January 29, 2011

Cake - Showroom of Compassion

A handful of albums have lived up to high expectations so far this year, but Cake has provided mixed results.

Their first LP in six years, Showroom of Compassion soars past 2004’s Pressure Chief and challenges their excellent 2001 Comfort Eagle for the some of their best work. Lead vocalist John McCrea continues to write songs in his conversational register. Thus, it’s safe to say that Showroom is no lyrical masterpiece. However, the band is tight. Harmonies, guitars, and drums blend very well. Since they rarely have a killer solo part, it is easy to admire Cake’s songs as one unified piece of music with no divisions between melody and harmony.

The album really kicks off on Long Time, a song whose funky bass and great harmonies make it hard to put Showroom of Compassion down. Mustache Man (Wasted) is a perfect example of everything Cake can achieve with brass, handclaps, and an unforgettable hook. There’s more to enjoy on Teenage Pregnancy and Sick of You before Easy to Crash, a song that tiptoes along the fine line between a tune that is perhaps is a little too poppy and song that sounds like disgusting radio-playlist fodder. It’s an odd moment for Cake, a band that has managed to avoid sounding normal and boring for so many years. The album isn’t devoid of filler as the final couple songs are mediocre at best.

To try to avoid using cake as a metaphor would be impossible. Like an average slice of cake, Showroom of Compassion is light and enjoyable in places but also tends to be bland as a whole. The quality of the songs is inconsistent and the vocals are a bit boring, making Showroom of Compassion a just a little bit more than an average album.


January 27, 2011

Disappears - Guider

Disappears' latest LP is a handful of rambunctious, reverb-filled tracks whose unrelenting drum beats pull the songs along. It's also, for the most part, a handful of nowhere-going melodies and flat vocals.

The album does start off on a very strong note with the hard-hitting 'Superstition', but unfortunately as the album continues, the noise lets up a bit, and the songs start feeling more safe and are aware of their limited boundaries, especially Not Romantic and Guider. That is, until the epic closer 'Revisiting' comes on. That song is basically 15 minutes of awesome. Though a heartbeat guitar line and pounding percussion stay the same throughout, the constant energy never dies down even a bit, and it doesn't get boring in the least. This song even made me decide to give the album an extra star and a half.

It's distortion is sonically pleasing, and it's far from lifeless, but I expected more from Guider. Do check out 'Revisiting' though. And 'Superstition' while you're at it.

01. Superstition
02. Not Romantic
03. Halo
04. Guider
05. New Fast
06. Revisting


January 26, 2011

Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde

This past week, I've listened to this album in its entirety about 15 or 16 times. I'm probably listening to it as you read this. I keep thinking I'll get bored of it, but I don't, the songs just grow on me even more. That fact alone is enough for me to call it, without a doubt, the best album of 2011 so far.

Back in 2009, Smith Westerns released their self-titled debut, which consisted of 10 very lo-fi, noisy tunes with upbeat melodies and a reckless sound that totally gave off the vibe of teenagers just having fun. Not only does Dye It Blonde show maturity, but it's also cleaned up and polished their rough sound, while still sounding alive with tons of color. The seemingly effortless distorted guitar riffs on every single track have created a trademark sound for the band, while the overbearing happiness on tracks like Imagine Pt. 3, Only One, and Smile makes me feel like my face is melting off. In a good way, of course. Plus, the traditional pop melodies and cheesy love lyrics make this album feel almost nostalgic.

The only thing keeping Dye It Blonde from excelling even further is the loose and weak vocals. Although I have to say, they do fit the youthful spirit of the album pretty well. The songs End of the Night and Dance Away seemed a little empty at first, but after several listens, I find that they fit perfectly with all the other pop brilliance going on.

With an album devoid of fillers, Smith Westerns make it to the top of my list for bands that I have high hopes for in the future. It's hard to choose between an 8 and 8.5 for this one, but considering that I can't stop listening to it, I'll give it the latter.

1. Weekend
2. Still New
3. Imagine Pt. 3
4. All Die Young
5. Fallen In Love
6. End of the Night
7. Only One
8. Smile
9. Dance Away
10. Dye the World


January 24, 2011

Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs. Evil

On their last album, Deerhoof cut straight to the point and occasionally got really loud with their bursting power chords and insane drumbeats, like on The Tears and Music of Love and My Purple Past. But in general, they kept it subdued, something that they do even more on Deerhoof vs. Evil. The kookiness is still there, it's always been, but on songs like No One Asked to Dance, they cut the crap and lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki's soft vocals really shine, which makes it a key track on the album. It's also nice to hear these moments balanced with Deerhoof's classic style.

While bizarrely flustered tracks are what you'd expect from this band, some songs end up sounding a little too weird, even creepy. Luckily though, there are a few kick-ass tunes here that can satisfy the acquired taste that's required when listening to these guys. Stand-out tracks include Qui Dorm Només Somia, Behold a Marvel in the Darkness (my personal favorite), No One Asked to Dance, Let's Dance the Jet, and Secret Mobilization. While it's an admirable effort, they've failed to show anything new on Deerhoof vs. Evil, and the tracks at the end are all pretty dull. If you're a Deerhoof fan, you know exactly what you're getting here, minus the rocking out more often. For non Deerhoof fans, I might hesitate, as their all-over-the-place musical style might take some effort to get used to.

1. Qui Dorm, Només Somia
2. Behold a Marvel in the Darkness
3. The Merry Barracks
4. No One Asked to Dance
5. Let's Dance the Jet
6. Super Duper Rescue Heads!
7. Must Fight Current
8. Secret Mobilization
9. Hey I Can
11.I Did Crimes for You
12.Almost Everyone, Almost Always


January 20, 2011

Peter Bjorn & John: "Breaker, Breaker"

Swedish indie rock outfit PB&J have released a killer little track that I can't stop listening to called "Breaker, Breaker". Download it for free here!

Their new album 'Gimme Some' comes out March 28th in England, Sweden, and similar places, and March 29th in North America.


Tapes 'n Tapes - Outside

Let's start with the negatives and get those out of the way first. Tapes 'n Tapes haven't been as good as they were back in 2005 when their debut album was released, that's apparent. On The Loon, you can hear the energy of each song bursting at the seems, while the tunes on Outside tend to rely on sheer pep and less captivating melodies, something that made their second album Walk It Off so dull.

On the positive side, Outside is definitely a comeback from the sonically empty Walk It Off. The songs also vary much more making it a diverse album. The melodies might not be brilliant, but there's something about many of the songs here that makes me want to listen to them over and over again, namely the opener Badaboom, One In The World, Nightfall, Freak Out, The Saddest of All Keys, and Hidee Ho, which rolls along slowly at the start, but toward the end, picks itself up and socks you in the face with searing guitars and shouty vocals.

Some other songs feel a little too loose and lack drive, like Desert Plain, SWM, and a couple tracks toward the end, but Outside has enough juicy guitar licks and energetic vocals to satisfy anyone. Early Tapes fans might complain that this record doesn't have the originality and raw charm that The Loon had, but in my opinion, it only gained what it lost on their last album.

01. Badaboom
02. SWM
03. One In The World
04. Nightfall
05. Desert Plane
06. Outro
07. Freak Out
08. The Saddest Of All Keys
09. Hidee Ho
10. People You Know
11. On And On
12. Mighty Long


January 14, 2011

Girls - Broken Dreams Club EP

There are certain times in life when I really wonder what I was thinking. Like those times when I leave a pot of boiling water on the back burner and forget about it, or when I use really bad metaphors to describe what I’m trying to say. What I’m getting at here is that I completely chose to ignore Girls’ new EP last year. Although their debut, Album, was good, I was among the many who thought it was overrated. So when their Broken Dreams Club EP was released and received many similarly amazing reviews, I assumed it was more of the same.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Broken Dreams Club, while only 6 tracks, is spectacular. The opening tune, The Oh So Protective One is deliciously reminiscent of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, while Heartbreaker is the song Conor Oberst wishes he had written. The third and fourth tracks, Broken Dreams Club and Alright continue the quest for really simple yet beautiful tunes. Then there is a Substance, a song that sounds like it was written and performed by a band with decades more experience and maturity. The 7-minute closer, Carolina, meanders around for about 4 and half minutes, exploring pleasant dissonances before erupting into gorgeous simple melodic lines to close the album.

Despite only having six songs, Broken Dreams Club feels like it could be an entire album. There’s enough here to entertain you for a while, and it’s all well done.


January 13, 2011

The Decemberists - The King is Dead

I can't say I've ever had a favorite Decemberists album. I love their first four albums all pretty much equally. Castaways and Cutouts introduced them as a unique band with poetic lyrics and intricate melodies. Her Magesty and Picaresque did pretty much the same. The Crane Wife was especially ambitious and progressed the band even further. Their fifth album The Hazards of Love has some fantastic songs (namely The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid, A Bower Scene, Won't Want For Love), but seems a little too over the top to be a Decemberists album. However, on The King is Dead, we can hear a refreshing return to their earlier material.

The opening track 'Don't Carry It All' sets the mood perfectly and makes it clear with its resonant harmonica and powerful harmonies that The Decemberists have scrapped the whole epic, dramatic progressive-rock sound from H.O.L, while still retaining the captivating, lively folk-rock sound that made me start listening to them in the first place. The next few songs keep the pace going and the vibrant melodies don't let down. Towards the end though, the songs start to get weary and a little bland, but luckily the last track 'Dear Avery' ends the album comfortably.

Clearly The Decemberists weren't looking for another huge album. They chose a very familiar route for this one, but in general the songs on the second half of it are fairly dull and too neutral to stand out. I don't like it as much as their first albums, but I could see myself listening to The King is Dead in the future, and it's certainly a good road trip album, like any Decemberists album.

1. Don't Carry It All
2. Calamity Song
3. Rise to Me
4. Rox in the Box
5. January Hymn
6. Down By the Water
7. All Arise!
8. June Hymn
9. This Is Why We Fight
10. Dear Avery


January 12, 2011

Best Breakout Performances of 2010

Best Breakout Performances of 2010
I am very proud of the performances of great leading men like Colin Firth and James Franco this year, but when it comes to the breakout performances of 2010, this one belongs almost entirely to the girls. I hope you enjoy the list.

5. Hailee Steinfeld-True Grit: I am not the biggest fan of the film True Grit, but what made the film so intriguing to me was the ability of this young actress to carry herself so well through such a gritty movie and still be able to look like the star next to leading men like Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges.
4. Emma Stone- Easy A: I have noticed this girl in her silly and ditzy performances as “that girl” in Superbad and Zombieland. But, I never would have expected the comedic talent of this actress. Her performance in Easy A made this dumb teen comedy completely hilarious dry humor and quips. I expect to see great things from this girl.
3. Andrew Garfield- The Social Network: This young Brit truly was one of the best parts of the social network for me and gave a very thought provoking performance as the Facebook founder’s unknown co-founder. If he was not up against such great supporting performances like Christian Bale, I would give this boy the Oscar
2. Chloe Mortez- Kick Ass: If you have seen the film Kick Ass, I don’t think I even have to explain the pure awesomeness of this girls performance. But, if you haven’t Chloe gave by far the most hilariously shocking performance as the murderous super hero, Hit-Girl. I have not seen her in the new vampire flick Let Me In, but I expect another mind blowing performance.
1. Mia Wasikowska- Alice in Wonderland, The Kids are Alright: I would like to be the first to start the campaign for this young actress to get an Oscar nod for her astounding performance in The Kids Are Alright. However, this young Aussie actor will remain under the radar for her performance as a girl truly losing her innocence, but she will remain in my mind the breakout actor of 2010.

January 7, 2011

January Songs

Here's something cool. Darren Hayman, who was the lead singer of Hefner, is releasing a song every day for the month of January on his blog. For those of you who don't know, Hefner was an indie rock band who release a couple of very good albums in the late 90s, and unfortunately broke up in 2002. You can check out the blog here. Most of the songs so far are pretty good. Who knows, maybe he'll release an album sometime this year.

Happy listening!


January 6, 2011

Our Most Anticipated Albums of 2011

2011 is already looking good so far for music, with a bunch of great bands scheduling their new releases in January and February. The promising Decemberists and Cloud Nothings releases in January and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's new LP in March are just a couple albums that should keep us busy until several bigger releases with names we don't even know yet come out later this year (Coldplay and Radiohead, we're looking at you guys). We hope we'll like most of these, but even if we don't, we're sure there will be plenty of really important stuff to talk about this year.Here are some of the albums that we're looking forward to the most, grouped by month:

Cake - Showroom of Compassion
Cloud Nothings – Cloud Nothings
The Decemberists – The King is Dead
Cold War Kids - Mine is Yours
Destroyer – Kaputt
Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Smith Westerns – Dye it Blonde
Tapes n Tapes - Outside
Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs. Evil

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
Cut Copy – Zonoscope

Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong
Panda Bear – Tomboy
Peter Bjorn and John - Gimme Some

Here are those previously mentioned albums that we don't know much about yet except they're coming out at some point this year. We hope.
The Shins – TBA
Radiohead – TBA
Death Cab for Cutie – TBA
The Strokes – TBA
Neon Indian – TBA
Santigold – TBA
Beck - TBA
Islands - TBA
Portishead - TBA

- Owen and Julian

Wilderness Survival - On Belay Belay On

If there was one record that had to sum up the decade in indie music, 'On Belay Belay On' would be it. It's not as though any bands in particular come to mind when I listen to Wilderness Survival, but it's more like a mesh of past indie bands that I hear. There's the sweet yet flat tracks like We Fall Asleep and Drive Me Wild, the dark and breathy vocals, and quick, often electronic beats. There isn't much that's notably unique about this mix, but the way that this band picks up elements of many different genres and strings them together so smoothly makes the likelihood of someone listening to the whole record instead of just one track that much higher.

Something else that I picked up on pretty quickly was how immediate the songs on this record are. This San Diego-based duo clearly aren't looking for deep, 3-dimensional songs that grow on you over time, but rather catchy songs that anyone can enjoy.

The one thing that kind of annoys me though is something I mentioned before, and that's the dark, slightly raspy vocal delivery, which bothers me on some tracks more than others, like Overnight, I Didn't, and Catch and Release. I just feel like I've heard that voice way too many times before.

Despite its few shortcomings, Wilderness Survival have made one of the most listenable albums of 2010. I can't decide whether this is necessarily a good or bad thing, but all I know is I'll be listening to this album several more times in the coming months. Maybe even in the coming years.

Listen to the album here.
Favorite tracks: All the Ways I Do, Hierarchy, We Cannot Lose, Byzantine Empire, Well Made Ads