Friday, September 27, 2013

Five of the Best New Tracks

We’ve had a whirlwind of new releases lately, and something tells me you haven’t had time to check them all out. No worries! Here are the best five new tracks for you to give a try to. In time the whole albums may get their own reviews, but I wanted to highlight some tracks.

Volcano Choir – “Comrade”

Justin Vernon’s side project Volcano Choir was hit and miss on album #1, but album #2 is a can’t miss, showcasing more of the swelling sound that Vernon utilized on Bon Iver’s best tracks.

Kings of Leon – “Tonight”

Close call between “Tonight” and “Rock City” as the best song on the new Kings of Leon album.

The 1975 – “Robbers”

I’ve showcased “Chocolate” and “Sex”, but “Robbers” deserves some attention too.

CHVRCHES – “Recover”

Listening to CHVRCHES is like listening to a female M83. You may have already heard the great “Recover”, but it’s worth highlighting now that the full length album is out.

The Civil Wars – “Eavesdrop”

My personal favorite song from their new album, of which I still need to do a proper review.

Bonus track:

The Amazing – “Dragon”

This isn’t a new song, but I’d never heard it before, so passing it on. Caught it in the pleasant indie dramedy “Drinking Buddies” (Anna Kendrick AND Olivia Wilde by the way…) and thought I’d share.

Friday, September 13, 2013

London Grammar – “If You Wait”

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★1/2

It’s been a long wait for London Grammar’s debut album, “If You Wait”. For the past year it seems, London Grammar has been releasing single tracks of astounding strength. “Wasting My Young Years” has been tracking to be one of the best songs of the whole year long before the proper full album came out. The result? A perfectly apt album title, promising the best debut album of 2013 if you just could hold on until release day.

What makes London Grammar so great is the way they pull together the strengths of so many artists into one cohesive band. The most distinct part of London Grammar is probably the deep female lead vocal courtesy of Hannah Reid. The Florence + The Machine comparisons are probably apt, but her vocals are more reminiscent of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand most of the time, although she tends to soar more like a gentler Florence. Musically, I dare say a proper comparison would be Past and the Pending favorite The National, which a deft assortment of dark guitar, piano, synth strings, and a whole lot of drama and mood. If you’re a fan of dramatic, string-laden, powerful alternative rock, then you should download this album now.

There truly are nothing but good songs on this album, so I’ll focus on the strengths among the strengths, particularly the unbeatable middle trio of “Wasting My Young Years”, “Sights”, and “Strong”. “Wasting My Young Years” is a pulsating, forward moving song propelled by racing drums, building piano and strings, and a passionate and sincere vocal from Reid. When Reid sings “I’m wasting my young years/it doesn’t matter here/I’m chasing old ideas” over a particularly excellent electric guitar bit, the song strikes an emotional chord. It’s a dazzling and moving track. “Sights”, a slow starter baring Reid’s voice over piano and distant guitar, builds and builds into a goosebump-producing, string-laden bridge. “Strong”, a song about helplessness despite the title’s indication, implores lyrically, but it’s built mostly on the strength of Reid’s reverberating vocals and the dramatic swirl of piano and string and guitar that serves as the songs undercurrent.

I’m purposely going to stop here, because I know I could go on and on about the tracks, and no one wants to hear that. “Hey Now”, “Shyer”, “If You Wait”, “Metal & Dust”, and others deserve attention. And that guitar on “Nightcall”? Interpol would be proud. This is an album for independent and alternative music fans who don’t mind, or prefer, an influx of melody, piano, and drama into their music. Nothing here is overly experimental or earth-shattering, but it sure is executed nearly to perfection and with shocking confidence and skill for a debut album. Hopefully London Grammar will be around for years to come.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jars of Clay – “Inland”

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★1/2

The nice thing about running your own blog is the ability to review whatever the flip you want to review. So allow me to claim that I might be the only reviewer you’ll find to post Jars of Clay right after a Daft Punk review. Yup, THIS IS MY BLOG AND I DO WHAT I WANT!!!

Jars of Clay are tough to tackle because I have too deep of a personal connection to them to be truly objective. More than basically any other band, they’ve been with me my whole life. Unlike other early loves that I had, I haven’t grown out of them (e.g. almost all punk pop) and I don’t look back at them almost strictly sentimentally (e.g. Michael W. Smith). In that sense Jars of Clay occupy a space next to Jimmy Eat World and Something Corporate/Jack’s Mannequin where I can barely distinguish between loving their music and loving what they’ve meant to me over the years.

Quick recap of who these guys are. Jars of Clay are a Grammy Award-winning band that are mostly regarded as a Christian band, though they’ve avoided the label over time. They started as a more acoustically-inclined coffee shop folk band, and somehow they’re close to alt/pop rock now. Once upon a time, Jars of Clay released a song called “Flood” which actually reached #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995, something unprecedented in “Christian” music. Eighteen years later this still sounds weird. You know what else sounds weird? Saying that that was 18 years ago. Dang.

Oh sure, like most fans, I do regard their first album as their best and I too went through a small stage where I wished they hadn’t abandoned the coffee shop sound. Heck, “Boy on a String” is still a five-star, meaning I consider it one of the 83 best songs I own. But I’ve still journeyed through Much Afraid and all the way through to 2013’s Inland, their 8th proper full album (there have been numerous little projects mixed in). I also venture to say it’s their best work in quite a while, at least taken on the whole. The Long Fall Back to Earth has “Safe to Land”--one of their best tracks ever--and ultimately compares similarly, but hasn’t warranted much airtime over the years. It’s certainly better than the Shelter project and much better than Good Monsters. Comparing further back than that starts to become arduous and unfair, as I haven’t had 10 years to evaluate.

Now, to the album itself. Opener “After the Fight” definitely plays like a lead single, but I’m impressed by the detail. Underneath the surface is some deft guitar work and great use of piano, especially in a sequence after the first chorus. “Reckless Forgiver”, introspective lyrics and all, also features a sentimental piece of strings, harkening back to the old times in a way that makes me smile. Softer numbers like “Fall Asleep” and “Pennsylvania”, move rather than bore. When Dan Haseltine cautions “be careful what you wish for” in the nostalgic “Pennsylvania”, it overwhelms with sincerity.

My top two tracks of this album are “Skin & Bones” and “Love in the Hard Times”. “Love in the Hard Times” merges many of Jars’ best alt-country sounds and knack for melody, presenting a relationship struggle song in the vein of aforementioned “Safe to Land”. “Skin & Bones” is an ode to marriage, seeing love in the difficult things: unseen problems, “too many mouths to feed”, and the like. On a personal note, as a married man all too used to being away from my wife (thanks to the military, and not the concert circuit like the band), I was struck to the core by the line “look over my love, while she sleeps tonight”, a plea to God to watch over someone who you feel like you’ve abandoned.

There’s more here, but I’ll leave the rest unsaid, as I’ve said enough already. If you’re a Jars fan this album is worth buying. If you have never heard of them, give them a try. If you’re confused by this review because it doesn’t match all my other reviews, hey, try it anyways, and then move along I suppose. And with that, my two faves and the lead single, for your listening pleasure:

The Boxer Rebellion – “Promises”

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I admit to feeling a little shame that I didn’t really know anything about The Boxer Rebellion until this year. I believe I’ve vaguely heard of them, but I owned no tracks, despite them being a British alt rock band with three full albums already under their belts. So if you’re like me, join me and discover them now, because there’s a lot to love. Let’s start with the reason that I bought this album in the first place, lead track “Diamonds”, a yearning and atmospheric track chalk full of sincere vocals and great synth and guitar work. “Are you angry at me now? Are you angry cause I’m to blame?”, sings Nathan Nicholson thoughtfully. The track is so good I bought the whole album on faith, which is a dangerous thing to do and has cost me lots of money over the years. I broke my own rule, which is never trust an album where the lead single is the lead track, because very often garbage is to follow. Thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule.

Second track “Fragile” has the distinction of being just as good as “Diamonds”, and only my mood determines which is better. I can assure you “Fragile” is better to run to, though, and I’ve already done it more than once. Songs like “Fragile” showcase the bands musical chops, combining a crescendo of guitars and keyboards and vocals into a swelling thing of magnificence. I so want to see it live. It would be a great concert closer.

It’s no knock on this album that the best two songs are the first two songs. Yes, the album peaks early, but there is plenty more. “Take Me Back” is as forward-moving as “Fragile”, showcasing once again the prominently good guitar work on the album. Nicholson voice hits a falsetto that soars over guitars and oh-ooohs. “Low” will strike a chord with Coldplay fans, pumping encouraging messages over piano and an up-tempo second half. “Keep Moving”, in the same vein as “Take Me Back”, propels itself along very well as well. The album’s two closers are excellent as well, concluding on the back’s of orchestral “Dreams” and soaring “Promises”.

This is an album for fans of Foals and Muse and the like. What The Boxer Rebellion lack in distinguishing characteristics, they make up for with superb execution, both musically and vocally. This is a nicely produced album from a group of professionals in a way that is a compliment. “Diamonds” and “Fragile” are certainly worth $2, but if you like them the rest of the album has many more treats.