Review: Forget (Twin Shadow)

Forget the Dollar General or the local dollar theater… Spending your dollar on Twin Shadow’s debut record is a much better use of your capital.

However; much like a voyage to the cinema, Forget is an intricate, narrative, adventure into the depths of the human mind. The story unfolds carefully at first, preluding its way through the first couple of chapters (“Tyrant Destroyed” and “When We’re Dancing”), and then suddenly switches into more ambient and enveloping territories, complete with peculiar side sound-decor and ear-catching embellishments (“I Can’t Wait” and “Shooting Holes”).

The consistent element of the set, though, is the engaging and unorthodox melody-weaving of sole member and skilled song-crafter George Lewis Jr.— The riveting, gripping chorus of “For Now” is an amiably memorable segment, the tickling theme of “At My Heels”‘s verses precedes its stimulating and entrancing refrain (“Lean your ladder against my window / I’ll come down”), and “Castles in the Snow” is cornerstoned on an achingly dark sound-palette and entwines steep melodic strains with ferociously memorable lyrical phrases (“You’re my favorite daydream / I’m your famous nightmare..”).

Mega-ballad “Slow” is an additional burst of marvel-worthy, star-lit sensationalism; a captivating reverie that requires at least four or five concentrated listens to fully appreciate.

And, in summary, that complexity is the simple beauty that defines Forget.

Those classic records that knocked our feet out from under us on first encounter (ex: OK Computer, Congratulations, Meddle) — Those are the records that take us considerable amounts of precious time to unlock and decode. They are also the records that stay with us for most of our lives.

Needless to say, Forget is clearly one of those records.

(Purchase: Twin Shadow dot Net [$1.00] / Insound [Pre-order LP])

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Review: Alive As You Are (Darker My Love)

“Quality over quantity,” as the proverb goes…

Eleven beautiful, complex, strings of alternative/country-tinged indie folk/rock intrigue. And we’re only talking, what, like thirty minutes of play time?

And putting all assumptions surrounding the band’s roguish handle behind us, Alive As You Are is a filthy great record. Especially for those who crave that old-time, rustic swing and slide, reviving rural scenes from an attic of memories.

To test the Huckleberry-era waters, swish your muddy toes about in the buoyant vocal polyphony of opener “Backseat” and ease into the refreshing autumn cruise of “June Bloom.”

There’s even some old southern crunch in the romp ‘n’ stomp of late-album rocker “Dear Author;” enough to cure any rueful blues any previous tunes might have instigated.

But the rue and the remorse patently accent the rich melodies and characterful orchestration of the tracks in an easily relatable sense; no need to depress, but certainly no urge to repress.

Best of all, revisitation leads to endearing satisfaction, and that can only be a positive sign of future appreciation. And I’m referring to the record as a whole, as opposed to ripping an unsuspecting quote out of its respective sonic context, which would be very ill-advised here.

Darker My Love is off to join the ranks of Pete Yorn, My Morning Jacket, and perhaps even the Fruit Bats and Ryan Adams. A colourful record, indeed!

81.5% / B-

(Purchase: iTunes / Insound)

August 2010 Single Spotlight: Pray Tell (Anberlin)

Though I have been following Anberlin for several years now, the band only recently received its dues as they were picked up by Universal/Republic in 2008. This year finds them prepping the release of their sixth record, Dark is the Way, Light is a Place. due in early September.

While “Pray Tell” is not the official lead single from Dark Is the Way, it is a bit more impressive than “Impossible,” as it retains the dark, alternative sound that the band is known for.

Sonically, “Pray Tell” is arguably the most epic presentation of sound (particularly, percussion) that the band has ever recorded. Deon Rexroat’s bass rumbles like an earthquake, pillaring Stephen Christian’s searing chops, and Nathan Young’s vigorous drum blows set the whole arrangement afire. The striking vocal harmony is another huge success for the track— During the chorus, the expansive harmony is white-hot and beautifully intense; but during the bridge, the soft vocal layers flow together cohesively and overlap in a grand immersion.

Lyrically, Christian does little to expand on his thoughts though, as repetition and only slight variation seem to be a newly formed, prominent habit he’s adopted (“Hide away / Hide away / Why do you hide yourself away? / Hide yourself / Why do you hide your face from me?” and “Find yourself / Let me find you”). Notwithstanding, this does not wreck the quality of the tune, by any stretch.

In hopes that Dark is the Way will be another great victory for the group, I highly recommend visiting SPIN’s website for a free download of “Pray Tell.”

Review: Modern Rituals (Chief)

What both a blessing and a curse this “Indie Folk-Rock” genre can be…

“One
and
two
and
three
and
four
and…” blurts the bland rambling of the drums in the album’s second track, “Nothing’s Wrong.” But, something is wrong.

All I can think is that label scouts must have some kind of wish list for “mash-up” musical groups that they hope to discover and acquire, because that’s exactly what the folks at Domino Recording Co. seemed to have accomplished here. They can officially check off the “Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes meets Fleet Foxes” box on that list.

While there are a few bearable moments on Modern Rituals, they are forcefully outweighed by the lack of heart and of creativity. My largest concern is that predictability and marketability are at large on this record; the moseying melody of opener “The Minute I Saw It” runs alongside the pop standard “VI, IV, I, V” chord progression while the guitarist fumbles through the most unsurprising string of notes to help fill in the mix, and the mindless chorus of “Breaking Walls” is about as interesting as it is original. The peppy bounce of “Summer’s Day” is additionally droll and borderline laughable in its contrast to its supposedly downcast lyrics.

And, at this point, it is far too obvious for me to make any connection between the record’s title and its unfortunate classification.

In addition to the foreseeable antics on the part of the construction of the compositions, central melody is far too scarce, as well as utterly boring on nearly every tune on the project. Even the harmonies are mixed down so numbly that the radio-friendly shine sponges up any potential meaningfulness. This regrettable regression occurs on almost any given track, but specifically on “In the Valley,” “Stealing,” and “Night & Day.”

If Chief was trying to stick strictly to “the formula,” then they really knocked one out of the park.

70% / C- ☂

Review: The Suburbs (Arcade Fire)

“In the Suburbs, I learned to drive..”

As the reader likely already knows, the Arcade Fire have the skill and the capacity to put on a fantastic performance. Tour-wise, undoubtedly; but even more so in terms of creating captivating full-record experiences. Funeral, their first effort, is today considered a modern indie-rock classic, thanks to its youthful charm and relatable dolor; and their follow-up (Neon Bible) is additionally dramatic and dark, not to mention definitive and likewise critically acclaimed. So what does a band do when they’ve already accomplished what every other related act on the scene spends their entire career trying to do?

They go home.

The Suburbs is, on the one hand, a combination of sonic forces introduced in Funeral and Neon Bible. Yet, on the other, The Suburbs is a whole new animal; unapologetic and brave, sowing cultural criticism and unfavorable revelations without sheepish regard. There’s an undeniably strong sense of bittersweet reminiscence in the crestfallen lyrical texts and downcast musical tones.

And for a few lines in tunes like “Rococo” and “Deep Blue,” leader Win Butler begins to ever-so-subtly display stereotypical elderly-person tendencies with phrases such as, “Let’s go downtown and talk to the modern kids… Using great, big words that they don’t understand,” and “Hey, put the cellphone down for awhile;” but these minute wrinkles are evened out by the undeniably quality compositions surrounding them.

The epic story of The Suburbs commences with the highly memorable and melodically stimulating title track. Lyrics here are certainly ominous and premonitory— hinting of bombs, war, and unbridled screaming. Even better though, there’s a landmark lyric that is used at the beginning of this first track that is later revived in artistic finesse in little segments throughout the record— “In the Suburbs I, I learned to drive / And you told me we’d never survive / Grab your mother’s keys / We’re leaving.”

The record then rolls into the eerie first single “Ready to Start,” and to save some space/time, the review for this individual composition is located here. After the immense and intense emotional and personal expression in “Ready,” the album shifts into a mid-tempo, cultural reflection, based in an atypical time signature, called “Modern Man.” Truly a narrative, character-based piece, “Modern Man” paces, chokes, turns, and then quickly rebounds to begin all over again in a beautifully “Arcade Fire” fashion. “Waiting for a number, but you don’t understand.. Like a modern man,” notes Butler. Continue reading

Review: Crazy for You (Best Coast)

If Bill Murray is a fan, then Best Coast must be worth investigating.

Best Coast is yet another one of these bands with ridiculously massive underground hype preceding them; though their first full record, Crazy for You, only debuted last week. This presumptuous attention is sparked by the group’s previous releases— A trio of EP’s released on various indie record labels and made available over the course of the past year or so. Female-fronted, lo-fi pop, admired by Bill Murray, etc., and so on.

And see, I had a really good feeling going into this record. The two initial tracks (“Boyfriend” and the title track) are crisp, poppy journal entries with memorable melodies and seemingly stellar performances by leader Bethany Cosentino. “Boyfriend” is blatantly beachy, yet severely overcast and definitely drowning, and “Crazy for You” is even poppier— Bursting with sunny freedom and vintage guitar crunch. Both of these tunes showcase a very awkward sense of harmony— Likely adopted from perfect fifths as opposed to major thirds. Lyrically, “profound” is about as resonant of an antonym as could be associated. Still; sufficient, nonetheless.

The fun soon wears off though, as the quality of the tunes dives abruptly into the above-pictured ocean and the insufferableness of these same tracks shoots through the roof.

The exasperating repetition is the main culprit; tunes “Summer Mood” and “Goodbye” grow monotonous far quicker than they ever become “catchy,” and “I Want To” is easily the most irritating and elementary tune on record, thanks to its grand total of seven different words and predictable melody routine.

Truly, what we have here is a Paramore version of Male Bonding, or as I like to say, Female Bonding. Nifty production does little to bolster a set of the most bland and downright uninteresting tunes in recent lo-fi releases.

71% / C- ♭