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02 Oct

By Matt Arena

I’m in a weird place with Muse. They were the first band I really fell in love with. I’ve seen them upwards of 9 times, been lucky enough to meet/interview them, and essentially have them to thank for really getting me into music. So it makes this next sentence that much harder to say: I can’t stand what they’ve become. That’s not to say this is the first time I’ve disliked a release, as some of their stuff is just downright terrible (‘Prague,’ anyone?) but lately the bad has outweighed the good VASTLY. 2009’s The Resistance had its moments, MK ULTRA and Exogenesis are some of their finest work to date, but was mostly a weird foray into bombast and a competition to see how over-the-top they can get. But it got a pass. Maybe it was the production diaries of them laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of the slap bass in ‘Undisclosed Desires,’ or how nobody in their right mind could take ‘I Belong to You’ seriously, but there was a feeling that they were just goofing around. They’re not seriously going to take that direction in their next album, right?

Wrong. It turns out ‘Undisclosed Desires’ and ‘I Belong to You’ were not one-off goof tracks, but the future of the band. The riffs in ‘Unnatural Selection?’ The thundering anthem that was ‘MK ULTRA?’ Gone. Those were the one offs. This was no more apparent than when Muse starting debuting the first few songs of The 2nd Law. First was the Olympic piano anthem, ‘Survival.’ I’ll be completely honest here; I thought it was a joke at first. As did many fans. There were tweets saying “oh, Muse is just trolling us.” Sadly, there was no trolling to be had. The poppy, choir-backed, Queen-esque bombast was for real. And you know what? Many still had hope. “It’s just one song,” or “they wrote it for the Olympics, of COURSE it’ll be cheesy!” was a popular sentiment. Then came ‘Unsustainable.’ Ah yes, the dubstep track. Cue the ominous music. To be fair it isn’t really a dubstep track, as anyone with two ears can hear the distinct difference between the drop in ‘Unsustainable’ and any of the drops in a Skrillex song. But for all intents and purposes, it was Muse doing dubstep. And it was not pretty. It failed as a dubstep song, with a soft, simple, and repetitive drop, but also failed as an electronic rock song. STILL, there was hope. Hey, it’s just TWO songs, right? “Wait till you hear the whole album to judge.” Fair enough. Then came ‘Madness.’ Yikes. Where to begin? From the very beginning, it was bad news. Sounding more like an electronic cover of the Muppet’s ‘Mahna Mahna’ than an actual Muse song, many began to lose all hope. Even a fantastic music video couldn’t save it. But for all its detractors within the Muse fan base (I refuse to use the word “musers”), it had some fans. One of them being Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who called it “the best song Muse have made.” Are we listening to the same song, Chris? But soon enough, the time came for the full album. The last ditch hope of “you can’t judge an entire album just on two songs” was no more. Judgment hour has arrived. And if you think I’m being overdramatic, just remember this is Muse we’re talking about, that’s kind of their whole thing.

The result is in, and it’s a bloodbath. From its wild and abrupt shifts in style to the mind numbing mediocrity of some songs, The 2nd Law is simply a poor album. It’s the result of a band trying to be five different things at once, but never really focusing their sound to just being Muse. I got into this band because they sounded like Rage Against the Machine scoring an episode of Battlestar Galactica, not to hear them play a funk song. And yes, I get it, bands change and all that. Except when they don’t. Look at some of the stalwarts out there in the rock genre; Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen, all bands who have been around longer than Muse and haven’t changed their sound so radically. There’s a difference between growing, which Muse clearly have done just from Showbiz to Absolution, and completely becoming a different band all together. Go ahead and take a guess which category Muse fall into. And you know what? That’s fine. They are well within their rights as a band to do whatever they want. But don’t expect the people who first got into you to stick around. When you put out a song like ‘Big Freeze,’ which is the poorest example of a U2 imitation I have ever heard, you simply can’t expect fans of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ to stick around.

It’s not to say the album is a complete failure, however. There are some fine moments in there. Moments, which still bite at that fan inside you, making you think “hey, maybe Muse have still got it after all.” And that’s what makes The 2nd Law so frustrating. From the very beginning, the riff in ‘Supremacy’ is fantastic, it’s old school Muse at its finest. But suddenly there are screeching violins in the background. What rulebook is Muse abiding by that dictates the need for strings in every single song? We’re plenty happy with the riff, you’re a rock band, a riff doesn’t need anything but a sweet bass line and drum fills behind it. The track then fades into a lull of a verse, before stopping on a dime, punching you in the face with falsetto and ripping right back into the riff. It’s enough to make you bipolar. The greatness is still there, especially in the outro, which makes you want to grab the nearest stranger, head butt them directly in the face and open up a pit. Immediately you can imagine how well that part of the song will translate live. As does ‘Liquid State,’ the second of a duo of songs in which bassist Chris Wolstenholme takes on lead vocal duties. It starts into a thick, heavily distorted bass line from the first second and continues with excellent drum work from Dominic Howard, very reminiscent of a their impromptu drum and bass jams in the live shows. Though it’s a sweet track, it’s not hard to imagine how much better it would be if Matt Bellamy’s guitar work was a bit more prominent. But again, this is Chris’ song, so perhaps that was the mindset. Regardless, ‘Supremacy’ and ‘Liquid State’ are the two true “rock” tracks on the album and if they had only kept that as their focus, maybe The 2nd Law would have been a lot better.

Then there’s the rest. It ranges from utterly droll songs like ‘Save Me,’ to the upbeat, disco-anthems like ‘Follow Me.’ The reason this album fails is because it has no focus. Muse is trying to do about four different sounds at once, and what they got is a mess of tracks that don’t belong together. Even with its downfalls and overstated political themes, The Resistance had a flow and scope to it. The 2nd Law simply doesn’t. The decision for them to self-produce the record has to come into play here. It’s hard to imagine songs like ‘Explorers’ making it off the cutting room floor and onto the album with a producer in studio. That’s what producers do. They help a band hone their sound and coach them along the process of making the album. Of course one could argue that Muse knows their sound better than any producer, but one could also simply start playing ‘Panic Station’ in response. Even in talking about the album, the band cited inspiration from artists like Meatloaf to Skrillex. That’s a warning sign that the band is all over the place. To be fair, some of these tracks have been played live and do sound a bit better, ‘Follow Me’ for example turns into a ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ like guitar anthem. It would also be unfair to dismiss ‘Animals,’ a progressive rock track that harkens back the moody, dark Origin of Symmetry days. It builds throughout and culminates in a whirlwind of an outro, which sees the band warp and melt their respective instruments into a wall of wonderful ambient rock. That’s the type of song a producer hears and says, “yes, explore THAT sound.” But when self-producing, you really don’t have the luxury of an extra set of ears. The band is just left to explore the weird reaches of their over-the-top, bombastic musical repertoire. Which as The 2nd Law shows us, has no end.

That’s how it comes across as a whole, but being that it feels more like a collection of singles than an actual album, a song-by-song breakdown is almost necessary.

1. ‘Supremacy’ – A killer riff here. The start of this song is painfully deceiving, as it inspires false hope that the rest of the album will be as rock-centric. I could do without the Monday Night Football-esque violin screeches; that Morello-inspired riff is more than enough to keep me entertained. It ends in a head banging outro that not only will reach out to all the metal heads in the audience, but almost begs for the band to extend in their trademark fashion. Good song.

2. ‘Madness’ – We should have seen this coming. It’s the older brother of ‘Undisclosed Desires,’ except farther into electronic territory. Being that ‘Undisclosed Desires’ was extremely flat live, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the much mellower ‘Madness.’ The song finally picks up towards the end, but it’s a case of way too little, way too late. Impressive video though, even if I did half expect to see the Snowths pop up halfway through.

3. ‘Panic Station’ – The first time I heard this song kick in, I laughed. A full on, belly laugh. Not only because it was the last thing I’d expect a Muse song to be, but because it’s utterly ridiculous. It sounds like a Stevie Wonder produced Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of ‘Thriller.’ Not a bad song per say, but it’s certainly not a Muse song. It will no doubt have its fans, and on some level I can understand that, but this isn’t the band I signed up for. I can’t stand this track, but what I hate the most is that I can’t get it out of my head. Anybody have an ice pick? We gotta get off this rock, Chuck.

4-5. ‘Prelude + Survival’ – Split up on the album, ‘Prelude’ serves as the intro track for ‘Survival.’ It’s a deceivingly wonderful piano number, which is pretty jarring when it jumps into the poppy ‘Survival.’ This was the first song they released off the album, and served as the first warning sign of trouble. The painfully simple lyrics highlight what comes off as Muse further trying to be like Queen. An incredibly forgettable track that even sounded ridiculous as a backdrop to the Olympics. Now that’s saying something.

6. ‘Follow Me’ – This song first dribbled out in bootlegged video from a recent show, sounding very much like a guitar heavy version of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name.’ But you’ll be shocked to hear it very different on the album. It plays more like a house DJ’s remix of a Whitney Houston song than anything else. It’s not hard to see the pounding techno beat during the chorus blasting in some booze filled club. That’s right; it’s quite possible that the Jersey Shore crew will be fist bumping to a Muse song. I’m so sorry.

7. ‘ Animals’ – Muse have been compared to Radiohead before, albeit unfairly in the past, but this is the first time that comparison is audible. The slick drumming is very much like ‘Paranoid Android,’ and that’s not to say it’s a bad song, in fact ‘Animals’ is one of the bright spots on the album. It’s very much like ‘Screenager,’ with moody, dark lyrics like “do us all a favor; come on and kill yourself.” It brings back that Showbiz-era angst, which hasn’t been seen in years.

8. ‘Explorers’ – This song is puzzling. Clocking in at nearly six minutes, it’s the longest song on the album and I’m not sure why. It’s a bland, rather empty one and begs the question as to why it even made it off the cutting room floor. Piano driven anthems are what Muse is all about, but this is a vapid one.

9. ‘Big Freeze’ – From the start, this sounds just like a U2 song. Matt Bellamy’s vocals go into ridiculous territories and the instrumental elements just aren’t Muse. This personifies the album as a whole; it’s confusing, messy, and simply poor.

10. ‘Save Me’ – The first of two tracks that see Wolstenholme as lead vocals, this slow, melodic tune may be very personal, but it doesn’t inspire much excitement. It kind of just plods along for five minutes, and though there’s a build at the end, it never culminates in anything worthwhile. It’s a nice change of pace to hear Chris take lead vocals, but the song itself is too weak.

11. ‘Liquid State’ – This is the antithesis of ‘Save Me.’ The second of Chris’ lead vocal tracks, it’s a wave of distorted bass fuzz from the very start. Sadly it’s one of the shortest songs on the album. Coming across more like a fleshed out Dom and Chris drum n’ bass jam, it doesn’t make it any less of an awesome track. Muse fans have wanted to hear Chris take the lead vocally for a while, and these three minutes of modern rock bliss is exactly what they expected it to sound like. Awesome.

12. ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’ – The not-really dubstep track that started it all. It’s more of a song built around Matt Bellamy messing around with distortion pedals and his famous kaoss pad than an actual dubstep song. Hard to tell if they’ll attempt to play live. As an experimental track, even though it’s not good, they get points for trying.

13. ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System’ – Muse have a knack for finishing albums with a bang, as evidence by The Resistance’s three part Exogenesis symphony and ‘Knights of Cydonia’ off Black Holes & Revelation. Add to that the album sub-title on this song, and you’re expecting something epic, yes? Instead what we get is an evasive, slow piano instrumental. It sounds more like something you’d hear at the credits of a movie, and not the main credits, that second song that comes on after everyone has left and they’re still scrolling all the PA’s names. A terribly anticlimactic way to end the album.

So that’s The 2nd Law. Unfortunately it’s as bad as we initially feared. Not only is it hands down their worst album to date, but it boasts several entries on their worst individual songs to date as well. It’s a shame when your favorite band completely goes off the deep end but that seems to be the case with Muse. One could would say “at least you’ve got their live shows” but being that they like to ignore the back catalogue, play 90 minute sets maximum and will be playing at least five songs off The 2nd Law (using The Resistance Tour is a barometer), it’s not worth the likely $100+ price tag for arena gigs. Farewell Muse, it was fun while it lasted. Oh, and it’s not me, it’s you.

Rating: 3/10

13 Aug

By Cassandra Paiva

All of The Unknown, the third album from California’s The Drowning Men, promises a fresh, fun sound that would mix well at anything from an indie-rock gig, to a folk fest, to a punk cabaret.

First two tracks “Lost In A Lullaby” and “The Waltz” have a more indie feel, almost like something Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull would create, but a lot more clean cut, not as gritty and grimy. The upbeat instrumentals and story-like imagery of the lyrics counter the darker meanings of false hope and pleas for redemption. The ringing of the piano leaves a hollow echoing that gives an empty feeling finally satisfied by the addition of instruments much like the horns in the latter track.

“Bored In A Belly” starts off like you’re in a mad house at a travelling circus, incorporating the dizzying accordion playing and chiming bells that make up nightmares. Lead singer Nato Bardeen’s vocals make things more solemn but maintain the feeling of entrapment through his lyrics, “This is not my home” repeated over a whirring rhythm.

“Smile” is a truly feel good track, inviting relaxation by forgetting the stresses of everyday life and wanting to disappear with a piano. What else would you expect from a song titled “Smile?” The happiness continues with the harmonies in “A Fool’s Campaign” which make you want to go with him on his journey through acoustics and warm tones.

Much like the previous idea of covering up dark, depressing lyrics “I Am The Beggar Man” does just that with happy melodies, a bright chorus, and joyous drums. The wicked and cruel world is but a lost thought among the sea of swirling guitar.

A nice little break, the entirely instrumental “Life In The Willow Tree” swoons and soothes like the soundtrack of a nature documentary before the album picks back up into a tinkling piano triad and passionate vocals in “A Long, Long Walk.” Dare I say it has a Coldplay-like feel, but without the cheesiness, and with sincerity and more complex and harmonizing instrumentals, maybe even go as far as a little theatrical?

“Fix Me Love” has a moving, early-70s-pre-disco vibe blended with plucky strings and a looping bass line. Bardeen croons, “fix me love or kiss me careless,” in true hopeless romantic spirit.
The thunderous intro to “Questioning (A Big Ole Sham)” is slightly grandiose in manner, and holds a little bit of Celtic folk influence underneath rock riffs, most likely what helped them tour with Flogging Molly.
Retreating back to the lone piano cabaret and echoing vocals, closing track “A Better Place” demonstrates that stand alone simple keys is sometimes just enough. Eerie lyrics of not wanting to be cured add to the haunting, minimal piano. Even more morbidly intriguing is the drop off, “I take one last breath” before the album falls to silence.

This eeriness alternated with folk and indie rock allows for the ability to change sound and avoid being categorized into a genre, which is probably one of the best things an emerging band can do. Through All of The Unknown, The Drowning Men have such a mastery of their varying sound that signifies their confidence of uniqueness. And maybe the title was right, from track to track, it’s unknown which of their sounds you’re going to get.

Pick up All Of The Unknown on iTunes, Amazon MP3 (Only $5!), CD.

30 Jul

By Cassandra Paiva

Los Angeles trio of cousins, Wake Up Lucid debut their first LP Feel It on August 7th. The album provides that scuzzy, bluesy rock that almost sounds like it belongs more in the Woodstock era than in today’s mashed up mess of musical mishaps. Their sound is a great revitalization of the classic riffs, heavy jams, and scratchy vocals that defined an era. As they say, history repeats itself, and it’s been far too long since this genre was reawakened.

First track and single “Feel It” beckons Jimi Hendrix’s foxiness in an all-out jam session. “You want to take it slow/I want to take you home” cries lead singer Ryan Baca over amped up guitar grooves and basement drum beats, a sound that can only be created by actually playing instruments.

However, while Wake Up Lucid seems to teleport back to the late 60s for inspiration, they also mix this vintage sound with a more modern vibe. Channeling another great rock legend, “Arms” and “Rising Tide” are The White Stripes but bassier. The simplicity of the guitar, bass, drums set up conveys a minimalist approach without skimping on the full sound.

The mastery of this three piece arrangement that is heard in “When I Come Around” reminds me of another stoner rock trio, Band of Skulls. Baca is in his own mind as he wrestles with choosing sides over stop-start funk. “Fame” has a bridge that focuses on the contributions of each instrument until building back up in layers.

“Drunk on Information” sounds like the band is based in Nashville, not LA, while “Facepaint” is edgy enough for a Brooklyn basement.

Scruffy, grungy blues at its finest, you really can’t ignore the hook in “Just Can’t Ignore.” This track is almost like something your parents listened to in their wild days, driving around going to shows in a beefed up, rusty pickup, or if you can’t imagine your parents like that, something that Hyde from That 70s Show would be jamming out to at the record store.

“Death Valley” puts the blues in blues rock and by this point in the album, you want to break out your tinted 60s glasses and tie-dye under your studded brown leather jacket.

Taking you back to high school, slight ballad “Where Are We Now” slows things down a bit, but maintains the intensity of the instrumentals.

Breaking into the voodoo, “Black Hair Woman” is festival ready with a fake-out intro and almost 2 and a half minutes of enthralling instrumental before cutting into raunchy vocals. This is one to mindlessly sway and dance to as you get lost in the fingerpicking and gritty riffs.

Overall, Wake Up Lucid’s sound is a collection of classic groove mixed with modern influence in order to reawaken the spirits of Woodstock and good old Southern rock and blues. I’m curious to see what their live set entails, and maybe even more curious to see what type of crowd they bring. But, nevertheless, if you want edgy, emotional rock and hints of the foggy festival past, break out your bellbottoms baby, and listen to this album.

Pre-order Feel It on Amazon MP3

16 Jul

By Cassandra Paiva

While the debut, self-titled album by Morning Parade, the Essex, England five piece, was released quite a while (about 3 months) after its release in the UK, it was probably for the better of their rise to fame in America. The album (iTunes), released the day after the last date of their opening tour with Walk the Moon, came not a minute late, as their single “Headlights” and opening tours for The Kooks and previously mentioned WtM jazzed the audience up for what was to come and prepared them for the intensity of the album as a whole, especially because the energy and passion of their live show is that same energy and passion in their record.
“Blue Winter” starts the album off with a fuzzed up surge, but despite this rawness, the track submerges into perfect full harmony until the purity of lead singer Steve Sparrow’s voice breaks through and demonstrates a solid range, as “blue winter” rings in falsetto and solemn “ahh” resonate deep tones.

For a song that Sparrow thought was just good enough to be a B side, “Headlights” is the perfect representation of the togetherness of Morning Parade. The meaningful lyrics (“Like a rabbit in your headlights/I am the beckon to your call”), the driving drum beat and bass working in unison to keep a high suspension, the vocal synchronization, and the soft and serious bridge before the final climatic verse is the perfect summarization of the bands complete sound.

That complete sound, something that can’t be stressed enough. For such a new band (the complete line up was achieved around early 2010) they have such an experienced sound, almost as if they’ve been playing together for a lot longer than almost 3 years.

Next track, “Carousel” brings a pop-y vibe, with an appropriate to its name round of ahhs and a spinning keyboard base. While “Carousel” is lighter and airier, “Running Down the Aisle” breaks out serious lyrics over a steady piano before building up to a myriad of acoustic guitar, muted drums, and fuzzed up bass in a whirring complexity of instrumental and emotion.

“Us & Ourselves,” my personal favorite, is a shoe in for a second single, and I would be really surprised if it wasn’t. The nostalgia tinged track starts slow and reminiscent, before adding layers of vocals and epic, growing instrumentals, and then throwing a curveball waning into Sparrow’s solo plea “us and ourselves.” The whole song echoes the first segment, the verses provide a soft sense of comfort, while the choruses push it to the next level with full fledge vocals complete with chilling passion. The resolution at the end is the part that brings it full circle and ties it all together, making you say, “what just happened?” in a good way.

This passion continues in “Under the Stars” (another possibility for a single). Sparrow’s voice remains raw and effortless, but a faster tempo creates an atmosphere acceptable for intense rocking out. Having previous knowledge that Muse is one of their influences, I can almost hear it in this track.

“Close to Your Heart,” chanting, “Let tonight unfold/I can see you running out of cares tonight/The weight of the world and the weight of the everything” over a steady, running beat makes you want to dance your cares away.

In great contrast, “Half Litre Bottle” is an absolutely beautiful intervention/plea/soul search kept simple. Sparrow’s tender vocals over a solitary guitar set a really personal and touching tone. If you don’t get chills or emotional after listening to the lyrics, you might want to check that your heart isn’t frozen. I want to say more, but all I can say is that it’s almost painfully open and real, and so beautiful.

“Monday Morning” and “Speechless” further demonstrate the togetherness of the band and are completely relatable to the audience. “Hello Monday Morning, try and talk your way out of this one,” is like an extreme case of the Mondays, while the metaphors in “Speechless” intensify the moments that life passes by without a word.

Another beautiful and personal track “Born Alone” is the perfect way to end the album, both in sound and message. Everything in the song is about overcoming something holding you back, letting go of fear, and accepting who you are and that you are not alone. And in a kind of cheesy way, Morning Parade is representative of that. They’re overcoming the music industry with a sound all their own, and they’re doing it with a passion and love for their music and each other. (Another indication of togetherness is that they all have matching MP tattoos on their arms).

This is one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s such a captivating listen, every track has something that sticks out about it, and their sound as a whole is a perfect unity. Having seen them on two opening tours, I’m awaiting their US headline, and awaiting a lot more from them. If you’re going to listen to one album the second half of the year, I strongly recommend this one. Something tells me they’re going to be big.

10 Jul

By Ace Ubas

Whenever the Dirty Projectors put out material of any kind, then you listen – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Their 2009 album Bitte Orca was arguably their most masterful album. Any other release after would surely have a tough act to follow. Enter Swing Lo Magellan (via Domino Records), which is easily one of this year’s most anticipated albums. But if you were to strictly hold the latter to the standard of the former, you would be doing it somewhat of an injustice. It does, however, actually seem to build off of Bitte Orca, showing a faint sign of continuity and familiarity in terms of musical direction, rather than creating something completely new with an ambitious concept (ala The Getty Address and Rise Above). But regardless, just be glad that we have a new Dirty Projectors album; an “album full of songs, an album of songwriting” stated by vocalist/songwriter Dave Longstreth.

Before delving into the album, it should be put into context on how the Dirty Projectors have gone through a slight change since we last saw them. Mainly the fact that core member Angel Deradoorian went on “hiatus” with the band (presumably to venture out into more solo endeavors).

“Offspring Are Blank” opens the album with superficial handclaps and a capella melodies from Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle. Another rhythmic layer is then added with electronic hip-hop-style beats (Longstreth said that certain hip-hop artists influenced the recording of the album) that accompany Longstreth. And in typical Dirty Projectors fashion, the instrumentation suddenly shifts to just an acoustic guitar that he sings over. But the transition isn’t rough as it acts as a transition to bring in the crashing drums and an electric guitar riff.

If you’re familiar with the band at all, then arranging seemingly spontaneous instruments together shouldn’t be anything unusual. On “About to Die,” a polyrhythmic layer is created by bongos, drums, occasional drums, and a groove-like bass while the line “about to die” echoes throughout.

One of the highlights of the album is also one of its most simplest, yet striking in “Gun Has No Trigger.” The rhythm is created by a consistent and soft drum beat and a subtle bass line, but what carries this song is the vocals. The soulful melodies by Coffman and Dekle are soothing that rise along with Longstreth’s yearns, hitting its climax when he yells out the line “when the gun has no trigger” and the “oohs” turn into gospel-esque “aahs.”

The self-titled track is a nice change of pace as Longstreth sings with a delicate acoustic guitar and percussion with a steady beat in the background. It’s the shortest track on the album, but it’s refreshing to hear a more stripped down side to the band that relaxes the rest of the album.

Coffman starts off “Just Like Chevron” that features the handclaps once again and a intricate guitar work. It is another show of a polyrhythmic song with different textures that makes it emphasized with Longstreth’s aggressive vocals that take over for the rest of the song. But on “The Socialites,” Coffman takes over lead vocal duties that feature intricate guitar plucking and wobbling synths. Her way of prolonging notes and hitting her highs at certain moments is reminiscent of modern day R&B that has a tinge of soul within. It demonstrates really well on how well of a more-than capable singer she can be.

On single “Dance For You,” his vocals are given a reverb effect that makes it echo throughout the song, especially on his harmonies. The song is carried by handclaps and guitar until it’s just these spontaneous strings that build tension for a matter of seconds. It eventually goes back to its original arrangement, but the strings stay put, lingering in the background to close out the song.

“Maybe That Was It” is a guitar-driven track that’s filled with that distorted twang effect, showing a hint of psychedelic rock during the late 70s. They keep their sound in the past with “Impregnable Question” and “See What She Seeing.” Both delve into the 60s rock and pop categories while covering the themes of romance and love. On the former, Longstreth sings in the ballad “But I need you/and you’re always on my mind” over a piano melody. On the latter, he sings about longing and searching for a loved one over string arrangements: “everywhere I go, I see her/everywhere I look she disappears/every time I think I found her/just what I found is unclear.” The Beatles easily come into mind when taking into account their song structure while listening to these three songs. And on both, Coffman joins in and harmonizes with Longstreth on a few lines while throwing in a couple of vocal melodies as well that makes it a bit more romantic.

“Unto Caesar” is a rather unique track even in Dirty Projectors standards. The actual production and recording of the track is mixed with these spontaneous moments in the recording studio. For example, while Longstreth is singing, moments between Coffman and Dekle asking when to do the harmonies or asking if they’re supposed to sing and saying it doesn’t make sense. This method gives the listener some insight into the recording and writing process, but its inclusion provides the track a rather witty and light-hearted perspective. It makes you question if these moments were actually scripted or candid. But the choice of doing so doesn’t distract away from the overall track. Instead, it provides another point of view to listen to the track and how both the candid moments and actual music work correspond to each other.

With Swing Lo Magellan, the Dirty Projectors have yet again crafted another appealing and solid album. It’s probably their most grounded and accessible album to date, but they still keep their signature intricacy and complexity in their music. A wide range of influences are stark – from 60s pop to contemporary R&B – throughout the album while still incorporating their unique progressive sound into it. Nothing feels awkward or out of place because somehow, someway, what ever vision Longstreth has in his mind, he will carry it out to the best of his abilities and we all just have to trust him.

Rating: 8/10

Pick up Swing Lo Magellan now on iTunes / Amazon MP3 / CD / Vinyl

09 May

Want to backpack through Europe without spending your life’s savings? Tired of typical punk rock bands and want to listen to something truly uniquely different? Ever heard of any of the following instruments: a txalaparta, a danbolin, and/or a txistu?

If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, then you should give new to the American scene, Basque-county folk, techno, punk, dub step, culture combining, British/Spanish band Crystal Fighters a listen. As if that wasn’t a mouthful enough, their music is unlike any other band from Spain, erm England, erm.. actually, either country.

With both Spanish and British roots, the band is able to mix various prevalent cultures within their sound. The UK punk rock sound under Spanish guitar provides a delightful European get away through your headphones. The lyrical content is based off of an unfinished opera that lead singer Laure Stockley’s grandfather wrote, and takes the listener on even more of an adventure as the songs tell of the galaxy, the beach, and the earth.

Their album Star of Love (released on April 24th in the US), opens with “Solar System” which brings the energy right from the get go. The entrancing beats laid over almost Japanese anime sounding “go’s” start the vibe that continues throughout the whole album. The conjoining of cultures is also noticeable with an underlying acoustic guitar fingerpicking softly, strangely but successfully complimenting the dub step groove. This guitar kicks off next track “Follow,” which features male lead singer Sebastian Pringle and both female singers, Stockley and Mimi Borelli. The up tempo instrumentals are dance inspiring, beckoning friends to follow.

“Xtatic Truth” starts with an airy harp-like picking which leads to a more complex whirling that resolves into keyboard techno that maintains the original beat. Pringle’s accent contributes to the backpack through Europe feel, first taking the tour through a coffee shop in say- Barcelona, then a dance club in London, and then to some kind of mashed up culture club where the main goal is to have fun and dance and not care about how many musical elements you’re mixing together. “I Do this Everyday” almost follows by bringing a jungle rock vibe, starting with hollow drums which sound like the members are banging on random objects and switches off with a heavy bass riff that sounds like it should be in a metal band. This song would no doubt be a highlight of Crystal Fighter’s live performance.

“Champion Sound” and first single “Earth Island” are softer songs on the album, but that doesn’t make them any less energetic. The songs seem to flow naturally and effortlessly as the band conveys a story through their waxing and waning vocals. “Island” paints a picture of a whole universe opening and flying through the galaxy with the sights and the emotions.

“Plage” (translated: beach) is a bit of a love song, eagerly asking a beautiful girl to go to the beach at “4 in the morning” to gaze into each other’s eyes and watch the sunset. Continuing the backpacking metaphor, it’s almost like an American girl meeting a beautiful European guy (does the country of origin really matter?) and falling in passionate lust on a romantic beach setting. This cinema-esque feeling could also be combined with the sun soaked “In the Summer,” which croons about throwing coins into a wishing well. (Maybe there are too many movies with the same plot.. alas, romance movies set in foreign countries are most always cheesy yet satisfying).

Next track “At Home” takes advantage of the full chorus and puts the txalaparta (or giant wooden, two person xylophone) to good use. It’s probably the most ordinary sounding song on the album, but that’s not a bad thing because it shows off the band’s natural talent and the quality tones of their voices without editing. Quite contrarily “I Love London” sounds like a catchy dance track out of Yo Gabba Gabba with the heavy use of auto tune, cowbell, and “Hola, me llamo Mimi.”

Pringle’s voice shines in the a cappella intro to “Swallow” before succumbing to a mixture of electro pop bass drops and delicate acoustic melodies, further proving the uniqueness of Crystal Fighter’s sound. And as if you needed more Spanish influence, bonus track “Fiesta” a cover of Golpes Bajos, crosses English with Spanish providing the best of both worlds and an enhanced vocabulary.

Closing track “With You” gives the galaxy and stars a sound with futuristic twinkles of synth
keyboard over gentle vocals singing of starlight and staring at the sky.

Overall, the alternating sounds demonstrate the many genres that Crystal Fighters is capable of. The mixture of instrumentals, vocals, storylines, and even band members make this band one that is unpredictable and fresh.

Personal Favorites/Recommendations: “Plage” and “At Home”

Star of Love is out now on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and CD

See Crystal Fighters on tour later this month

North American Tour 2012
5/21 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
5/22 – Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel
5/23 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
5/24 – New York, NY @ Le Baron (DJ set)
5/25 – Montreal, QC @ Il Motore
5/26 – Toronto, ON @ Wrongbar
5/27 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
5/28 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
5/31 – Vancouver, BC @ Fortune Sound Club
6/1 – Seattle, WA @ Neumos
6/2 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
6/4 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
6/5 – Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex
6/6 – San Diego, CA @ Porter’s Club

04 May

By Ace Ubas

I’ll admit that I’ve never heard of Lower Dens prior to the hype leading up to the release of their latest album, Nootropics (pronounced “No-eh-tropics”). Shame on me, I know. But after listening to this album, I am completely sold on the Baltimore-based quintet led by vocalist Jana Hunter. In the past she’s been a touring member for renowned artists such as Devendra Banhart, Marissa Nadler, Deer Tick, and Peter & the Wolf, so she’s definitely a diverse artist in her own right. After going through a few lineup changes, she finally settled in with guitarist William Adams, bassist Geoffrey Graham, drummer Nate Nelson, and keyboardist Carter Tanton.

After an initial listen, what Lower Dens have done is create a new form of dream-pop and shoegaze in not only in an ethereal way, but also something that’s borderline sci-fi, spacey, and cosmic. Add to the fact that Hunter was exploring the idea of transhumanism (use of technology to enhance the human condition) as the overarching concept of this album.

Nootropics opens with “Alphabet Song” and sets up the mood for the rest of the album. Nelson and Tanton make their presence immediately felt with the subtle percussion and tip-toeing synths that shadow a keyboard melody and Hunter’s husky vocals. “Brains” is driven by the precise, metronomic drums repeat the same pattern throughout the song, building tension along with the discordant guitar lines. At about the two-minute mark, Hunter’s indistinguishable vocals fade in hauntingly, slithering in and out until they become clear again to close out the song. The next track “Stem” continues interrupted, acting as an instrumental extension to “Brains,” carrying a similar rhythm. The only difference here is that instruments like the arpeggiated guitars, thick bass, and dancing synths take precedence.

“Propagation” can be likened to contemporaries like Warpaint in its etherealness. Hunter’s vocals are reverberated, filling the room a nice echo with ghostly vocal melodies that linger in the background, harmonizing halfway through the song. The hollowed, drone-like bass provides a monotone groove that pulls you in like a black hole, reminiscent of the dream-pop of the 80s ala Lush.

The mid-tempo number “Candy” relies on Adams’ lingering guitar riffs, incorporating a tremolo at various parts of the song to give it that eerie effect. It’s pretty minimal in structure, with the rhythm section bringing to mind the post-punk/new wave sound of the late 70s.

“Lion in Winter Pt. 1” is a four-minute instrumental track filled with different layers of meandering noise and electronic waves, acting as the ambient complement to “Lion in Winter Pt. 2.” The second part is centered on a bouncing electronic beat, with a typical pop structure surrounding it.

“Nova Anthem” is one of the slower-paced tracks on the album, but also the most gorgeous. Minimal in arrangement, Hunter’s drawn-out vocals are sung over church-like organ chord progressions that harmonize and emphasize each other glowingly, backed by the clacking percussion. Her voice soars at around the three-minute mark, showing how dynamic of a singer she can be.

The closing track “In the End is the Beginning” not only hints at their success, but their ability to write a 12-minute epic. It pulls you in with a sprawling bass line, twinkling synths, and Hunter’s transcendent vocals and takes you through a surreal experience. Guitars lunge towards you at spontaneous moments, adding to the overall dark tone of the song. It’s as if you were in the mind of Salvador Dali and seeing all the madness in his head that transferred over onto his canvas. The track fades out to a close, waking you up, and making you question what the hell just happened.

With Nootropics, Lower Dens may have crafted an offshoot of dream-pop. Themes that encompass technology and the human condition, a sound that’s overall dark with music that is heavily layered with synthesizers, simple drums, wailing guitars, and echoing vocals, how can this not be called sci-fi pop? To the root of it, this is a ridiculously impressive album and easily one of the best of the year. Referring back to the last track, it signifies that this is going to be the beginning of Lower Dens on their way to reaching new heights.

Rating: 9/10

27 Apr

By: Cassandra Paiva

Step inside the mind of Paper Route’s JT Daly and pry into all of his personal files; his relationships, his hometown, his childhood, his faith. Do a bit of soul searching and that’s pretty much exactly the message that Daly’s debut solo album Memory conveys.

The album, which Daly states inside the booklet, was made because he “wanted to write an entire album without the possibility of people ever hearing it.” However, he decided to release it because he felt the need to “set some demons free.”

And these demons are expelled as Daly’s inner rhythm and musicality paired with painfully honest and heart felt lyrics. The intimacy of every song is intensified by each growing chord along with the mere fact that he published what was mostly his own personal journal.

“Things Will Never Be The Same” starts the album with bittersweet nostalgia and a tinge of first love. The booming chorus beats as an aching heart with explosive guitar and pounding drums under Daly’s assuring vocals. The same themes of summer and reminiscence carry into “Memory,” a more positive and upbeat perspective of love as Daly croons, “in that moment we know / I’ll never be alone.”

There’s also a very natural feeling that carries all throughout Memory. “Hymn (Lord I Need Time)” tells a story revolving around the Earth and the sun and various creatures sharing the land with him and his love. Tranquil instrumentals flow under cries of “Hallelujah” until it all fades away and the tender soprano of Daly’s friend Abigail Wright shines in “Love from Dust, Blood, and Rust.”

The interesting part of this album that makes it all the more personal, is that Daly pulled upon the people closest to him in his life, by showcasing their talents as well as his own. All of the artwork is by his friends, as well as the execution of the final touches.

Much like personal favorite “Youth” alternates and combines Daly and Wright’s vocals in a symphony-esque tell all reverie, the album follows suite by breezing by like a pleasant daydream. However, “Boys and Girls” breaks the mold by suggesting change and ending with an enjoyably chaotic calamity of jingle jangled instrumentals.

“Oberlin” is a bit harsher and heavier than previous tracks, with a constant clashing symbol sounding begging and pleading for a fresh start. Campfire sounding “You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine” plays with the idea of opposites, giving the track a duality of personal strife and inner peace.

Ballad “No Other” slows the pace and lightens the mood by contradicting the feelings of growing up too fast. “Children of God” ends the album on a happier note, with upbeat piano, edgy, dissonant bass that resolves midway, and soothing oohs paired with elegant and effortless guitar strums.

In essence, Memory is Daly’s enlightenment from all of his personal demons. The tender workings of his heart and mind are poured into this album with such craftiness and care. Each song is almost like its own ghost, getting set free to rest in peace and tranquility.

Pre-order Memory now at

26 Mar

By Emilia D’Albero

In a world where the quality of indie rock ebbs and flows constantly, it’s comforting to know that there are bands out there that are consistently being awesome. White Rabbits, hailing from Brooklyn, is one such group. And if there’s one thing that White Rabbits knows how to do well, it is definitely writing strong, catchy bass lines and pulsing percussion. In fact, their newest release, Milk Famous, is positively brimming with both of those things. From the very start of the title track and first single, “Heavy Metal,” to the last few seconds of the closing track, “I Had It Coming,” the band’s musical dexterity and confidence is evident. “Heavy Metal” itself is an eerie blend of memorable bass and a sort of mechanical percussion (including short bursts of what sounds like banging on trash cans); this track is simple enough to follow, but is also beautifully complex. The otherworldly sensation that comes with listening to “Heavy Metal” all the way through is not out of place on Milk Famous, however.

Every song on the entire album is a bit spooky; whether it’s the slightly dissonant yet aurally pleasing vocal harmonies in the chorus of “I’m Not Me” or the urgency of the piano riff in “Everyone Can’t Be Confused,” Milk Famous maintains an eerie, spectral quality, as if White Rabbits’ music contains some secret to life that only the band knows about and are holding just beyond our reach. Fortunately, it seems plausible to assume that listening to Milk Famous just might be the boost one needs in order to reach this alleged secret. Perhaps the smooth vocals that cover the high-pitched siren sounds in “Hold It to the Fire” hold the key to unlocking the secret, or maybe it is the fast-paced urgency of “The Day You Won the War,” or it may even be the haunting harmonies coupled with the strong bass backbone of “Temporary” (both of which ensure that the song will be anything but temporary in your brain). The final track, “I Had It Coming,” integrates a bit of acoustic guitar with a bit of piano and the aforementioned percussion, and the result is a track that practically bleeds a feeling of catharsis, as if it were the happy ending to the story told by the album.

Milk Famous is an album full of catchy guitar riffs, ethereal vocals, and simple yet elegant percussion that is poignant and strong enough to drive the album from opening to close. As a whole, Milk Famous will leave you thoroughly satisfied yet somewhat confused, wondering whether you should dance along or call Ghostbusters.

Buy Milk Famous on Amazon.

23 Jan

As the year 2011 was coming to a close, Mauro Remiddi is an artist whose hype was building up into the New Year with EP’s that caught the attention of many music publications. Under the moniker Porcelain Raft, his debut album Strange Weekend has been highly anticipated since late last year, making its release this month one of the more prominent albums of 2012 so far.

Before venturing out on his own, Remiddi was in the British indie-pop band Sunny Day Sets Fire where their music was recorded in a proper studio. But for Porcelain Raft, he looked no further than his bedroom (technically, a New York basement) to record his full-length. For the past couple of years, creating music entitled “bedroom-pop” has been on the rise, with Youth Lagoon’s 2011 debut The Year of Hibernation being the most notable. Some may be turned off to these type of recordings because it is raw and lo-fi in production. But the idea of an artist holed up in his bedroom or basement with only his music creates a sense of intimacy and allows listeners to get a glimpse into personally knowing who that artist is. In the case of Strange Weekend, that personal connection is strong enough to overlook the production style.

“Drifting In and Out” not only makes a good opener, but sets up the experience that the album can create. The Cocteau Twins-esque synths fade in and out blends well with the drowned out percussion and guitar to create a beautiful psychedelic feel. “Shapeless & Gone” nearly lives up to its name as the vocals are heavily drowned out while the acoustic guitar provides a nice shimmer of light through the reverb.

“Is It Too Deep For You” is an example where Remiddi’s vocals are at the forefront of a song rather than blending in the background. The subtle beats help highlight the emotion in his vocals as well as the intense theme of the song. On “Put Me to Sleep,” the bouncy beats and the echoing vocals are hypnotizing to the point where falling asleep while listening to the song is definitely possible – and not in a negative way. The way he utilizes electronic effects and beats to emphasize his vocals is done really well. While some artists may use synth washes and glitches just for the sake of using it, Remiddi uses them as a complement to bring out other aspects in his songs.

Though 2012 is still ripe, album standout “Unless You Speak from the Heart” is easily the catchiest song of the year. The infectious pop tune is a shot of nostalgia that can fit in quite well in the 70s/80s. It’s not hard to find yourself bouncing along to the simple electronic percussion and synth chords while singing along to the catchy-as-hell chorus when you’re walking through your neighborhood.

With Strange Weekend, Porcelain Raft proves that he can easily deliver quality music from a not-so-quality setting. Forget the fact that this album only 35 minutes in length, Remiddi is efficient with his time in that there are no wasted moments in his songs. In each of the 10 tracks, Remiddi uses his instruments to create a setting while his soulful voice acts as the guide to his heartfelt story.

Rating: 8/10

Jan 24 – Academy, Oxford UK *
Jan 27 – Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ONT ~
Jan 28 – Il Motore, Montreal QC ~
Jan 29 – Paradise Rock Club, Boston MA ~
Jan 31 – Webster Hall, New York NY ~
Feb 01 – Black Cat, Washington DC ~
Feb 03 – Metro, Chicago IL ~
Feb 04 – Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee WI ~
Feb 12 – HMV Next Big Thing at The Garage, London (with Elephant)
Feb 16 – Shepherds Bush Empire, London *
Feb 22 – U&G. Hamburg DE *
Feb 23 – Vega, Copenhagen DK *
Feb 24 – Rockefeller, Oslo NO *
Feb 25 – Berns, Stockholm SE *
Feb 27 – Tavastia, Helsinki FI *
Feb 29 – KB, Malmo SE *
Mar 02 – Introducing Festival, Berlin DE *
Mar 03 – Introducing Festival, Cologne DE *
Mar 04 – Lucerna, Prague CZ *
Mar 05 – Hansa 39, Munich DE *
Mar 06 – Magazini Generali, Milan IT *
Mar 08 – Rockstore, Montpelier FR *
Mar 09 – Razzamatazz, Barcelona ES *
Mar 10 – Riviera, Madrid ES *
Mar 11 – Hard Club, Porto PT *
Mar 12 – Lux, Lisbon PT *
Mar 14 – I.Boat, Bordeaux FR *
Mar 15 – La Cigale, Paris FR *
Mar 16 – Le Grand Mix, Tourcoing FR *
Mar 17 – La Laiterie, Strasbourg FR *
Mar 18 – Les Docks, Lausanne CH *
Apr 02 – Radio Radio, Indianapolis IN^
Apr 03 – Off Broadway, St Louis MO^
Apr 10 – Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix AZ^
Apr 11 – Porter’s Pub, San Diego CA^
Apr 12 – Troubadour, Los Angeles CA^
Apr 13 – The Independent, San Francisco CA^
Apr 14 – Harlow’s, Sacramento CA^
*With M83
~With Smith Westerns
^With Youth Lagoon