April 28, 2011

Bass Drum of Death - GB City

Bass Drum of Death’s debut, GB City, hit the lo-fi heavy rock scene this month with little effect. Their rather anonymous effort stands out in no way whatsoever. As more and more bands try to ride the wake left by No Age’s successful splash into the genre of blessed out synthesizers, it is becoming harder and harder for young bands to establish a sound of their own. Just layering static above synthesizers and loud vocals isn’t cutting it anymore. This is the problem that Bass Drum are suffering from: a near complete lack of originality.

The general sound of GB City is evident only ten seconds into the opener, Nerve Jamming. It borrows a couple lines from the Black Keys, gives a quick nod to No Age, but, as a whole, goes nowhere. I found this to be true about most of the album; not much grows or changes. GB City is, for the most part, eleven songs that all are a bit too reminiscent of someone else.

Bass Drum do find themselves a few times on the album, such as on the throwback Heart Attack Kid. However, thirty seconds in one or two songs just isn’t enough to make me take any interest. Bass Drum of Death are a genre band, they would make great playlist fodder, but I don’t recommend picking up GB City. If you like this type of music, you’ve probably already heard everything that’s on here, anyways.

1. Nerve Jamming
2. GB City
3. Get Found
4. Velvet Itch
5. High School Roaches
6. Spare Room
7. Young Pros
8. Heart Attack Kid
9. Leaves
10. I Could Never Be Your Man
11. Religious Girls


April 27, 2011

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

I never had any trouble warming up to Fleet Foxes' music. They're one of those bands that's immediately likable upon first listen. There's no thick sonic layers that you have to sift through to get to the heart of the music, it's all right there, and it makes me feel all cozy and warm inside. That's what I love about this band. They're unique in that they're most comforting on cold, wintery days, at least to me.

If you don't know Fleet Foxes, they're characterized by their wonderfully smooth-flowing harmonies, intertwining acoustic guitar lines, endearing, sometimes sad lyrics, and pleasing melodies. They sound like sweethearts, right? At least that's what their music suggests, it must be true.

Helplessness Blues shows more or less the same of what they displayed on their debut, except some of the songs here seem to strive to be more ambitious, which I like. And that certainly rubs off on tracks like Helplessness Blues, my personal favorite here, and The Shrine/An Argument, which actually changes it up a bit towards the end with Andrew Bird-esque string arrangements and a bunch of cacophonous saxophones playing at random. Totally un-Fleet Foxes. And I'm cool with that, I'm glad they're trying something different. Other stand-out tracks include Grown Ocean, a track which seems to sum up the music on the album perfectly, Montezuma, whose harmonies seem especially resonant, and Bedouin Dress, which takes a slightly different route and is lead by a jiggy-sounding violin line and drum combo.

Overall, the songs here are extremely pleasant, and there is just the right amount of exploration past their usual boundaries, but it's missing a lot of the hooks that made me fall in love with their debut. I can see myself listening to this a lot, but I won't remember the songs as well as I did on their debut (with the very strong exception of Helplessness Blues). And that's why this album falls short of something that could have been really great. But none the less, this is actually a really good album, and for everyone who was worrying that this would be a disappointment compared to their debut, I can guarantee you that you'll enjoy this to say the least.

1. Montezuma
2. Bedouin Dress
3. Sim Sala Bim
4. Battery Kinzie
5. The Plains/Bitter Dancer
6. Helplessness Blues
7. The Cascades
8. Lorelai
9. Someone You'd Admire
10. The Shrine/An Argument
11. Blue-Spotted Tail
12. Grown Ocean


April 25, 2011

The Antlers - Burst Apart

Let's start with the most notable differences between this record and Hospice. Firstly, the tracks here are much more immediate. While Hospice required more attentiveness to how the songs were developing, and often the songs would just burst open out of nowhere with blazing drum beats and more pronounced vocals, here you know right off the bat how the whole song is going to turn out. In that aspect, I applaud The Antlers, as this is a record that plays in relaxed mode, and I can just listen to it without paying close attention to detail.

The next big difference is that Burst Apart is less moving than its predecessor, and the level of depression has gone way down, lyrics included. Another reason why this will make for an easier listening experience. Easier, but unfortunately less memorable. The first time I listened to Bear, I literally couldn't stop, I had it on repeat for days. Same goes for Sylvia, Two, Kettering, and almost all of the others. From this album, I'll certainly remember the raw scratchiness of the guitar chords on Parentheses or the catchy melody of Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out, but I can't say the same for the rest. It'll take a lot of listens for these songs to really stick. But this doesn't mean I don't like it. It's even one of the best things I've heard all year, and I can see myself returning to it several times in the future. And despite what I said about it being less moving, there are moments of sheer beauty here, like on the opener I Don't Want Love, Corsicana, and even Tiptoe, which puts me in a 1950s New York kind of environment, just kind of roaming the streets on a rainy night, and I love that. There are some other really chill tracks here too, like Rolled Together, which, to me, seems like it could fit in nicely with The Moon & Antarctica, and Hounds, which is one of the most touching, though one of the least memorable.

Overall, The Antlers have taken the safe route for this one, and I'm kind of glad that they did. Though much more accessible, these tracks don't hit as hard as most of the stuff on Hospice, but enough with comparisons. I definitely recommend this album to fans of The Antlers, new and old.

1. I Don't Want Love
2. French Exit
3. Parentheses
4. No Widows
5. Rolled Together
6. Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out
7. Tiptoe
8. Hounds
9. Corsicana
10 Putting the Dog to Sleep


April 18, 2011

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s first album sounded like it fell right out of the 90’s. Front man Kip Berman’s hushed, pondering lyrics floated over jangly guitars and lo-fi fuzz. Adorable at times, contemplative at others, the indie pop group’s debut was a great success. Since then, only a few things have changed.

First, Kip Berman is now Kip Berman. The Pains have a definite front man on Belong, their second studio album. Berman’s voice was an integral part of The Pains’ precious sound, and his delicacy was responsible for much of their debut’s success. Vocals, sunk deep into the shoegazing style, were also essential to the group’s initial throwback sound. However, on Belong, Berman's vocals are clearer and more pronounced. This change could have proved costly for the band, yet, surprisingly, it wasn't. Thankfully, The Pains haven’t lost their magic. They’re still as cute and as shameless as they ever were.

However, the biggest change on Belong is evident in the opening seconds. Belong, the album’s title track, sounds very familiar, but there is something definitely different. The Pains have never sounded this hard. Above the fuzz, there is suddenly a commanding lead guitar, fuzzed enough for My Bloody Valentine, loud enough for The Jesus and Mary Chain, yet sharp enough to really get your attention. This significant change is really symbolic of the band’s progress. On The Pains’ debut, their gentle shoegazing was relaxed. But now, The Pains of Being at Heart are still cute, but they're a little more aggressive about it. On Belong, they're adorable and they make sure you know it.

While there is something tantalizingly reminiscent of the past about The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's style, Belong distinctly belongs in 2011. While often Belong can evoke that 90's bliss that they have become recognized for, The Pains no longer sound like a cassette tape. The Pains are growing as a band, and are developing their own sound, freeing them from sentimental labels that could have run them into a rut. All in all, Belong is a great album that shows growth and maturity from the young shoegazers.

1. Belong
2. Heaven's Gonna Happen Now
4. The Body
5. Anne with an E
8. Girl of 1000 Dreams
9. Too Tough
10. Strange


April 6, 2011

Panda Bear - Tomboy

Panda Bear has been the darling of the indie music scene and hipsters alike ever since the release of Person Pitch back in 2007. But he's one of those musicians that when I listened to him for the first time, I was confused, wondering why people would listen to this and like it (with the exception of Comfy in Nautica). Several months later and a reluctant return to Person Pitch found me singing a totally different tune, and I realized that I never really gave the hypnotic loops and soothing harmonies a chance to sink in.

Let me start by saying that this is a fairly different record than Person Pitch. On Tomboy, although constantly there (he still managed to keep me guessing how he makes the sounds that he does), the experimentation takes a step back and leaves more room for Noah's vocal harmonies to shine. The production is much tighter than the tinny sounds on Person Pitch. Also, while that album contained short loops repeated for long periods of time, the melodies here are stretched out, and the songs open up more. This makes the songs more immediate, especially songs like 'Slow Motion', 'Late Night at the Jetty', and 'Alsatian Darn', which are actually my three favorite tracks here (although I have to say, I don't like the reworking of Noah's vocals on 'Slow Motion' here as much as on the single).

The weak points on this album, though few, are pretty distinct. Friendship Bracelet is a pretty unpleasant experience, I'll admit, Afterburner, being just shy of 7 minutes in length, gets pretty boring after 2 minutes, and even after several listens, I still can't warm up to the title track, whose melody is almost aggressively repetitive. But that's pretty much all that's keeping this album back. Other highlights include 'Scheherezade', a beautiful, single-chord piano ballad that shows Panda Bear in a totally different light, and more unexpectedly 'Drone', which starts off sounding like it will be the most annoying track on the album, but turns out to be one of the most gratifying. And I couldn't think of a more perfect closer than the wonderfully dreamy 'Benefica'.

So there you have it. It's weird enough to hit the spot of experimental-loving Panda Bear fans, but accessible enough for newcomers, and that's why this album succeeds so well.

1. You Can Count on Me
2. Tomboy
3. Slow Motion
4. Surfer's Hymn
5. Last Night at the Jetty
6. Drone
7. Alsatian Darn
8. Scheherazade
9. Friendship Bracelet
10. Afterburner
11. Benfica

*highlighted = highlights (duh!)


April 5, 2011

The Strokes - Angles

I have to admit, the announcement of a new Strokes album last January wasn't terribly thrilling. I didn't like First Impressions that much, although it has some really good songs (Jukebox, Fear of Sleep), and I figured that this would be a similar trail of boring melodies and over-produced songs. But the release of their excellent lead single Under Cover of Darkness is what got me all giddy. That and it's similarly great b-side You're So Right. But I guess I was tricked. Unfortunately nothing else on the album matches up to the exuberance of those two songs. Almost everything else takes an unexpected 80s approach, which doesn't settle with me at all, especially on 'Two Kinds of Happiness' and 'Games'.

Although I have to say, the opener 'Maccu Piccu' is a damn catchy track, and the power beats and synths are simmered down just enough to make it enjoyable. 'Taken for a Fool' is a good little number too. 'Metabolism' is decent, but it tries too hard to be the cool, out-of-place track, however 'Gratisfaction' is the most unfitting one here, with its poppy beat and happy guitar strums, and those tracks just happen to be elaborately placed right next to each other.

Angles closes on a slightly positive note (positive compared to the previous tracks) with 'Life is Simple in the Moonlight', a pretty neutral track that sounds nice with the rest of the album, but pretty boring alone. Another thing to add is that Casablancas has lost his attitude almost completely here, which is partially why I loved them so much in the first place. No more screaming into the mic for this guy I guess.

Overall, it's just descent. 'So decent' would sound too much like a compliment.
You literally can't even compare their music with anything from Is This It anymore. The songs are all polished and shiny now. But then again, they're evolving, that should be a good thing. So I guess it would be naive to say that I WANT THE OLD STROKES BACK!!! Especially in all caps like that. But I think that this case is different.

1. Maccu Piccu
2. Under Cover of Darkness
3. Two Kinds of Happiness
4. You're So Right
5. Taken for a Fool
6. Games
7. Call Me Back
8. Gratisfaction
9. Metabolism
10. Life is Simple in the Moonlight