Released: January 16, 2012
I am surprised by the absence of publicity for Ambassadors and their most recent record Litost. In 2006, the band started to get going, when unfortunately their keyboardist Casey Harris ended up in the hospital, needing a kidney transplant to survive. During that time, the members separated temporarily and Sam Harris went on to write much of what is now Litost.
This release appeals to indie rock fans as it provides both calm tunes such as Litost, and head nodding tracks like Unconsolable. The standout feature from this album is the raw emotion implemented in the songs, as I have always been a fan of vocalists who mean the words that are being sung. Once word spreads about this album, people will acknowledge this underrated band, and help propel them to the recognition they deserve.
Standout Tracks: “Falls”,“Unconsolable”,“Lay Me Down”
5. (O Death)
6. Lay Me Down
7. Caged Animals
Released: March 30, 2012
Forming in late 2010, Castlecomer finally unveiled their debut release on March 30th, 2012 and did not disappoint. Armed with their high-energy shows, combined with their flawless five part harmonies, Castlecomer are one of the most exciting indie bands that Australia has to offer.
Castlecomer began their journey as a band by posting videos of both original songs and covers on YouTube including Mumford and Son’s The Cave, and Passion Pit’s Take A Walk. These fantastic videos led to fans around wondering, and near begging them to release an album.
On March 30th Castlecomer finally released their six song EP entitled, Danny’s Den. Tracks include songs that are found on their YouTube channel, as well as songs that have not been heard before. The EP is not what was first expected, as on YouTube all of the songs were played acoustically with a strong focus on the harmonies, however on the album there is a lot more use of electric guitars and drums, but this does not take away from their harmonic melodies. Even though it was different to what I was accustomed to, it was still successful, selling 1,200 hard copies, and 1000 digital copies. These five boys from Sydney are starting to make a name for themselves.
Fans, much like me, are eagerly waiting the next EP to be released, as they have only posted more covers such as Coldplay’s Till Kingdom Come and The Lumineers‘ Ho Hey. But they haven’t released any new material, so no one knows what to expect. Luckily there shouldn’t be a long wait as they have already finished the recording for the second EP, and it is due for release sometime in early 2013. If you enjoy indie folk bands with spot on harmonies, Castlecomer is a band to look out for. Check out their Facebook and YouTube pages!
After his sensational debut album Every Kingdom, Ben Howard’s newest release The Burgh Island EP has not disappointed. Though fans have come accustomed to the smooth, acoustic, folk songs experienced in the album, The Burgh Island EP demonstrates a darker side to his songs, highlighted by the use of the electric guitar rather than his usual acoustic self. Yet the gritty, and albeit, gloomy sounds does not take away from the emotion and soul that is put into the lyrics and songs themselves. The songs were all inspired by his memories from surfing the beaches of Burgh Island, which leads to question, why create a darker tone for the songs?
Though fans and listeners would agree that the sound of this EP is completely different, it does not mean it’s a bad change. The opening track “Esmerelda” begins with eerie sounds, which grow more powerful as the song progresses through the beats, perfectly complemented by the rasp in his voice. The second track “Oats In The Water” on the other hand uses the electric guitar differently by creating a more bluesy electric sound, thus producing a more calming and memorable vocal melody. My personal favorite track of this album is the final one appropriately titled “Burgh Island”. This track most resembles the style of songs portrayed in the album Every Kingdom. Much like Ben Howard’s popular track, “Black Flies” it’s a mostly calm song throughout, but has a powerful punch in the middle and near the end. Though it is not as catchy, it will definitely be a favorite to those fans of Every Kingdom.
This album also excites me as it demonstrates that Ben Howard doesn’t have just one style, but illustrates that he has a variety of styles, leaving fans wondering, what will he do next? For those following Ben Howard, he will be touring in New York, New Jersey and Virginia, for a week beginning February 11th with another of my personal favorite bands Mumford and Sons.
Standout Tracks: “Esmerelda” “Burgh Island”
2. Oats in the Water
3. To Be Alone
4. Burgh Island (feat. Monica Heldel)
Released: February 19, 2013
Label: Captured Tracks
Beach Fossils sophomore record Clash The Truth is set to be released on February 19, 2013. Following their self titled release in 2010, Beach Fossils became well known for their catchy Jingle Jangle styled guitar riffs in songs like “Sometimes” as well as their electrifying stage presence. After several members moved on to side projects, Dustin Payseur began writing Clash The Truth “determined to capture the urgency, human flow and spontaneity of the live performance.” This goal for the record has shown to be a trouble for many bedroom recording styled bands. Many lo-fi bands have spectacular albums, but the dreamy and somber melodies don’t always translate to a live show. Yet with this presence of urgency, Clash The Truth doesn’t lack in energy throughout every track. The excitement in the tracks give off a punk rock experience with a shoe-gaze styling.
The progression of Beach Fossils sound in Clash The Truth is near perfect, they translated the lo-fi bedroom recording style to a well tuned studio project. I initially had some fear that their highly praised vibes would lose their originality, yet the album beautifully captures Dustin’s vision. Clash The Truth is much more instrumentally complex than the records before; with each track standing out more individually, yet still creating one complete record. This is most prevalent in songs like “Sleep Apnea” that bring in a more acoustic presence whereas “Caustic Cross” has more energy and power in the guitar. Another great addition to the album is the development of the drums. The drums are much more established in the album, “the drums were recorded live in a room with Dustin on bass to give the album a driving and energetic force.” In previous records the drums have a presence but appeared to be very simple, I never found myself mesmerized by the beat.
While this album is one of my favorites, and well deserving of a listen, there are some weaker points to the album. Oddly enough, I felt the title track along with the previously released track “Shallow” didn’t live up to the rest of the album. When Shallow was first released a year ago, it wasn’t as enchanting as songs like “What A Pleasure”. It generated no anticipation or excitement for the rest of the album. The title track is a nice melody that eases into the rapid pace of the album, yet I felt a lack of connection with the song. It has a catchy aspect to it, yet that wasn’t a highlight for me.
Following the release of Clash The Truth, Beach Fossils will begin touring through the US and Canada. All of the tour dates can be found on their Facebook Page. The song “Careless” is available for free Stream or Download below.
Standout Tracks: “Sleep Apnea”, “Crashed Out”, “Generational Synthetic”
1. Clash the Truth
2. Generational Synthetic
3. Sleep Apnea
5. Modern Holiday
6. Taking Off
8. Burn You Down
10. In Vertigo [ft. Kazu Makino]
12. Caustic Cross
14. Crashed Out
Released: August 24, 2012
Label: Poison City Records
Purchase: Poison City Records
In the past year, I have become very fond of the wave of bands coming from Australia, with a folk-punk aesthetic. In particular, The Smith Street Band, a five piece band from Melbourne whom I interviewed earlier this year which can be found here.
Their sophomore record, Sunshine & Technology, released on August 24th, has had high expectations after their first LP No One Gets Lost Anymore which didn’t have a single track that disappointed. Self-described as “Folk Party Punk” with the most honest lyrics I have ever heard, Wil Wagner, does not take the same approach to his songwriting as many current day bands do. Instead of arrogantly trying to make his lyrics appeal to every listener, he writes very personally about emotions, mishaps, parties, and his views of society. In “I Want Friends”, he howls out social commentary and a way to live life through “exist[ing] between the margins, not between the lines.”
Sunshine & Technology is more band orientated than their debut album, as opposed to solo songs With added guitars and drums, each song now is much fuller and definitely written with the entire band in mind. The beloved, distinct Smith Street Band sound with their addictive folk melodies, backed up by punk-esque sounding guitars and a rhythmic drum beat is present in this release. My personal favorites alongside “I Want Friends” which I mentioned previously, are “Tom Busby” and “Don’t Mention The War” for their sound and Wagner’s lyrical genius. “The things you loved started gathering dust years ago. You know more than anyone would give you credit for, we’re killing ourselves to live the best life possible.” (Tom Busby). The final song that allows the album to end with a bang, “Don’t Mention The War” escalates to a cohesive masterpiece with each instrument playing loudly as Wagner cries out above everything.
The Smith Street Band are first doing a national tour of Australia which has already commenced, followed by a nine day stop over in China for six shows and then a month in the U.S. Tour details can be found on their Facebook page, and the Poison City Records website.
This album, alongside their debut album, are my version of the 90’s generation’s Nevermind by Nirvana. Sunshine & Technology is an album not to be ignored, and is sure to receive critical acclaim. It can be purchased in mp3 format from iTunes and in CD and vinyl record from the Poison City Records website. You can also listen to a free stream of the album here.
Standout Tracks: “I Want Friends”, “Tom Busby”, “Don’t Mention The War”
1. Sunshine & Technology
2. I Can’t Feel My Face
3. I Want Friends
4. Why I Can’t Draw
5. Stay Young
6. What’s Changed
7. Tom Busby
8. Young Drunk
9. When I Said Us I Meant Them
10. Don’t Mention The War
Frank Ocean‘s Channel Orange is a nightmare of an album to review, not because it’s a bad piece of work or even because of the circumstances that surrounded its release (read: Frank Ocean broke the ice about his still unclear sexuality just days before the album’s release with a painful recounting of his failed relationship with a man — a huge no-no in the heteronormative R&B world). Instead, the difficulty of reviewing Channel Orange lies in the fact that its such an intimate experience that it probably shouldn’t be dissected out of respect for Ocean. That emotional purity and the special way that Ocean seems to deliver it make Channel Orange an engaging and heartwarming listen from start to finish. He may be bisexual, but his pains and murmurs of unrequited love ring true to a much wider audience (it’s no wonder that he found success early on in his career writing songs for Beyoncé).
Interestingly enough, what makes Frank Ocean so particularly endearing may or may not even be the music he manages to make; his wit, charisma, and uncharacteristic nonchalance for someone with so much pain inside him carry him more than far enough. Perhaps even more interesting though, is that this doesn’t even matter in the grander scheme that is Channel Orange. From the bittersweet reminiscing of “Thinkin Bout You” to the outpour of regret and contemplation on “Bad Religion” to the ten-minute magnum opus that is “Pyramids”, Ocean spins a tale of desperation and heartbreak so real and so personal that we can discover exactly who Frank Ocean is, regardless of what we may or may not have heard about him. “This unrequited love, to me it’s nothing but a one-man cult and cyanide in my styrofoam cup. I could never make him love me,” he explains to a non-suspecting taxi-driver on “Bad Religion” — and suddenly, we know he has some secrets about his sexuality. On “Pink Matter”, he questions, “What do you think my brain is made for? Is it just a container for the mind?” — and we feel both his mind and brain at work. When Ocean’s flawless falsetto accentuates the hook on “Thinkin Bout You” and he croons, “Or do you not think so far ahead? Cause I’ve been thinking ’bout forever,” we feel Ocean’s nostalgia for the past he loved and the future that never was, all in the present tense. Over the course of the album’s intentionally sparse 17 songs, we discover much about Ocean while at the same time, he encourages us to discover more about ourselves as he carefully pieces each vignette together and invites us to reflect alongside him.
Ocean is far from what you would normally expect from an R&B star, but he does represent everything that you’d hope to find in one. That, perhaps, is much more important.
“I’m f*cking great at rapping,” Das Racist frontman Himanshu Suri boasts with quite a bit of gusto on lead single “Michael Jackson”. If these words were uttered on past mixtapes/albums Shut Up, Dude or Sit Down, Man, there would be little to object to. But since they entered our ear canals by way of Das Racist’s studio debut Relax, more must be said.
For some reason, the rap duo seem to have lost quite a bit of the wittiness and charm that made their first two efforts stand out so much. For the most part, Heems unfortunately sounds quite sluggish with his rhymes, failing to deliver quotable after quotable like on Sit Down, Man’s “amazing”, “hahahaha jk?”, and “rapping 2 u”. Instead he chooses to rattle off seemingly incoherent thoughts in a raspy, grungy-sounding voice, leaving us wondering what exactly happened to the sharpness he previously displayed. His partner and long-time friend, Kool AD (aka Victor Vazquez), on the other hand, sounds much the same and provides ample reminders of what made us fall in love with Das Racist in the first place.
The social commentary is still there, the glitchy beats are still there, and the genius is still there. The magic, however, is gone. Everything is still seemingly intact though, so what makes Relax sound so detached and uninspired compared to the rest of their catalogue? Who knows? Heems, Kool AD, and Dapwell probably don’t even know.
Perhaps it’s a change of focus. As Heems says on what is perhaps his best verse on the album (on opening track “Relax”), “Juvenile shit / I ain’t really tryna rap about / I don’t remember from b-b-ba b-blackin’ out / These days, I’m mostly focused on my bank account / I ain’t backin’ out until I own a bank to brag about.” Making music that sells is certainly different from making music that shines.
Or maybe it’s the fact that Das Racist have already, well, ‘made it.’ The hook for album standout “Power” tackles this issue head on: “It’s too easy. Even if I told you about it, you probably wouldn’t even believe me.” Bursting onto the scene from literally nowhere with the ridiculously infectious and utterly confusing “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” and then securing collaborations with the likes of Diplo, Boi-1da, Roc Marciano, and El-P on their second release. And everything was released to critical acclaim. It kind of reads like a script, one where we got to watch the trio hone their art while enjoying huge amounts of success along the way. Perhaps things were way too easy.
Fortunately for us, however, Das Racist don’t stray too far away from their fundamental skeleton. Play the record for anyone familiar with the group and it’ll be clear that it is indeed a Das Racist record. The repetitiveness and non-sequiturs on “Michael Jackson”, the danciness of “Booty In The Air”, the posse-cut “Power”, the unabashed self-referencing on “Selena” – everything is still distinctly Das Racist. The only difference is that altogether the whole record feels less densely packed with references and much less technically satisfying. Even production by Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij fail to make a big impact – without looking at the credits, it’s hard to even tell what songs they worked on (“Middle of the Cake” and “The Trick” respectively).
There’s no need to take these reviews seriously, though. A group like Das Racist obviously isn’t out searching for approval from critics; all they need to do is take everything in stride and just relax. Then, finally, they can come back when they’re ready to put together a more inspired effort.
We’ll be ready.
Standout Tracks: “Michael Jackson” and “Power (feat. Danny Brown & Despot)”
Released: July 23, 2011
Over the past several years, a new species of alternative rock has emerged, characterized by bands that embody a “technical-meets-catchy” approach to making music. Last year, several more high profile bands of this ilk released full lengths; Circa Survive‘s Blue Sky Noise, Tides of Man‘s Dreamhouse, and PMtoday‘s In Media Res all garnered strong critical and consumer reception. So perhaps it’s surprising that, thus far, similarly-styled albums have been so rare in 2011. Yet even so, Artifex Pereo‘s Ailments and Antidotes is an undeniable testament to the sub-genre’s well-being.
Ailments and Antidotes opens with “The Baker Act”, a track that demonstrates both the band’s musical aptitude and frontman Evan Redmon’s impressive vocal range. Arpeggiated guitar leads introduce Redmon’s high, emotive tenor, soon swirling into an ambient section complete with twinkling piano, before an organ glissando transitions the band back into high gear for the chorus. It’s the same “loud-soft-loud” formula many of these types of bands thrive on (and often over-utilize) but the execution and instrumentation is so precise that the track involves, rather than bores, the listener. The lyrics are really the only negative (albeit a minor one); Redmon emotes, “Your poison is the scent that saturates the air/Grab your clothes and head for the back door before the devil knows you were here”, and though poetically phrased, the sentiment is a bit trite. In fact it’s difficult not to recall Anberlin‘s “The Feel Good Drag” (“Your lips, your lies, your lust/Like the devil’s in your hands”), because the songs are so extremely thematically comparable.
The next three tracks are all heavier tracks, similar in sound to “The Baker Act”. Of these, it’s “Suburbanite Sprawl” which excels the most. The groovy guitar riffs are reminiscent of The Chariot in the noisier parts of the tune, and snaking bass fills and sychopated drumming demonstrate the rhythm section’s capability. Redmon is at his most versatile here, soaring into the upper reaches of his range with ease. However, at this point, due to the congruent sound of the first four tracks it’s easy for the listener to infer that the rest of the record will be more of the same.
But the catch is that such an assumption would be incorrect. The middle portion of the record focuses the band’s talents on much more ambient, softer tracks. It’s this that gives Ailments and Antidotes the variety so many albums of this manner (including Artifex Pereo’s own debut EP, Am I Invisible) lack. And what’s more, the added variety doesn’t at all detract from the quality of the record. Because, despite the difference between tracks like “Butcher Hands” and “Mrs. D” and tracks from the first, heavier section of the album, it’s clear that the same band composed this entire collection of songs. Not to mention that Artifex Pereo are more than competent at performing this softer sound. In fact, “Devil and Water” is probably the best song on the record, bringing to mind the ambient sections of Circa Survive’s Juturna with its noodling guitar lines. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also the lyrical apex of the record; Redmon tells of an unhealthy relationship, singing, “Loathing you proved to be inadequate, so I will love you in my sleep and this will be less of a burden on me.” It’s hardly a novel concept, but the word choice and vocal delivery cause the words to ring startlingly true.
Yet, perhaps in an effort to avoid boring listeners with a heavier musical taste, Artifex Pereo revert back to the sound found at the beginning of Ailments and Antidotes for the album’s closing two tracks. While neither are as memorable as “The Baker Act” or “Suburbanite Sprawl” both hold their own and finish the album nicely. It’s interesting that in a scene where so many bands utilize the “loud-soft-loud” formula to writing music, nary a single one has crafted an entire album in the same format, as Artifex Pereo have done here. And Ailments and Antidotes certainly proves it is a blueprint that, when followed by a skilled band, can be very successful.
Standout Tracks: “The Baker Act”, “Suburbanite Sprawl”, and “Devil and Water”
Note: Evan Redmon is no longer the vocalist of Artifex Pereo. You can check out a video of the band playing an acoustic version of “Edgar Suit” with his replacement, Lucas Worley, below.
The great thing about music is that it is never meant to be an isolated entity, always finding a way to intertwine itself with the listener’s emotions and experiences. Some music simply embodies the meaning of the word “fun,” while others speak to us when we’re in the darkest of moods. The Rosebuds have always been hard to define on this musical spectrum of emotions, ambiguously falling somewhere in-between. Their upbeat indie rock/folk sound has always been “enjoyable” musically, but lyrically, this happiness always been neutralized by their darker, tempered tales.
Their fifth studio album, Loud Planes Fly Low, is another beast entirely. After the release of 2008’s Life Like, the North Carolina duo divorced and the future of The Rosebuds was in grave danger. Loud Planes Fly Low is the byproduct of their life after divorce, capturing the whirlwind of emotions that Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp experienced while reconciling their partnership. With so much source material to draw from, the two manage to create their finest release yet and arguably one of this year’s best as well.
But Loud Planes Fly Low isn’t an album about break-up in general. It’s about a transition in their lives, finding the subtle balance between their romantic and working partnerships. It’s painful, but the two don’t mope; it’s been done before, but not cliché, it’s filled with sorrow from start to finish, but not depressing; it’s subdued at times, but not restrained. The record is a surprisingly quiet expression of the intense feelings being shared; although the music isn’t overtly powerful (cautious tempos and generally down-played melodies), the emotions shine through.
Calling for a new beginning rather than a return to older, happier times, the two seem troubled, yet ultimately content on where they stand. On album opener “Go Ahead”, endless waves of synths, organs, and layered vocals blend together to create a feeling of serenity inspired by Howard’s fantasies and dreams. “Go ahead, let’s plant a forest / Where we can hide when the city expels us. / We can sleep in the branches / Our own little outpost in the trees,” he croons, painting a bittersweet picture of what could have been. On album standout “Come Visit Me”, Crisp returns the favor with her painful admission, “And I want to feel something way out here / I need something to happen now, even if it fucks me up / Come visit me, way out here / I need you to see me, even if it makes it worse” with Howard harmonizing in the background. The two, as troubled as they are, make light of their pain by crystallizing it and expressing it fearlessly.
Employing poetry in its rawest form, the minimalistic “Without A Focus” and closing track “Worthwhile” solely feature Howard and his guitar, showing that while the feelings of acceptance and reconciliation are there, the heartbreak that he has felt is still raw and apparent all over; wearing his heart on his tattered sleeves, Howard pleads as he just manages to eke out, “All I want is to make this all worthwhile.”
In all respects, The Rosebuds have managed to create a gem that is clearly deserving of universal praise. It certainly wasn’t an easy recording process for the two, but they manage to do so, struggling with their own personal problems rather than directing their disappointment and pain at each other. The result? A powerful outpouring of emotions that engulfs listeners from the very start. While there’s no clear sense of closure here, that’s okay: Loud Planes Fly Low may signify the end of their romance, but it isn’t the end of The Rosebuds.
Standout Tracks: “Go Ahead”, “Come Visit Me”, and “Worthwhile”
Released: February 22, 2011
The Gallery is a band on the rise. Having built grassroots bases in their New England home and later in Florida, they embarked on a national tour in 2009 and have been more recently performing with bands such as The Maine and We the Kings. After a few spins of their EP Come Alive, you’ll see that this brewing rise is well-deserved and you may just be inclined to hop on the bandwagon before there even is a bandwagon.
Just a few seconds into opener “Catalyst”, listeners will likely catch one reason for the band’s increasing popularity: it’s not difficult when your biggest musical influences are already well-established within mainstream and indie circles. In a nutshell, they’re Bruce Springsteen without the synths and saxes, The Hold Steadywith fewer keys and less of a bar-rock sound.
Getting through the rest of the song, listeners will see another reason: “Catalyst” is really good, perhaps even too good. Catchy hooks are a dime a dozen these days, but songs that combine these hooks with such simple, earnest lyrics are harder to come by. It’s true that there are no deep insights, but lines like “This is a walk away / from those dirty little games you played. / I heard your sorrys, but I saw no change. / I gave you love, you gave me pain,” when backed by such honest music and Brendan Cooney’s hometown vocals packs a solid punch. It almost makes the rest of the EP struggle slightly to keep up in comparison, but it gives a valiant effort.
“Ballroom of Broken Hearts” slows down the tempo, but maintains the EP’s pace. Vocally and lyrically, it leans more heavily on The Boss than any other track, telling the tale of a girl “unlucky in lust.” It showcases their mature musicianship by effectively stripping down the first chorus, but doesn’t rely on it for the other choruses, instead adopting a fuller sound becoming less wistful, adapting to the entire song’s structural buildup. It’s less likely to be heard on the radio than “Catalyst”, but it is nonetheless good enough to prove that “Catalyst” wasn’t a fluke.
Tackling a different lyrical theme is “Who’s in the Right”. On one level about a fighting couple, it undeniably speaks to our country’s bigger conflicts as well with the simple observation “We’ll drop bombs all day and night/ to show who’s in the wrong and who’s in the right.” Even though it’s an anti-war song to some extent, it doesn’t fall on the trite clichés that today’s bands loved during the Bush era (i.e. no mention of a “gas war” or “fighting daddy’s battles”). Sincerity abound, it even feels close to The Avett Brothers. Unfortunately, the lyrics are stronger than the music, which relies too much on a bland guitar line.
The lightness of “Last Goodbye” serves as an excellent counter to the heaviness of its preceding track. The drum driven pre-chorus and explosive chorus are certainly engaging, but clocking in at close to five minutes, it runs slightly long.
Rounding out the EP is “Free,” which is actually a bit of a letdown. For once, the music feels too generic and the lyrics are excessively sappy. Though not a terrible song, it’s certainly a disappointment when compared to everything else before it. Not the best end, but it doesn’t detract too much from the quality of the EP on the whole. It’s not the deepest music you’ve ever heard, but it’s a solid effort by a band that you should make a point to know.
Standout Tracks: “Catalyst” and “Ballroom of Broken Hearts”