Review: Color Your Life (Twin Sister)

Dear Last.fm; sometimes I love you, and sometimes I can’t stand you. Today, I think I love you.

Relishing Beach House radio, I stumbled across a mighty interesting little piece of indie dream pop called “Nectarine,” which then inspired me to retrieve a free download of Twin Sister’s first release, Vampires With Dreaming Kids, from the group’s home site. An eclectic set, to say the very least. And the most puzzling part was the lack of guitarist Eric Cardona’s vocal presence on the non-“Nectarine” tracks. Not to dismiss the breathy vocal charm of actual lead singer Andrea Estella, but Cardona has a neat vocal vibe in demand of its own recognition.

The obvious next step was to familiarize myself with the band’s latest material, a-barely-LP-length LP called Color Your Life, in hopes of uncovering some great distant relative to my beloved Beach House.

So, first of all, this is definitely not Beach House. Secondly, this is not automatically a negative revelation.

Visualize, if you will, a small party of twenty to twenty-five year-olds mingling blissful beats and intoxicating soundscapes on-stage for an audience of your subconscious. “Lady Daydream” coaxes the listener into a pacificatory groove, psychedelically accenting cold oranges and alternating purples and pinks. The swirling blues and muted greens portrayed in the seductive “Milk & Honey” additionally proclaim a subtle masterfulness in the melodic narration. It’s here in unreal auras like this that Estella’s expressive whispers are uncovered to be quietly mighty and unsuspiciously magnificent, and she is strengthened by the shatterproof musical chemistry of her fellow band members and herself.

Granted, there are some cracks in the wall here. The head-scratching fifth piece, “Galaxy Plateau,” is nearly nonsense in its downplayed dynamics and staggering length. The funky “All Around and Away We Go” is likewise overshot and overstated; no room here for catchiness or sincerity, due to the deal-breaking repetition and excessively-excessive arrangement.

Where it counts, Color Your Life really packs a lo-fi punch, though; and it is comprehensively a remarkable indie record. Definitely worth an investigation, if not an all-out dedication.

77% / C+

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Review: Total Life Forever (Foals)

When an album cover is this aesthetically striking, it’s only natural to want to see if the inside material matches the grandiose nature of the external presentation.

Foals’s previous/debut record, Antidotes, was a big hit in the UK and garnered some fairly promising reviews from critics. Self-described in an NME article as “like the dream of an eagle dying,” quirky, British, indie rock band Foals unveils their latest collection, Total Life Forever.

Imagine diving, head-first, into the oceanic imagery that the cover artwork depicts; swimming restlessly through aquatic space and being tickled by pirouetting light from the far-off and far-above surface. The unfamiliar and almost extraterrestrial surrounding sounds translate nervously into mythical backdrops and fervent-yet-distant pleas of underwater activity. It’s a sonic immersion that summons the sounds of Radiohead, Fleet Foxes, and Surfer Blood, all at once.

After digesting opener “Blue Blood” a  number of times, the penitent tune and sweeping tempo revealed a first-class, high-caliber creation, capped with seemly lyrical citations and proper guitar tones and arrangements. The track’s shadow is notable single “Miami,” craving a feisty, tropical shuffle and an explosive rhythmic emphasis, kin to that of recent Modest Mouse methods.

Pooled, the tracks do not truly have any unsatisfactory components; however, there are actually very few individual standout opuses. Not to say that the assemblage is weak. No— not even is it faintly so. In fact, Foals has put together one of the most entrancing and inspiring records of the year.

The track lengths range from a mere fifty seconds to an intimidating seven minutes, but they are all still commendable and noteworthy. If indie rock is your forte, grab a dish and serve yourself a portion of Total Life Forever.

82% / B-  ☆

Review: Release Me (The Like) / Guest review by Jena Hippensteel

The first time I heard The Like was back in 2006 when their song “What I Say and What I Mean” happened to be on a “freebie” mix cd. I’ve always had a soft spot for all-girl bands, but I wasn’t entirely impressed. It was too generic. When I learned that the band was making a comeback five years later, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

The band’s sophomore album, Release Me, debuted this past Tuesday, and as soon as track one plays, listeners can tell this is a whole-new band. The four L.A. girls have been hard at work to make this album surpass their first: they added two new members, included an organ, changed their look from rocker chicks to mod hipsters, and hired producer Mark Ronson.

Compared to their first album, “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking,” their second album is already a success. Their music has evolved and gained more depth, and the lyrics (most of them) no longer fall flat. The overall sound is more crisp, snappy, and very ‘60s. Instead of sounding like a generic girl band, they remind me of a combination of The Donnas meets The Pierces meets The Beatles.

Most of the songs are about, what else, boys and how stupid they can be. The first track “Wishing He Was Dead” is an upbeat-jingle for every angry girl with strong feelings toward their cheating ex-lover. Instantly, the catchy beat and use of the organ grabs the listener’s attention, and lead singer Z Berg’s vocals are scratchy and smokey, yet personable.

Immediately after “Wishing,” the next track, “He’s Not a Boy,” offers a follow-up of up-beat, sugarcoated melody with lyrics about a boy who can’t be changed, no matter how hard a girl tries. Pretty much every girl has experienced what Z recounts in her lyrics:

We were up all night, talking trash and wasting time..
When he says you’re beautiful, it’s not a line.
But in the morning you might find that he might have changed his mind;
He got lonely for a love, for just one night.

All 12 songs have a clean, residue-free sound, but that doesn’t make them forgettable. Each track is punchy, poppy and a bit sassy. It’s definitely a different sound for a modern, all-girl band.

I would recommend skipping over the so-so tracks “Walk of Shame” and “Square One,” but listeners should definitely try out, “Fair Game,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and “In The End.”

Overall, I’d say it’s definitely an album worth listening to, even if it’s only to compare how much a band can grow and improve after years of hard work and maturity. Not to mention if you need a song to help vent your relationship frustration.

85% / B

Review by Jena Hippensteel.

Review: Curtis Lane (Active Child)

“Get in there, you big furry oaf! I don’t care what you smell!” (In reference and reverence to the above-portrayed science fiction icon, Chewbecca the Wookie.)

Certainly, a knowledgeable listener could effortlessly extract individual influences from Active Child’s debut collection, Curtis Lane: Talking Heads, the Police, and perhaps some newer forces, including Copeland, Vampire Weekend, and/or Beach House.

But when you’re not sure if you are sonically comprehending a set of ambionic drum loops or a batch of percussive phrases assembled by actual drums, you know you’re crossing into “unique” territories.

And that is the most remarkable component of Curtis Lane; the impossible reformation of pre-existing musical matter into a brand-new solution of experimental expedition and creative gusto.

Consider the group’s intense introductory track, “I’m in Your Church at Night.” The whelming harmonies are the immediate ingeniousnesses here; little splendor-full explosions of epic invocation.. And as the listener wanders deeper into the track’s unearthly, etheric environment, layers of coruscating harp arpeggios obtain turbulent traction on the reverb-soaked trails of astronomically-sized drum infusions. To boot, the poignant lyrics crown the already enthralling experience with striking lines such as— “There we were holding hands / Singing through the hole in the ceiling / Into the heavens.”

The breezy confessional “When Your Love is Safe” is another attention-grabbing concoction— Fluttery synths encircle a chirpy parade of dynamic percussion and an airy aura of narration, and resonant melody trinkets are advocated throughout.

And though the debut only involves six songs, they are six strong songs, leaving no detectable sign of collective hesitancy at the finish line. The group commences, conquers, and completes— All within thirty minutes.

A stimulating and enjoyable ride for all.

82% / B-

Review: Clinging to a Scheme (The Radio Dept.)

As if anyone really knows how to deal with the pressure of “universal acclaim.”

The Radio Dept.’s introductory record, 2003’s Lesser Matters, was the source of that pressure. Near perfect critical scores, member to many of that year’s top ten lists, and on and on. It’s no wonder that the sophomore slump possibility became a such an unfortunate reality for the Dept.

Three years later, the trio birthed a follow-up, Pet Grief; the title relevant on multiple levels. Many critical circles and faithful fans found it unsatisfying and weak, leaving the group nowhere to go but up.

Which brings us to a third release, Clinging to a Scheme.

A dreary fog steals in, wandering in and out of lamppost-lit metropolitan streets; stray automobiles confront it in the silence of a fickle trickle of toxic rain. “Domestic scene / What’s missing here?” inquires lead vocalist Johan Duncanson, as our Scheme begins to develop on appropriately-titled, leadoff tune “Domestic Scene.” The whole soundscape is an evocative entrancer, with just enough pop tendency for cautious approval. “A Token of Gratitude” utilizes a similar tone and sonic environment, chasing hasty echoes and rationing percussive accessory for dramatic accentuation (including the supremely unorthodox use of ping-pong balls and paddles as rhythmic mediums).

“David” also relishes in this epic setting, generating a Mew-like, melodic masterpiece with the assistance of clapping drum loops, shuffling bass barters, and pirouetting piano particles.

While it is a dreamlike modus operandi, it is not necessarily an inarguably winning routine.

When exasperated, the Dept.’s ambient act grows stale, and their cool factor drops to a yawning drudgery. Relying mercilessly on cozy, customary chord constructions, and colourless melodic maneuvers, the middle portion of the album suffers particularly from a clichéd sleepiness. (“The Video Dept.” being the most blameworthy scapegoat.)

But, in all, Clinging to a Scheme reveals the best and worst of a band attempting to repossess their charm.

76% / C+

Review: If I Had a Hi-Fi (Nada Surf)

I’m just going to slip my two cents in up front here— I am not a fan of cover bands or cover albums. There, I’ve said it.

I mean, it basically comes down to the following: If you don’t like Nada Surf, you likely aren’t a fan of indie pop. Have the guys ever made a blemishing record? Granted, their last three albums (Lucky, The Weight is a Gift, and Let Go) are, stylistically and sonically, different from their first two records (High/Low and The Proximity Effect). But they are all still outstanding works of alternative-pop achievement.

Nada Surf definitely knows their musical strengths on an expectantly personal level, and the cover choices here on If I Had a Hi-Fi are nothing less than perfectly fitting selections for the group. Bill Fox’s “Electrocution” is a tasteful, natural selection for an opener and The Go-Between’s popular composition “Love Goes On!” is intuitively arranged, according to the band’s inscriptive guitar tone styles and collective signature sound. A captivating rendition of Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger” follows shortly after, and an indelible interpretation of Spoon tune “The Agony of Laffitte” is a more-than-worthy successor.

And, of course, the band’s fascination with French alternative/pop is awarded a brief stand in the spotlight with a cover of “Bye Bye Beauté,” a Coralie Clément creation.

While the band does manage to pin down a considerable number of winning replications, in a few cases, the glistening guitar tenors and the overly sappy arrangement formulas can result in a numbing, sonic haze that loosens the emotional grip of the source material. Their take on Depeche Mode’s classic “Enjoy the Silence” suffers from this toxic haze, as does the unfocused “You Were So Warm” (Dwight Twilley). The Moody Blues excerpt and the Soft Pack pastiche are also unfortunate low-points on Hi-Fi, but for reasons closer to sheer irritability than unjustifiable emotionlessness.

But, for the most part, Nada Surf does here what few other bands can do— Replicate, reinterpret, and reintroduce. Although it’s not as essential as a Nada Surf original record, there is, none the less, a surplus of worthwhile and enduring productions that make for a great fan gift and/or addition to an existing catalogue.

79% / C+