Headlights – Wildlife

October 15, 2009

headlightswildlifeI don’t think there’s any doubt that Champaign, Illinois based band Headlights ranks as one of the finest emerging American indie rock bands going. Their third album, Wildlife, further solidifies their standing, striking just the right balance between the guitar based indie rock of their first record and the dream pop of their second. Erin Fein and Tristan Wraight once again trade off vocals, amid music that’s often densely layered, atmospheric and melancholic. (More buoyant sounding songs like “Secrets,” “Get Going” and “I Don’t Mind At All” provide counterweight to that last quality.) There’s also a notable lyrical maturity that permeates the entire record, but especially evident on songs like “Love Song For Buddy,” “We’re All Animals” and the haunting “Slow Down Town.” It’s hard to imagine them delivering a more satisfying record than this one, one that keeps getting more beautiful and complex the more one listens to it. Standout cuts: “Secrets,” “Get Going,” “I Don’t Mind At All” and “Slow Down Town.”

http://www.myspace.com/headlights

inandoutofcontrolA cursory listen to In And Out Of Control, the new album from Danish but US based band the Raveonettes, may give the impression that the band is playing it safe and treading on familiar musical ground, but it’s in fact one of their strongest albums yet. Yes, their mix of droning, fuzzy guitars with 50’s and 60’s rock and pop is still in effect here, but it’s in the service of darker, sometimes harsher material, both lyrically and musically, as songs with titles like “Boys Who Rape (Should Be Destroyed)” and “Suicide” might indicate. “Break Up Girls!” starts with a shrillness that almost sounds like screaming, and the album in general has a more confrontational feel to it. Somehow they’ve managed to make it all sound energizing and dance floor ready for the most part, despite the overall dark tone. I wonder if this is an album some fans will feel put off by, but I liked it a lot, and definitely recommend giving it a chance. Standout cuts: “Bang!,” “Gone Forever,” “Last Dance” and “Break Up Girls!”

http://www.myspace.com/theraveonettes

Girls – Album

September 27, 2009

girlsalbumAlbum, the new record from San Francisco based band Girls (Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White), didn’t exactly set me on fire the first time I heard it. I didn’t hate it, but something about the way it mixed 50’s and 60’s rock and pop styles with distinctly modern, angst ridden and sometimes profane lyrics just rubbed me the wrong way. I did like “Hellhole Ratface,” however, which starts out as a gentle Wall Of Sound influenced ballad and gradually builds into a droning guitar shoegaze influenced workout. It’s such a good song that I had to go back and listen to the album again, and I finally started to get what was bugging me about the record. The songs that influence the material on Album are frequently about complex emotions and situations that are distilled into simple, sometimes deliberately evasive lyrics. Girls, however, bring those complexities to the surface with startling and often deeply unsettling honesty, as on “Lust For Life”: “I wish I had a father / Maybe then I would’ve turned out right / But now I’m just crazy, totally mad / Yeah, I’m just crazy, I’m fucked in the head…” Of course, bands like Belle and Sebastian have made sweet sounding music laced with lyrical acid in the past, but yet the work Girls have done on Album has a unique power all its own, accomplished without a surfeit of irony or campiness. If you can listen to the album on its own terms, I think it will make for a remarkable experience. Standout cuts: “Lust For Life,” “Laura,” “Hellhole Ratface” and “Summertime.”

http://www.myspace.com/girlssanfran

higherthanthestarsListeners who were sold on Brooklyn band The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s combination of droning fuzzy guitar/Wall of Sound rock and jangle/twee pop will find this EP, which features four new songs along some remixes, to be pretty much required listening. The songs, most of which have been staples of their live show, are as good as anything on their debut record, released earlier this year. The title track may be my favorite song by them so far, in fact, and the EP’s got a stellar remix done by none other than Saint Etienne. That song and the other highlight here, “Falling Star,” in particular have a strong 80’s feeling to them, while “103” and “Twins” owe a debt to both 80’s Jesus and Mary Chain and 90’s bands like My Bloody Valentine. I think I actually enjoy this EP better than I did the LP; at any rate, this will be a band I will be paying special attention to from now on.

http://www.myspace.com/thepainsofbeingpureatheart

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

September 13, 2009

popularsongsI suppose there’s no typical way an album from Hoboken based band Yo La Tengo sounds like at this point, even 25 years into their career. Perhaps the one question a longtime Yo La Tengo listener may ask is, “Well, are there any long songs?” And why, yes, there are, three of them, in fact, that comprise the last three tracks on the record and account for over half of the 70 minute plus total running time. The first of these long songs, “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven,” is a lovely ballad that pairs its male and female vocals with a distorted guitar line that runs through the entirety of its 9 minute plus length. The other two tracks are mostly instrumental, the final track ending the album with a nearly 16 minute acid rock guitar jam. So that’s over half the album, time-wise. What about the first 9 tracks? They’re a blend of indie, psychedelic and garage rock, with some 60’s inspired pop and lounge numbers thrown in as well. In other words, it’s similar in approach to their two recent albums, with similarly excellent results, by and large. I could have done with at least one more rocker along the lines of “Nothing To Hide,” and generally speaking, Popular Songs doesn’t quite rise to the delirious heights of 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, but it’s still good stuff. Standout cuts: “Here To Fall,” “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar,” “Nothing To Hide” and “Periodically Double Or Triple.”

http://www.myspace.com/yolatengo

Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

August 26, 2009

arcticmonkeyshumbugPast fans of UK based band Arctic Monkeys may be somewhat disconcerted and may even be disappointed by full on rock numbers being largely displaced by slow burning numbers on their third album, but if the songs on Humbug lack some of the front loaded force of previous releases, they more than make up for it with their moody, often very heavy arrangements and generally rich atmosphere. This is not to say that the album is entirely bereft of rockers, as it kicks off with two good ones, “My Propeller” and the first single, “Crying Lightning,” while others work themselves into rock crescendos, like “Fire And The Thud” (which features Alison Mosshart of the Kills and the Dead Weather) and “Dance Little Liar.” And while their musical approach has been altered, their lyrics remain as witty and sardonic as ever. I imagine Humbug will divide fans, but all in all, this is a solid record for them, and worth checking out. Standout cuts: “My Propeller,” “Crying Lightning,” “Dangerous Animals” and “Pretty Visitors.”

http://www.myspace.com/arcticmonkeys

jayreatardWatch Me Fall, the new album from Memphis rocker Jay Reatard, skilfully genre hops between garage rock, punk and power pop with pretty irresistible results for fans of those genres, or just plain old good rock and roll. Reatard, whose vocals often recall Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, is equally adept with both hard driving punk numbers like the opener “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and “Faking It” and acoustic guitar based power pop numbers like “I’m Watching You” and “Wounded.” Psychedelic garage rock tunes like “Before I Was Caught” and the terrific closer “There Is No Sun” also go a long ways in showing his versatility. Fans of Reatard’s past collection of singles will see both a continuity and a progression, the latter in particular because he’s simply becoming a better and better songwriter: He’s pretty much mastered all the genres contained on this record, and his lyrics are by turns feverish, paranoid, witty, angry and romantic. Watch Me Fall flies by in 32 minutes, but the songs will stick with you a lot longer than that. Standout cuts: “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me,” “I’m Watching You,” “Wounded” and “There Is No Sun.”

http://www.myspace.com/jayreatard

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.”

http://www.myspace.com/thecavesingers

Bad Veins

August 6, 2009

badveinsA band that sounded a bit like Interpol crossed with the Arcade Fire, frequently backed by cinematic sounding strings and synths, may not have sounded immediately good to me, but Cincinnati based duo Bad Veins (Benjamin Davis and Sebastein Schultz) make it work surprisingly well. In fact, their self-titled album is a pretty solid debut, once it gets past the opener, “Found,” which is one of the weaker tracks. “Gold And Warm” and “Crosseyed” kick things off in earnest, both of which would have been more likely openers. Most of the music is firmly in a dramatic, often anthemic vein (no pun intended), though the duo is creative enough with their musical arrangements to put their own stamp on the genre. Not all of it works as well as the two aforementioned tracks, or as well as “The Lie” and “Falling Tide,” the other two highlights, but in general this was was a pleasant surprise for me, and a promising discovery.

http://www.myspace.com/BadVeins

generationalsconlawNew Orleans based band Generationals makes its debut with Con Law, a stylish indie pop record that plays mix and match with genres, mostly New Wave style guitar and electropop as filtered through the 60’s, and sometimes vice versa. The retro pop field is admittedly pretty populated these days, but by adding in touches like a horn section and some soulful vocals, the band creates a big, diverse sound, and are able to keep things interesting from track to track. Con Law is a fun, very summery album, and recommended for indie pop and electropop fans. Standout cuts: “Nobody Could Change Your Mind,” “When They Fight, They Fight,” “Our Time 2 Shine” and “Exterior Street Day.”

http://www.myspace.com/generationals