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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 24th October 2011 at 12:00 pm
Words by Ellie Molitor
So rarely does a band encapsulate the essence of their sound within the first minute of a release. But Deer Tick lead singer John McCauley snarls a perfectly concise description of the Providence quintet during opening track ‘The Bump’, informing the audience right off the bat that “we’re full grown men, but we act like kids”. Though many have struggled to put these boys in a box, calling the band anything from American indie to country rock, McCauley seems to have hit the nail on the head. They are children who broke into their parent’s liquor cabinets and stumbled upon a wonderful blend of spirited anthems and drunken requiems.
The album dives straight into three of such anthems, tapping into the same kind of energy Deer Tick often brings to their live show. Rowdy, undisciplined and unabashed, these tunes sound like they were recorded at their favourite watering hole, halfway through a bender and just before a bar fight. This is not to say their efforts are to be discounted: McCauley’s voice, often noted as the driving point behind Deer Tick’s success, is never off point, and he shows off an impressive range in tone and projection.
Though Deer Tick started as lead singer John McCauley’s whiskey-soaked bedroom project, it has grown into a rounded out group effort. This is the first album with vocal contributions from other members, and their efforts are not in vain. Guitarist Ian O’Neil gets his chance to shine, taking over lead vocals on ‘Walkin Out the Door’. ‘Clownin Around’ features drummer Dennis Ryan, and the song exploits Deer Tick’s country undertones without compromising the rock ‘n’ roll feel of the album, serving as a nice break from the rest of the album’s bacchanalia.
Another highlight of the album comes two tracks later with the ghostly ballad ‘Chevy Express.’ A call back to Deer Tick’s origins, this track shows off McCauley’s talents as a story teller and songwriter, weaving haunting imagery with the subtle sounds of a ghost town. Overall, it would be stupid to write this album off as a playlist of bar tunes. Sure, Deer Tick has a reputation for raucous live shows and drunken misbehavior, but there is depth here that should not be overlooked.
Deer Tick’s new album ‘Divine Providence’ is out today on Partisan Records.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 19th October 2011 at 2:00 pm
Editor’s note: We realise that this album was already released in Little Red’s home country of Australia in 2010 but they’re finally releasing it proper in America next week, so we wanted to review it this time around so if you missed it then, you won’t miss it now.
Words by Ellie Molitor
After a successful first release, Little Red seemed to have cracked the retro-pop code: who knew Brian Wilson and Julian Casablancas would make such beautiful-sounding, melodic babies? Little Red did, and they delivered with a fantastic debut, ‘Listen to Little Red’, an album that commanded audiences to update their iPods and take a gander at the Melbourne quintet.
Now Little Red have returned with a polished, well-considered sophomore release, ‘Midnight Remember’. Abandoning their cool, lo-fi sound, school boy demeanour and doo-wop cheesiness, this album accomplishes exactly what a sophomore release should: organic growth. It is impressive to see a band so young fail to get stuck in their vices, and instead mature as songwriters and artists. However, a healthy dose of what made fans fall in love with Little Red in the first place – their enchanting harmonies, charming, danceable melodies and instrumentally polished soundscapes – is still evident. Opening track ‘Get a Life’ brings listeners into Little Red’s world, one where summer never sets. Rampant with ethereal harmonies and looping instrumentation, it’s easy to get lost in their complex soundscapes. But lead singer Adrian Beltrame’s voice stands out amongst the buzz, and Taka Honda manages to create a sturdy backbone on the drums, making for a well balanced beginning to the album.
Highlights of the album include current single ‘Rock It’, a groovy track with foot-tapping bass lines and a riff on the keys that’ll be hard to get out of anyone’s head. Coming in about half way through the album, anthemic track “All Mine” keeps listeners on their toes with well-crafted releases of tension. All in all, this album captures the spirit of summer nights while still remaining a successful benchmark for Little Red’s maturation of sound. Their harmonies evoke simpler times, and paired with complex soundscapes, ensure listeners that they belong in the present.
‘Midnight Remember’, the new album from Little Red, is released next week (25 October) in America on True Panther.
Every now and then, an artist comes along that warrants every piece of their success and who consistently improves between albums. Anthony Gonzalez is one such artist and with albums such as ‘Saturday’s Youth’ (2nd in TGTF’s 2008 albums of the year) and a back catalogue of glorious dreampop under his belt, Gonzales decided that there was only one real way for the sixth M83 release to go. Double album time.
Right from the off, it’s something magic. “We didn’t need a story, we didn’t need a real world… We were you before you even existed” whispers the track before it erupts into a new electronic anthem in the form of ‘‘Midnight City’ (video below). What strikes me after these two tracks is how everything seems so blissful, yet maintains an air of something lost. Like how when you wake up from a dream and realise it wasn’t real. Everything on this album is so crafted and enchanting that you feel like you’re taken into a part of Gonzalez’ mind that only exists in an alternate universe. In reality of course, you could be in the office or on commute, in which case the from ‘Trains to Pluton’ through to ‘This Bright Flash’ you’ll be transported from your mundane task into an epic journey. Like a dream however, this will end after a few minutes, but that’s just disc one finishing, don’t panic. The conversational ‘When Will You Come Home?’ and the responding ‘Soon, my Friend’ close the opening half in a mellow manner and give slight respite to that sandwich you were eating with newfound zealousness.
As the second disc starts, it’s a slightly different feel. More melancholy, until ‘New Map’ that is. As if you’ve gone back to sleep and are discovering a whole new world of dreams. Everything now sounds familiar and welcoming all the way through. The interludes are breathing points to what at times can be a breathtaking record. After the radio-friendly yet still fitting ‘Steve McQueen’ comes the buildup and epic climax of ‘Echoes of Mine’ before you’re transported to the inevitable yet long put off end of the second disc. ‘Outro’ is one last enticing fling to your imagination before you’re rather abruptly awoken once more. Check the office; no one noticed your lapse. Go on Facebook and Twitter, tell everyone, listen to the new M83 album, it’ll drastically improve 72 minutes of your life every day. A disc for each leg of your commute? You might just forget the world.
Author’s disclaimer: any lapse in concentration to the road may lead to a collision, be safe.
M83′s new album ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ is out now on Mute. Gig info for 2012 is here.
Real Estate cemented their place on the indie circuit with their self-titled debut, a record which brought almost brought you back to the surf rock days of the Beach Boys and no, not in that sucky way in which the Drums now do it. Tracks like ‘Beach Comber’ and ‘Pool Swimmers’ were fantastically written gems that had you swaying from beat #1. Now comes the tricky second album that comes after you do well first time out.
Alex Bleeker, Martin Courtney, Matthew Mondanile and Jonah Mauer have gone along the same lines with their next record ‘Days.’ It’s as chilled as, well excuse the simile, a big freezer. But sadly it doesn’t live up to expectations. There’s a point where sounding like you aren’t putting effort in at all just ends up sounding lazy. Sure, the slowly rising guitars are still there and it does get your feet tapping, but it’s hard to sense any kind of development in this band.
‘Green Aisles’ follows the same formula for success they found on their debut in being completely inoffensive to the ears, but just never managing to thrill or excite in the ways they managed earlier in their short career. The harmonies in ‘It’s Real’ rush from beautiful to the downright tragic and manage almost to bore me to sleep. There is no better way of describing this album then boring it seems. While the production and musicianship is flawless it just lacks that edge to make it exciting and that is where I feel Real Estate’s downfall will eventually be.
One of the redeeming points of this album is track ‘Kinder Blumen,’ with its casually beautiful instrumental climaxes with a fantastic catastrophe of sound. Bar this though, it’s hard to find merit with this album, it’s obvious that a lot of work has been put into the record as the craftsmanship is sublime. What they now need is a changeup, an X Factor. What that could be, I don’t know, but for sure it seems that it’s back to the drawing board for these surf-poppers from New Jersey.
Better luck next time boys.
Real Estate’s second album ‘Days’ is out today on Domino.
‘Lenses Alien’? An album about an extraterrestrial optometrist?
This, the newest album from Staten Islanders Cymbals Eat Guitars, kicks off with its longest song, ‘Rifle Eyesight’, during which the album title is referenced for the first, and to these ears, last time. Featuring at least three song cycles, over eight minutes interspersed with portentous clanging piano and droning cello, it’s where the album finds its most cerebral and otherworldly ambition. In that regard, it almost seems like it’s followed by nine B-sides. But faithful listeners will find that what follows does indeed have its own agenda…
‘Shore Points’ calms things down a bit with its 2 and a half minutes of ’70s-inflected melody; ‘Keep Me Waiting’ is a relentless noisy assault; there’s almost a ballad in ‘Plainclothes’, with its sweet, down-tempo intro. “There was a man who killed a state trooper / drove his pickup truck to Belmar” is an effective enough MacGuffin, but the band’s Boss Super Overdrive pedals are never far away. Their enthusiasm for multiple dynamics within the same song does lead to confusion in the listener – if you want heavy, this is too quiet in places, if you want quiet, this is too loud. An indication of lack of experience in the songwriting department, or a stubborn adhesion to their modus operandi?
‘Another Tunguska’, referencing the 1908 incident when 830 square miles of Russian forest were turned to matchwood by the impact of a meteoroid, works better in concept than execution. Plenty of considered noise, delicate interludinousness, and the listener is none the wiser as to CEG’s opinion on asteroid deflection strategies. Oddly, the lyrics “1927 / an explosion” seem to contradict the facts, and the sleigh bells at the beginning hardly set the scene of the June day when the incident took place. Presumably this is an allegorical tale rather than a literal one; with lyrics clear in the mix we would be able to tell, but in fact when the band gets going the lack of vocal clarity prevents further penetration into the underlying lyrical themes. It could be a shame, or it could be a blessing – without knowing the words it’s impossible to tell.
Slightly off-topic, there’s a developing lack of enunciation in the English-speaking world, primarily, but not limited to, the United States of America. The American accent in its finest heyday was defined by a slurred coolness; unfortunately this translates badly to latter-day communication, where coolness should take a back seat to precision. All too often the apparent style is a mask for imprecision in language: it’s only when you have something of true import to say that poor diction can be ignored. Of course, there are plenty of very well-spoken Americans, but their numbers are dwindling, as are the numbers of well-spoken Englishmen as regional accents become not just acceptable, but positively encouraged in the postmodern media. It is accepted that one should not be barred from a job in the broadcasting industry for being from the regions, but a certain level of conventional recognisability is desirable, in order that one’s message may be understood by the greatest number of listeners, no matter what regional accent they are used to. The plummy, exaggerated caricature of an English gentry-class accent that was called Received Pronunciation is all but dead in the media, but still thriving in certain private circles – perhaps it is time to introduce what might be called Plain English, on the basis that for every effort you, the speaker or singer make to pronounce your consonants, the listening multitude will have to make less of an effort to hear, making it more likely your message will be understood. It’s for your benefit, not theirs. Joseph D’Agostino, take note.
Anyway, back on message. The vocals are the only piece of the mix not to exhibit beautiful listenability – the drums, and toms in particular, have a depth and impact which is surely the sign of an analogue master, and worth the negligible impact of some tape hiss in the quieter sections. The guitars are panned reasonably hard left and right throughout, Beatles-style; slightly unnerving at first, but all the better to understand the dynamic of the band. Those lyrics that can be discerned show an obsession with mortality and the bodily malfunctions that ensure that condition. Milky cataracts, contusions, and aneurysms all make an appearance, along with one reference to orgasm which makes clear that that the price of dying isn’t an entirely worthless gamble.
Fans of Modest Mouse and their ilk should be happy that there is a younger band making interesting music in the same style, and it should be noted that CEG do sound fresh and listenable. This is an album that requires careful attention; almost too careful considering its muddy lyrics. Perhaps a piece of work that rewards buying on physical media so one can ponder the lyric sheet whilst appreciating the power within the music. The slightly unbalanced dynamic of having the longest song at the beginning, and several short pieces towards the end does buck the usual trend, but there is lots here to recommend to fans of well-recorded, complex guitar music. The metaphorical Alien should be proud of his influence on such Earthbound excellence.
‘Lenses Alien’, the second album from Cymbals Eat Guitars, is available now from Memphis Industries.
Greg Dulli’s reputation precedes him if not anything else. The following he gained through the Afghan Whigs was phenomenal and when that project was abandoned he always had the Twilight Singers to fall back on. Now 5 albums in and with a host of world tours and a triumphant showing at Glastonbury under their belt, the band have released ‘Dynamite Steps’.
It’s been 5 years since the release of the critically acclaimed ‘Powder Burns’, and ‘Dynamite Steps’ doesn’t just look to build on the fiercely emotional concepts detailed in the record. Instead, it looks to completely change them. Dulli enlisted his old friend Mark Lanegan for this album along with Joseph Arthur and Petra Haden providing support. Ani DiFranco and the Verve’s Nick McCabe also feature prominently in this record.
‘Dynamite Steps’ is nothing that you would not expect of Greg Dulli’s work, as you would expect the underlying themes of loss, remorse and mortality is apparent throughout. But there really is nobody who portrays morbidity better than Greg Dulli and here lies the attraction to the record. Ballad ‘She was Stolen’ is a close as Dulli can get to romance in this effort, and while it may seem strained at first, it does evolve into something quite sonically palatable. ‘On The Corner’ explores the darker romanticist in Dulli and is a clear indication that he has moved on from the parodies of his earlier efforts. ‘Last Night in Town’ is a perfect opener to this album though and sets the scene as expected with a mix of Dulli’s morbid vocals and a casual, yet piercing guitar riff.
The faults though for this album are abundant, and it falls victim of being one of those records which just isn’t that interesting on a second listen. At times it is difficult to differentiate one track from another and the final two tracks of the record might as well just be ignored. So with that it’s difficult to pronounce this album a success. The record explores concepts which Dulli has grown all too familiar with and from my estimations has worn out already.
‘Dynamite Steps’ is available now. You can download the track ‘Don’t Call’ by the Twilight Singers below.