New Zealand based singer/songwriter Liam Finn makes his debut with the thoroughly engaging I’ll Be Lightning, a collection of 14 tracks that immediately establish him as someone to watch. If you notice a mild vocal similarity to Neil Finn, then it’s because Liam is Neil’s oldest son, but on I’ll Be Lightning, Liam stakes out a sound all his own (quite literally, as he played most of the instruments himself). A lot of the music here is folk and pop inspired, with some Beatles influence here and there, though there’s a sort of screeching acid rock freakout that concludes “Lead Balloon,” which is Finn throwing in a curve ball occasionally. A solid debut, worth your time if you’re a fan of Elliott Smith or even Neil Finn. Standout cuts: “Better To Be,” “Second Chance,” “Lead Balloon” and “Energy Spent.”

Vampire Weekend

January 30, 2008

A lot of Brooklyn based band Vampire Weekend’s first album sounds a lot like Paul Simon’s albums Graceland and The Rhythm Of The Saints, which melded Simon’s literate, adult pop music with African musical influences, to great effect. “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” in particular sounds like it was directly influenced by Simon’s efforts. All that said, Vampire Weekend has more of a wise/sensitive guy indie vibe going for them, especially lyrically, and they do branch out with their own gloss on the sound, as on the strings heavy “M79,” one of the best songs on the album. Once you get past the obvious influences here, Vampire Weekend has made a pretty engaging, very catchy debut. Standout cuts: “Mansard Roof,” “A-Punk,” “M79” and “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance.”

Columbus, Ohio based band Times New Viking is sort of like a Guided By Voices for the 21st century, with its super lo-fi production and predilection for songs with very short running times (two minutes and under is typical here, with 16 songs done in just over a half an hour). It’s the production part that might make Times New Viking an acquired taste, as some of it’s so deliberately lo-fi that it often sounds like you’re listening to a static-ridden radio station, which may frustrate a lot of potential listeners. That said, if you can get past that aspect of their music, there’s some good indie rock to be had here, with a lot of it seemingly inspired by 60’s garage rock. Standout cuts: “Teen Drama,” “(My Head),” “Faces On Fire” and “End Of All Things.”

The Whitsundays

January 29, 2008

The debut album by Edmonton based band the Whitsundays gets off to a slow start with two good if unremarkable songs, but kicks into gear with “I Want It All” and maintains it for the rest of the album. They have a early to mid 60’s inspired pop rock sound, with most of their material being midtempo or so, though they slow things way down for a closing ballad called “Bring It On Home.” They add some modern indie pop touches to the mix, too, which keeps their music from sounding like mere imitation. A good first album, definitely worth checking out. Standout cuts: “I Want It All,” “Antisocial,” “Sorry James” and “Already Gone.”

Often using their synthesizers like old school punk bands used their buzzsaw sounding guitars, Brooklyn punks Team Robespierre breezes through 10 songs in 18 minutes, in true punk fashion. If it’s not necessarily groundbreaking, it’s spirited fun, and with a furious pace and call and response lyrics, their music is readymade for mosh pits. Standout cuts: “Black Rainbow,” “88th Precinct,” “Ha Ha Ha” and “Solid Gold.”

hooverphonicSolid indie debut for Belgian band Hooverphonic, who were previously on Sony, then departed when they felt the label failed to support their album No More Sweet Music. The President Of The LSD Golf Club is their first album since deciding to go it alone, and it’s more of the typically elegant, smooth sounding trip-hop and rock influenced pop music they’ve been making for well over a decade now. It’s actually one of the stronger albums I’ve heard by them, and “Expedition Impossible” is one of their best singles yet. For those fans of their previous efforts, or else of Stereolab or Portishead, The President Of The LSD Golf Club will no doubt put a smile on their faces. Standout cuts: “50 Watt,” “Expedition Impossible,” “Gentle Storm” and “Bohemian Laughter.”

“I’m finished.”

Intense, vivid portrait of several decades in the life of a misanthropic oilman, played by Daniel Day Lewis. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), There Will Be Blood mostly succeeds as a epic story centering on two predominant (if not the predominant) spheres of influences in American life, fundamentalist Christianity and corporate greed. It stumbles, however, in the final section, perhaps because that section takes place so long after the events Anderson spends most of the 2 and a half hour plus running time detailing. Crucial turns take place while the audience is busy filling in considerable blanks, so the turns aren’t nearly as effective as they might’ve been otherwise. All in all, however, There Will Be Blood is a very good, often great movie, anchored by a memorable performance by Lewis. The direction and music are reminiscent of silent films, with the opening sequence almost purely composed of images and music. That sequence and a baptism scene later in the film alone make There Will Be Blood worth watching.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Ambitious third album from San Diego based band Louis XIV starts out all glam rock and punkish, as decadent and playfully nasty as they’ve ever been, but by the last two tracks, they’ve jumped into a bigger, more epic sound, awash in strings arranged by Beck’s dad, David Campbell. That it all hangs together as a coherent pice is a pretty nifty trick by a band expanding their horizons by quite a lot on Slick Dogs And Ponies. It’s easily their best album. Standout cuts: “Air Traffic Control,” “There’s A Traitor In This Room,” “Stalker” and “Hopesick.”

Indie-style acoustic guitar heavy pop with a 60’s and early 70’s feel, Matt Costa’s music on his second album, Unfamiliar Faces, is easygoing and likeable. While there are a couple duds, such as “Emergency Call,” which seems ready made for the soundtrack of a Hollywood romantic comedy, most of Unfamiliar Faces has an easygoing, affable charm that goes a long way in selling the songs to listeners. Other songs such as “Bound” and “Heart Of Stone” have an edge to them that bodes well for future releases. Standout cuts: “Mr. Pitiful,” “Vienna,” “Cigarette Eyes” and “Bound.”

Startlingly good second album from British Columbia based band Black Mountain mixes elements from bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Sweet and other 70’s influences into music that’s part hard rock, part psychedelic, part progressive, part folk. Whatever you want to call the result, the soaring male and female vocals, big guitars and synths create a sound that’s powerful and beautiful and so, so very heavy. Though Black Mountain wears their influences on their sleeves, you haven’t quite heard anything like what they’ve come up with on In The Future, which reaches a delirious peak with the epic nearly 17 minute long “Bright Lights.” This is an early contender for album of the year, and it’s not even the end of January yet. There’s not a dud to be found on the 57 minute LP, but highlights include the aforementioned “Bright Lights,” the opener “Stormy High,” “Wucan” and “Queens Will Play.”