you want to pinch the song’s cheeks, until the vocals slimily chime back in.
The title track continues in the nauseatingly precious vein, with strummed ukulele echoing over warm harmonica-like programming and Goldstein’s whiny, unctuous lilt interrupted by sunny arpeggiated nonsense syllables. This song has some staying power, with its catchy melody and general unrelenting cheer, but repeated listening induces tooth-grinding unless you’re prepared to throw yourself headlong into the album’s grating, near-senseless positivity.
More on Arms | Kids Aflame