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Month: March 2011

You should know about "No One Knows About Persian Cats"

For some reason I can’t embed video today (I don’t know either, just accept the truth and move on), but I still feel compelled to send you to the trailer for “No One Knows About Persian Cats.” It’s a brilliant movie that is equal parts documentary about the almost 2000 illegal rock bands in Tehran and feature film about a band trying to leave Iran for London. The documentary part is that all of the 12+ bands featured are real bands, and their music is good. The feature film part…well, you need to see that for yourself. Wow.

Jenny and Tyler grow leaps and bound in songwriting on the amazing 'Faint Not'

I’ve been following Jenny and Tyler for some time now. I’ve heard their music, seen them live and talked with them. Their charming folk-pop fell a little to the more serious side of the Weepies, and that was just great.

Faint Not blows everything out of the water. It’s almost not worth it to compare their new work with their old songs, because they’re just so much better. In one album, they’ve matured from a duo making fun and romantic music to a band crafting powerful songs.

They make this very clear on opening track “Song For You,” which unfolds from a gentle mandolin and guitar strum to a pounding, enveloping track that includes drums, bass, piano, guitar, mandolin, dual lead vocals and choir background vocals. I usually hate cymbals, but when the drummer starts mashing the crash in the high point of the song, it gives me goosebumps. When I turn it up loud, I forget to breathe.

The incredible part about the opener is that it’s not even the best track on the album. “Song For You” has powerful instrumentation, but its lyrics pale in comparison to the devastating “Faint Not” and “Through Your Eyes.”  Even though “Through Your Eyes” doesn’t have as marked a music crescendo, the emotional power wrenched out in the phrase “No one else has to know/about this” is incredible. The desperate cling to hope that is “Faint Not” resonated with me almost instantly. The great piano and guitar work helped out, of course; the gorgeous music video just put it over the top.

Jenny and Tyler share the vocal duties much more comfortably on this album than in previous efforts; they’re growing into themselves as a songwriting duo, and it shows in dynamic, powerful songs that draw from raw and honest wells. There are no maudlin breakup tunes here; instead, they ask deep soul and life questions. Just an attempt at lyrical depth makes me perk up; successful shots at it are simply remarkable.

The love songs have been cut down in number, but “As Long As Our Hearts Are Beating” bears more weight than their previous charming tunes. When you’re married you get to know each other pretty well, and while it shows not just in this song, this love song seems more real for the shared experience it’s grown out of.

The songs of Faint Not are an astonishing jump from their previous work. The whole album hangs together with an excellent flow, which is the sign of attention to detail. No matter if the songs are fast or slow, these tunes make my heart pound. Their newly fleshed-out tunes are head and shoulders above their old stuff, and above almost everything else I’ve heard this year.

Faint Not is a deep, meaningful folk/pop triumph, and it’s only their third full album. You’re forgiven for the clapping and jumping around you’re doing right now. Okay, maybe that’s just me.

Only Thieves write heartfelt, upbeat rock on "Heartless Romantics"

Oklahoma can’t seem to shake winter off my back (low of 38? When does the “out like a lamb” part get here?), but Only Thieves are certainly doing their best to bring summer my way with their album Heartless Romantics. The band’s jubilant, overclocked rock’n’roll harnesses crashing guitars, towering drums and passionate hollering into a barely contained boil. These are the type of songs sound 85% better with the windows down.

“Discoveries” has a buzzing riff that interlocks neatly with a drum pattern, and the same is true for “All the Sad Young Men.” The former eschews any hint of subtlety and just throws down for the entire song. The latter sets up the verses so the chorus is a payoff.”Pioneer Repair” shows a more pensive side that almost recalls Bloc Party, but the raw vocals invade the space and create a distinctly Only Thieves song.

The title track is a pensive piano rumination, which is somewhat surprising and somewhat not. It doesn’t feel like Only Thieves really mean it when they’re snide; it feels like they’re hiding their wounded hearts in layers of sneer and stomp. “Heartless Romantic” pulls back the veneer and displays the wounds that power the rest of these tunes. It even drops in a heartrending voicemail message from an ex. Somehow, it transcends cliche and becomes gorgeous.

Only Thieves know how to write guitar-centric upbeat rock. It’s not power-pop — it’s way heavier than The Cars or the Replacements — but it hearkens to that time period. If you get your rock on with huge, bright guitar riffs and sing/screaming till your voice hurts while driving around in the country, this one’s for you.

Quick hits: The Ashes/Depression State Troopers

Intimate, back porch folk tunes make up The AshesPhotoplay Music, the success of which relies heavily on the goodwill engendered by the hushed vocals of lead singer and mastermind Shane Vidaurri. If you’re down for a gentler, folkier take on Daniel Johnston, you’ll love the mood created by Vidaurri and co. The length may get you (16 songs over 46 minutes), but you’ll be enthralled for at least the first third. If you’re not into childlike vocals, then you’ll want to pass on this one.

Depression State Troopers, who are labelmates with The Ashes on Mint 400 Records, recorded a similar album in The Reason for the Fall. The back-porch intimacy is there, but these tunes have a bit more meat on their bones. Tunes like “I Love You Like the Night Loves the Moon” are fully fleshed out (in this particular case, with violin, piano, drums, bass and background vox), sticking in memory easily. “Best Time to Die” creates a haunting atmosphere with rumbling toms and grumbling low background vocals, while “In Time (Everything Will Be Alright)” features an accordion and a timeless feel. Recommended for those who thought Bon Iver was a bit too whiny.

Odds and ends from the inbox

I try very hard to keep my inbox clean. I have gone to great lengths to view the “no messages” notice before I log out. It’s just comforting to have some control over the situation. Yes, I know there’s a psychoanalysis here, but take off your Freud cap and roll with me.

Here’s a bunch of stuff that’s come into my inbox lately that I need to put in front of you.

Jenny and Tyler started giving away their incredible album “Faint Not” (the review of which I have not finished but will post sometime today) for free at Noisetrade on the 23rd. The free-ness runs till the 30th. You must jump on this emotive folk/pop gem.

The Boxing Lesson threw down this goofy, DIY video for instrumental psych track “Three.” Check it.

Charlotte & Magon are very rapidly moving up the list of bands to watch. They keep releasing stark, intimate, brilliant videos of incredible songs, and their latest is no different. A fingerpicked guitar, Charlotte’s elegant voice and a gentle arrangement makes “Black Horses” a mesmerizing tune.

In sadder news, Carter Hulsey‘s “The Love Is All Around Us” Tour ended in an unlovely fashion, when someone stole all the band’s stuff after the last show. More info and a donation link to help the band get back on its feet are here. The world is a hard place, and music makes it better. Let’s help Carter Hulsey win out over the evil in the world this time and get back to making it better with music.

Maniac music video + what I've been doing lately

This DIY little video made me smile. Maniac is a pop duo from Australia and America, which is why this video exists the way it does. Observe.

I hope to get back to writing CD reviews shortly. I was at SXSW, and I had my batteries recharged for the whole “reviewing bands” thing because of a chance meeting with The Felix Culpa, who are just as awesome live as they are on CD. But now that I have my batteries recharged, I need to put the fingers to the keyboard and start writing again. The harder bit, of course.

You need to watch the Faint Not music video

Guys. Guys, for real. You need to watch this. I haven’t been so blown away by a music video in a long, long time. The song, the cinematography, the concept, the other concept that meshes with the first concept… I sat with my mouth hanging open. Ladies and gentlemen, Jenny and Tyler’s “Faint Not”:

Expect a CD review of the CD, also titled “Faint Not,” very soon.

I haven't posted a rambling spiel about The Mountain Goats in a while.

Time moves too fast. I thought maybe I’d missed a few days and BAM! A week has gone by. I am either getting old or moving faster than everyone else through the time/space continuum. I am not sure what Einstein would have to say about this.

On that same note of getting old/moving faster than everyone else through the time/space continuum (I’m sure that scientists everywhere are laughing at my poor understanding of basic physics at this point, but I persist! And my persisting is probably faster than time itself!), I’ve been listening to less rock music lately. I’ve just really been enjoying quiet, spring-ish music, as opposed to the loud, spring-ish music I’m used to. The word is still out as to what I’ll be listening to this summer. Somehow, I doubt that I’ll still be “rocking” Get Lonely by The Mountain Goats (a. because the Mountain Goats have a sweet new album called All Eternals Deck that you can stream here [and you should, because 1. “Estate Sale Sign” is the new “Psalms 40:2” and 2. “Outer Scorpion Squadron” is awesomely named AND the new “Up the Wolves” with 5 years of calm added] and b. because five straight months of Get Lonely would probably leave me comatose). But, ridiculous sentences aside (man, I haven’t written one of those since I got a real writing job — and now this one is threatening to become the second in a row), Get Lonely has been growing on me a great deal.

Now I just need to buy Tallahassee and figure out why everyone loves it so much. And if I start liking Tallahassee as much as a good Mountain Goats fan should (although if this entirely statistical ranking is to be believed, I’m winning on the We Shall All Be Healed/Tallahassee battle, if only ever so slightly [MG fans humming right now get a high five; it’s “Going to Bogota,” and yes, I had to look it up, because I remembered that line but not the rest of the song (which happens often)]), I may start liking rock music more again.

And once that happens, I’ll be listening to Ghost Robot Ninja Bear as much as its entirely-too-awesome name demands I should. Because seriously, this band name is awesome. It sounds like very solid rock music, very accessible but not pandering to pop. I would say “like Anberlin!” but I think that pretty much every rock band that doesn’t suck sounds like Anberlin. I’m that far removed from rock criticism. I mean srsly, I’ve been listening to this indie stuff as a job (no, literally).

But I really like the name Ghost Robot Ninja Bear, as well as Chuck at Beartrap PR, who sent this over. Between Beartrap and Tiny Engines, he sends me a lot of good music that I haven’t been talking about, because I’ve been too busy un-rocking out to Letting Go of a Dream by Josh Caress and reading books to give it the number of spins it needs. It’s really hard for me to read a book when Monument or Cattle Drums is blowing up my ears. Then again, I don’t think many rock bands would want me to read a book while listening to them.

I would say that John Darnielle might, but then again his songs almost are books of their own. It’s like reading two books at once when I hear a new Mountain Goats song while reading. Which, honestly, I’ve never heard a new Mountain Goats song while reading, because I treasure every new MG song as an experience (I am starting to creep myself out by this point in the post, but I don’t think I have the energy to qualify my creepy statements into “well-informed but still fawning” ones). Which is why All Eternals Deck is/will be great. I may eventually be able to read to it. Hopefully read Einstein.

So there, time.

Siriusmo's electronic tunes expand his boundaries and maybe yours

I listen to some, but not a large amount of, electronic music. It’s safe to say I enjoy it, although I may not be the best guy to parse the ever-mutating strands of dubstep.

I do know this, though: I ended up with a Siriusmo track called “Let Me In!” somewhere along the way, and I love it. It has a playful attitude toward electronic music without giving in to being cheesy, as well as megatons of bass. On the strength of those two characteristics, I checked out his debut album Mosaik.

From the very get-go, he flexes his playfulness; the intro to the album is him false-starting on a synthesizer, with an audience becoming less and less enthused (even to the point of booing by the end of the intro). Then he launches into the opening track, and it gets real.

The all-encompassing bass is still present here, as well as his overlay of synths. The percussion element is toned down throughout the album, giving Siriusmo more room to play around with his melodies. And there are a lot of melodies here; there’s not as many samples as I expected, nor did I miss them that much. There are a lot of moments here that transcend mere club-thumping electronic music and just are solid pieces of music.

This is an up and a downside; by venturing out of the expected zones, he subjects himself to peers outside the normal set for music of this type. If you’re an electronic fan just recently branching out to other moods and feels, you’re going to love this. Moody downtempo gets its due, as well as some pensive indie-rock (if you replaced the synths with guitars, of course). If you’re looking into electronic music from outside it, you may be a bit underwhelmed. The sounds are solid, and the moods are right; but it’s missing a human element that makes Portishead more than just a slow, dark band.

It does help, however, that the album is 67 minutes long. If there are parts in Mosaik that you dislike, there’s bound to be more parts you enjoy. While no track here catches my attentions the same way that “Let Me In!” did, that really wasn’t the purpose. Siriusmo set out to make an album here, not a collection of singles. And in that, he succeeded. It’s up to your particular set of musical tastes to determine whether it will fit into or outside of your palette. But Siriusmo has held up his end of the deal in making a solid album with a personality, divergent moments from said personality and good flow throughout those bits. I like it.

Southeast Engine's Appalachian folk will grow into your consciousness

History has produced two of the most enigmatic and intriguing albums I’ve heard in a while. Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor used the Civil War as a catalyst for current cultural analysis, while Southeast Engine‘s Canary calls up the Great Depression to give a grounding to its Appalachian folk tunes.

The most immediate track here is “1933 (The Great Depression),” which shares more than just a historical bent with the art-damaged punk band from New Jersey. The jangling saloon piano that underpins Titus rings true in “1933,” giving an fire and urgency that is matched by the roaring guitar, which has a similar fuzzed-out tone to their punk brothers. The difference lies in the drums (not punk), the organ, and the vocals. The vocals are sung in a weary tone ratcheting up to indignation, where the opposite is true of Titus Andronicus.

In short, you can slap “1933 (The Great Depression)” right after “A More Perfect Union” as a great segue into a Josh Ritter tune, and people are gonna think you’re a genius.

But let me dispel any notions that this is the folk Titus Andronicus (although, for real, I’d take that moniker). This is a straight-up Appalachian folk band in many places, which is powerful. It’s bands like these that make me sad when the term folk is bandied about so liberally these days (even by me, I must admit).

The forlorn acoustic guitar beauty of “Mountain Child” sounds like it was ripped out of a forest on the side of some Adirondack peak. The vocal melody is haunting and genuine (at least, as genuine as modern folk gets, but that’s a whole other discussion). The flourishes (violin, sparing piano, background ooo’s) make the tune even more pristine.

The subtlety-eschewing “Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains” features a banjo prominently in its rustic mix, and the addition makes the tune. “Red Lake Shore” has a more urgent feel, but the modern songwriting idea still allows the song to fall firmly within the Appalachian folk tunes surrounding it.

Canary is the sort of album that you have to explore. You can’t just hear it once and know it. The mind-blowing “1933 (The Great Depression)” will reveal immediate payoff, but the rest of the album has to be put on and broken in like a good coat or a pair of work boots. This is an album that, much like its Appalachian forebears, is about being rather than getting there. The tunes have to sit with you and sink in for best appreciation. Imagine you had only dozens of songs at your disposal instead of millions; wouldn’t you get to know those tunes well? Yes. Do the same for Canary. It will reward you.