Mew – No More Stories…

August 27, 2009

mewAdequately describing the music on Danish band Mew’s new album, No More Stories…, would seem to bear out the oft repeated quote that goes, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” (Elvis Costello went on to add that it was “a really stupid thing to want to do.”) That said, my impression of the general sound of the album is what music made by Sigur Ros, Animal Collective and Brian Wilson might sound like. It’s a beautifully made record, sometimes densely layered, other times not, imbued with a sense of wonder and a melancholia that often co-exist side by side inside a song. Though No More Stories… aims to push some boundaries, it’s also very accessible and highly listenable, reaching a sort of high point in the second half of the record with three tracks that constitutes a section unto themselves, “Hawaii,” “Vaccine” and “Tricks Of The Trade.” The songs are emblematic of the rest of the record in that they seamlessly blend pop with elements of folk, electronica, world music and rock into a soaring, heady, gorgeous mix. Fans of experimental and indie pop should definitely not miss this record, which is certainly one of the best releases of the summer. Standout cuts: “Beach,” “Silas The Magic Car,” “Cartoons And Macramé Wounds” and “Tricks Of The Trade.”

brianbonzFor their debut LP, Brooklyn based band Brian Bonz and the Dot Hongs have made a set of music that’s part pop by way of bands like Split Enz and Death Cab For Cutie, one part ornate chamber and psychedelic pop by way of Aimee Mann and Jon Brion, and one part 80’s synthpop. Throw in some strings, the occasional banjo and some other esoteric instrumentation and you have a good sense of the music on From Sumi To Japan. There’s some undercooked, underdeveloped material here, and it tapers off a bit towards the end, but it’s a solid first record, filled with appealing, inventive, and intelligently made indie pop. Standout cuts: “Judy & The Alpha Queen,” “Kid Shit,” “Dee The Dinosaur” and “Seafence.”

imgoingawayThough the new album from Brooklyn based band the Fiery Furnaces lacks a unifying conceptual theme, it’s tied together by a jazzy pop sound. There are also a number of nods to the past, starting with the title track, a newly arranged “traditional,” but continuing on tracks like “Charmaine Champagne” and its companion song “Cups & Punches.” Though there’s still a pretty strong art rock feeling to the whole proceedings, mostly I’m Going Away, despite it’s somewhat grim title, is a pretty lightweight, easygoing and fun affair. I liked the first half better than the second half, but that said, the times I’ve listened to it, I’ve ended up listening to it all the way through. Not sure this is a breakthrough album for the Fiery Furnaces, though it’s certainly enjoyable for the most part. Standout cuts: “Drive To Dallas,” “The End Is Near,” “Charmaine Champagne” and “Keep Me In The Dark.”

mostsereneImagine a 60’s pop vocal group along the lines of the Association backed by a noise pop band, and that’s close to the sound of much of …And The Ever Expanding Universe, the new record from Ontario based band The Most Serene Republic. They blend male and female vocals, often trading off, with songs influenced by rock, electronic and classical music, and jazz, with a heavy experimental bent. Inside the multi-layered, multi-instrumental, almost chaotically busy arrangements are some real pop gems, among them “Heavens To Purgatory” and “Four Humours.” Other tracks get a bit lost in the density of the production. Overall, however, this is an intelligent, engaging album, a beautifully busy summer record for an increasingly busy world. Standout cuts: “Bubble Reputation,” “Heavens To Purgatory,” “Phi” and “Four Humours.”

lungsLungs is the auspicious debut for UK based Florence and the Machine, that is, Florence Welch and and her backing band. Welch has gotten a lot of hype in her home territory, but not so much in the United States, however, though with the release of her record here, that will hopefully change. Add the fiery pop of Sinead O’Connor, the eccentric, eclectic arty beauty of Kate Bush, mix in the experimental tendencies of both artists along with some punk and a bit of soul and you have a sense of what you’re in for with Lungs. After releasing some brilliant singles, including “Dogs Days Are Over,” the surrealistic “Kiss With A Fist” and the current “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” I can’t imagine Welch coming up with a more pleasing debut that more than delivers on the early promise of those first releases. It’s pop music delivered with force, verve and real joy and passion. Or, to put it simply, it’s one of this summer’s essential releases. Standout cuts: “Dog Days Are Over,” “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” “Howl” and “You’ve Got The Love.”

veckimestBrooklyn based band Grizzly Bear’s third album, Veckatimest, is a complex, often astonishing fusion of indie and psychedelic rock with folk and experimental pop, that starts out with an engaging beauty (“Southern Point” and “Two Weeks”) and climaxes in musical and emotional dissonance (“I Live With You”). Despite its esoteric nature, or perhaps, more accurately, because of that nature, Veckatimest is a highly listenable record, a self consciously arty album that also affords the simple pleasure of hearing music well played. It’s by no means difficult listening, at any rate, though it’s unlikely that single run through of Veckatimest will be enough to fully appreciate everything that’s been poured into it; the latter quality actually makes it a bit fun, though it’s a complicated sort of fun, to be sure. Not all of the album worked for me, i.e. the aforementioned “I Live With You,” which I found myself admiring more than liking, but in general, Veckatimest is an album indie rock and pop fans shouldn’t miss. Standout cuts: “Southern Point,” “Two Weeks,” “Cheerleader” and “While You Wait For The Others.”

livingthingTo their credit, Sweden based band Peter Bjorn and John’s followup to their international commercial breakthrough, Writers Block, is definitely not Writers Block 2, though it may also not be the album to further widen their audience base. It’s a mix of the savvy, affable pop from their last effort with some electronica and experimental pop along with some world music influences, and the result is eclectic sounding, if maddeningly uneven. It’s not so much the presence of bad songs, but songs that are unfocused or just sort of fizzle out, i.e., “I’m Losing My Mind.” Fortunately, there are enough songs like “It Don’t Move Me,” “Just The Past,” the current single “Nothing To Worry About,” the cheerfully profane “Lay It Down” and others that, if not make up for the material that doesn’t work, work to smooth things over a bit. Cheers again to the band for not taking the obvious route with this album as even if it doesn’t always work out, it’s good to see a band like this willing to take some risks.

elvisperkinsindearlandThough this is the second release from Elvis Perkins, Elvis Perkins In Dearland is the first release with him billed as part of his band. Though I enjoyed Ash Wednesday, Perkins’ debut, this second album is even better, as the songwriting on Elvis Perkins In Dearland is even more assured this time around. If there’s a single influence that comes through the most, it’s maybe Tom Waits, whose mastery at combining sentiment and sly humor with the most experimental of music surely inspired Perkins and his band here, especially on tracks like “I’ll Be Arriving” and “Doomsday.” The music, a sometimes lush, sometimes raucous mix of folk, Americana, rock and jazz, is first rate, performed by a band with an impressive range. Definitely recommended. Standout cuts: “Shampoo,” “I Heard Your Voice In Dresden,” “Send My Fond Regards To Lonelyville” and “123 Goodbye.”

hazardsofloveThe term “concept album” has always given me more than a little pause, since it could anything from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to Styx’s Kilroy Was Here. According to its press, The Hazards Of Love, the new album from Portland based band the Decemberists, “tells the tale of Margaret (voiced by Becky Stark), a woman from a city near the forest, and her lover William (voiced by Colin Meloy, lead singer and songwriter), a shape-shifting forest dweller. Margaret discovers she is pregnant, and sets off into the forest to find William. Their love is threatened by the jealous forest queen (voiced by Shara Worden), and a murdering knave.” I am happy to report that The Hazards Of Love is much closer to Sgt. Pepper’s than Kilroy. Though I found the story hard to follow at times, having listened to it the first couple of times without the benefit of a lyric sheet, and though I was somewhat exhausted by the album as a whole by the time it was finished, I found the album to be richly entertaining, and, thankfully, more fun than pretentious. What makes the album really work is the music, which is an often dazzling and headspinning mix of chamber pop, country, folk, and Americana, with some heavy metal guitars thrown in as well. The Hazards Of Love is by no means a perfect record, and at times it’s a bit goofy and silly, but I admire the band for taking on such an ambitious, risky and potentially disastrous project and turning it into something that’s generally a lot of fun to listen to. Standout cuts: “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone),” “Won’t Want for Love (Margaret In the Taiga),” “Isn’t It a Lovely Night?” and “The Rake’s Song.”

DM Stith – Heavy Ghost

March 12, 2009

dmstith“like the birds we spoke with fire…”

On my first couple of listens to DM Stitch’s full length debut, Heavy Ghost, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I could appreciate the obvious skill and passion that went into making the record, but I also felt very removed from it at times, the way one can feel removed from a work of art that’s intensely personal in nature. After a few listens, however, I started to like it quite a bit more, and while I still find some of it arcane, I can say now that I think it’s quite an impressive first record. Stith wrote and also performed for the most part the music on Heavy Ghost, which started, according to press for the record, as “folk songs with epic electronic gestures.” Throw some chamber pop, classical, gospel and world music influences in there as well, and you have a better idea of the broad, epic scope Stith’s music has here. Lyrically, it’s concerned with Stith’s struggles with spirituality. It’s a powerful theme, and the attendant confusion, despair and joy are rendered in powerful ways. Stith’s voice is also something of a marvel, and his singing matched with the music sometimes seems like a collaboration between Animal Collective and Antony and the Johnsons. Heavy Ghost is complex and often difficult, but it’s definitely recommended for people who can appreciate music that doesn’t lack for ambition or courage. Standout cuts: “Pity Dance,” “Creekmouth,” “Fire Of Birds” and “Braid Of Voices.”