hopesandovalHope Sandoval, best known as the lead singer for the 90’s band Mazzy Star, returns with her second solo record, eight years after her first one. To say that it’s reminiscent of both that first album, Bavarian Fruit Bread, and her work with Mazzy Star is something of an understatement, but then this is a very good thing. Sandoval’s richly evocative, heavily atmospheric blend of folk, country, blues and rock is as striking, beautiful and mysterious sounding as it has ever sounded, so fans who have been patiently, or not so patiently, waiting for new material from Sandoval will be amply rewarded. (She also has gone on record as saying another Mazzy Star album is forthcoming, though she gave no indication of a possible release date.) Her voice, which is perhaps one of the most distinctive in modern rock, is alone worth the price of admission, though musically and lyrically, Through The Devil Softly finds her and her band to be in top form, even more so than on her first solo record. Hopefully it won’t take Sandoval the better part of another decade to record a third one. Standout cuts: “Blanchard,” “For The Rest Of Your Life,” “Trouble” and “Satellite.”


Monsters Of Folk

September 20, 2009

monstersoffolk Not every track on Monsters Of Folk, the self-titled album from the indie folk supergroup composed of Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis (both of Bright Eyes), M. Ward and Jim James (My Morning Jacket) is a winner, but standout material ranks among the best work these artists have yet done. While the majority of the album sticks to Americana, country, rock, pop and, of course, folk, it takes a surprising turn even now and then, too, as with the stellar opening track, “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.),” which has an old school soul vibe running through it, or “Losin Yo Head,” which melds power pop with a bit of psychedelic rock. The very best songs, “Temazcal” and “His Master’s Voice,” are startlingly good, lyrically provocative and strong, musically arresting and powerful, and are alone worth the price of admission here. Initial interest in Monsters Of Folk will probably be strongest among fans of its individual members, but the quality of its music deserves a broader audience as well. Standout cuts: “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.),” “Temazcal,” “Magic Marker” and “His Master’s Voice.”


takenbytreeseastEast Of Eden, the second album from Taken By Trees, the solo project of Victoria Bergsman, may be a short album with 9 tracks clocking in just over 32 minutes, but it packs a pretty powerful wallop by its conclusion. The core material of the album was recorded over a six day period in Pakistan with the help of local musicians. It’s an almost perfectly conceived set of moody acoustic indie pop augmented, enhanced and sometimes transformed by the contributions of the musicians with which Bergsman collaborated. In the middle of the record Bergsman has also placed two non-English language tracks, one in Swedish and the other a Pakistani track called “Wapas Karna,” and follows those up with an inspired cover of the Animal Collective song “My Girls,” here entitled “My Boys.” It ends on a lovely note with the instrumental “Bekännelse,” which preserves the ambient noises of its original recording session, including what sounds like the shout of a child at the very beginning. East Of Eden will certainly take its place as one of the most memorable indie pop records of the year. Standout cuts: “To Lose Someone,” “Watch The Waves,” “Greyest Love Of All” and “My Boys.”


mastersoftheburialMeant to evoke nocturnal wanderings of the mind as one prepares to go to sleep, Amy Millan’s second solo album, Masters Of The Burial, is appropriately moody, melancholy and occasionally oddly hopeful. Loss, getting lost and letting go are all themes visited and revisited in the 11 tracks included here, which are a mix of original songs and covers. Musically, county is obviously a primary influence on Masters Of The Burial, but Millan also weaves in folk and pop as well, and makes the most of string and horn sections that appear, sometimes in very subtle ways, on some of the songs. Front and center, however, is her gorgeous, evocative voice, one of my favorites in contemporary indie pop. This is a beautiful, elegantly crafted album, and definitely recommended. Standout cuts: “Bruised Ghosts,” “Old Perfume,” “Bury This” and “Run For Me.”


choirThis Is For The White In Your Eyes, the new album from Denmark based band Choir Of Young Believers, is one of those ambitious, grandly scaled albums of indie pop that might’ve ended up silly and overwrought in lesser hands, but instead turned out to be a moody, serious minded, sometimes even sublime collection of music The band has earned some Radiohead comparisons, though I imagine mostly for the lead vocals, which do recall Thom Yorke at times. Musically, however, they have more of a folk foundation, upon which they layer orchestral pop, soul and rock. Their musical influences certainly shine through, but it’s the execution of the music that’s the real draw here. It’s consistently, almost hypnotically good, with many of the tracks flowing into each other. Certainly recommended for indie pop fans, but for everyone, really. Standout cuts: “Hollow Tree,” “Next Summer,” “Action/Reaction” and “Claustrophobia.”


cavesingersWelcome Joy, the second album from Seattle based band the Cave Singers, hits on an appealing mix of folk and Americana by way of Neil Young and My Morning Jacket, and classic rock by way of Fleetwood Mac. In fact, the latter influence, specifically Lindsay Buckingham’s, is so pronounced on some tracks, it’s as if Buckingham had formed a folk rock band. Of course, I mean this as a compliment, since Buckingham is a master musician. The music on Welcome Joy has a traditional sound to it, but it’s also inventive and diverting enough to distinguish itself from the large numbers of bands now working along a similar line. The lyrics are earnest and affirmative without being corny or cliched, which is refreshing in itself. All in all, this is a solid, enjoyable album, recommended especially for fans of folk and rock. Standout cuts: “Summer Light,” “In The Cut,” “Beach House” and “I Don’t Mind.”


sthelensA band that sounds like equal parts the Velvet Underground, early Sonic Youth and the Brian Jonestown Massacre? I’m in! Australian band St Helens’ new album pulls together a number of familiar influences into something that somehow gels into a dark, seductive but still strangely fun set of music. The general feel of the album, lyrics included, is jaded and somewhat sinister, an overall mood that’s tempered by a wit that makes itself known without being overbearing. Heavy Profession is a pretty cool, confident debut, not without its flaws or missteps, particularly in its second half, but it’s certainly a record full of promise and one that offers up a lot of pleasure in the present. Standout cuts: “Don’t Laugh,” “How To Choose Your Guru Pt 2,” “Coffin Scratch” and “Get Up.”


drugrugFor the first four tracks, Cambridge based band Drug Rug sound strikingly as if Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac had gone back in time and formed a psychedelic folk band with echoes of the Mamas and the Papas; later, they sound like Melanie trying her hand at the psychedelic folk thing. I don’t mean that in any way as a criticism because Drug Rug’s second album, Paint The Fence Invisible, is one of the most pleasing collection of songs I’ve heard all year. There’s such a bittersweet, earnest vibe to the whole enterprise that I bought into it pretty much immediately. I love the harmonies, the inventive arrangements that begin with an acoustic guitar foundation and are layered upon with various psychedelic and pop touches, and I love the savvy blend of folk, blues, rock and pop. It’s a groovy psychedelic pop pleasure from start to finish, and I highly recommend it. Standout cuts: “Haunting You,” “Never Tell,” “Hannah Please” and “Don’t Be Frightened Of The Devil.”


Blue Roses

July 28, 2009

bluerosesThe LP debut of UK artist Blue Roses (Laura Groves) evokes musicians as varied as the Fairport Convention, Jane Siberry and Everything But The Girl, as well as acknowledged influences such as Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and the Cocteau Twins. It’s solidly in a folk tradition, with some classical and electronic music flourishes, and its broad range of influences keep things interesting, sometimes surprising, from track to track. It’s got just the right amount of elegance, inventiveness and quirkiness to recommend it to folk and chamber pop fans. It’ll make a perfect soundtrack to an early summer evening. Standout cuts: “Greatest Thoughts,” “I Am Leaving,” “Coast” and “Doubtful Comforts.”


portugalthemanForget the numerous album reissues being released in time for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock: Here’s your soundtrack for the Summer of Love circa 2009, Alaska based band Portgual. The Man’s latest record, The Satanic Satanist. It’s a potent blend of rock, psychedelic folk, soul and experimental pop, as evocative of the free spirited, groundbreaking music of the 60’s as any endlessly played and overplayed reissue. The Satanic Satanist is packed with musical ideas, so much so that it seems a longer album than its 35 minute running time would seem to indicate. And despite my retro comparisons, it’s a very modern sounding, forward thinking indie pop record, and one of the most enjoyable, addictive and listenable released so far this year. Standout cuts: “People Say,” “Work All Day,” “The Sun” and “The Woods.”