Wednesday, April 6, 2011

21 Mini Reviews for the first trimester 2011


The Unthanks, Morning Teleportation, Charles Bradley, Wye Oak, The Low Anthem, Iron & Wine, Ruby Coast, The Twilight Singers, Kurt Vile, Earth, Braids, Tennis, Gold Panda, The Joy Formidable, Yuck, Frank Ocean, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, The Dodos, The Strokes, Jo Hamilton and Julianna Barwick
ALBUM REVIEWS



The Unthanks - Last <> 7.5 out of 10
Fourth album (second under that name) from this miracle of an English folk band fronted by Rachel and Beckie Unthank. The previous "Here's The Tender Coming" in 2009 was already a fine record but "Last" is even better, a majestic piano-driven and exquisitely orchestrated album, some moments ain't that far from Nick Cave's "The Good Son", but slower, deeply melancholic and dark, sometimes creepy, often affecting. Alongside their original songs, there are two gorgeous covers, one from Tom Waits "No One Knows I'm Gone", another from King Crimson "Starless". This album is to be filed with Fairport Convention's "Liege & Lief" and Richard and Linda Thompson's "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" masterpieces.


Morning Teleportation - Expanding Anyway <> 7 out of 10
Debut album for this American psych-rock quintet on Modest Mouse frontman Isaak Brocks' own Glacial Pace Recordings. A very generous affair in every meanings of this word, for it's length, a little over 58 min for 12 tracks, but more importantly for the amount of energy, ideas and creativity. Eclectic sounds abound (banjo, talkbox, synthesizer, trumpet, theremin) but the main attraction is obviously frontman Tiger Merritt who's yelling like a joyous nutcase and his impressively versatile guitar playing. This album runs the gamut from avant garde prog to pop and folk or even funk but always sounds genuine, fresh and alive. At first they could sound a little too rowdy but this impression fades thru further listens. There are some pretty effective melody lines and hooks in the middle of this joyful chaos. A band to follow.
Stream the album here : http://soundcloud.com/morningteleportation/sets/expandinganyway/s-lLp3v


Charles Bradley - No Time For Dreaming <> 7 out of 10
Charles Bradley was 14 when he saw James Brown at the Apollo Theatre in New York for the first time, it was in 1962 and it transformed him for a lifetime. From then on till now he never let go of his musical dreams. Working most of his life as a cook, or some other jobs here and there, he performed music on the side, playing whatever gigs he could find. At 62, Charles Bradley releases his debut album on Daptone Records, the very same label which discovered Sharon Jones (And The Dap-Kings), another late bloomer. This record could have been recorded in the sixties if it wasn't for some tiny production details and this is real retro sweaty-dirty soul like it wasn't performed on record since The Godfather of Soul, Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett. It is hot, it is groovy, it is also full of pain and suffering, classic Southern soul. Except for one track, all the songs are originals penned by Bradley with collaborators, and some of them, like the single "The World (Is Going Up in Flames)", sounds like soul classics. Bradley is a fantastic howler of a singer, but he's backed by the Menahan Street Band who are excellent musicians, warm brassy horn section included.


Wye Oak - Civilian <> 7 out of 10
Third album from this fine folk rock duo composed of Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitars) and Andy Stack (drums, keyboards,vocals). Their music is a mix of americana folk and shoegaze, melancholy and courage, with a grainy but bright sound production and excellent vocals by Jenn Wasner. If this duo doesn't offer anything new, this record is however very authentic and personal, affecting and rewarding.


The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh <> 6.5 out of 10
Haunting lonesome folk americana recorded in an abandoned pasta sauce factory which gives a church like atmosphere to the whole album. Filled with vintage instruments from pump organs to musical saw, but also clarinet and banjo as much as more traditional ones like guitars, bass and drums. The whole thing is pretty laidback, almost lazy but it gives a welcoming and warm impression if rather blue. Genuine and sincere stuff.


Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean <> 6.5 out of 10
Sean Beam, from one man band Iron & Wine, sums it all : "It sounds like the music people heard in their parent's car growing up… that early-to-mid-'70s FM, radio-friendly music." Another musical path for this artist. Elegant and colourful take on the idea.




Ruby Coast - Whatever This Is <> 6.5 out of 10
Canadian quintet debut album full of energetic punk pop with violin here, keyboards there for texture and colour. Unpretentious and well crafted stuff that sounds better than most hyped bands around. And it's downloadable for free there:
http://rubycoast.bandcamp.com/album/whatever-this-is



The Twilight Singers - Dynamite Steps <> 6.5 out of 10
Greg Dulli's untuned but soulful and gripping voice is back with the Twilight Singers with a record issued on Sub Pop, where his former and now legendary band The Afghan Whigs released two of their best albums in the early 90s. He haven't lost his power and energy but intersperses it with slower and darker songs with piano and large orchestration. Some friends appear like Dulli's soulbrother Mark Lanegan and anti-folk luminary Ani DiFranco. Dulli's not the best songwriter alive, his songs are not that memorable, but as a whole this album stands head and shoulders above many of his contemporaries. Rather nostalgic, this album could have been released in the middle of the 90s, but powerful all along anyway.


Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo <> 6 out of 10
After two lo-fi lazily rancous, if that's possible, psych-punk albums, Kurt Vile releases a mostly acoustic and darker effort full of well played and multi-layered repetitive guitar strummings with sometimes a beatbox here or a piano there to add some colours to Vile's crawling vocals on rather hypnotic songs. Some of them are pretty uninspired and gimmicky, but it's always atmospheric and cinematic, if a little long and boring as a whole. Somewhere between Mark Lanegan and Nikki Sudden, Vile only sporadically reaches these guys huge talent.


Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I <> 6 out of 10
Veterans drone doom band's sixth studio album, the second part will be released in 2012 and let's hope that volume 2 will be more adventurous than this first one which doesn't show much evolution since the previous album three years ago. They are still exploring the American landscape at their own slow and low paced motion with jazz, country and americana influences. Pleasant background ambient for ageing doom metalheads and even anyone who likes very atmospheric, well delivered very heavy chillout music. That cello is overused on every tracks but it's not bothering with an unfocused listen.


Braids - Native Speaker <> 6 out of 10
Ethereal and full of reverberated guitars, synths and female vocals for this Canadian band debut. Some feminine and calmer version of Animal Collective without the hooks, most of the madness, but nevertheless one of the best AnCo influenced efforts of the moment.




Tennis - Cape Dory <> 6 out of 10
Very short (less than 29 min) album by this husband and wife duo recorded after seven months spent on a boat. Sugar-sweet sixties girl-group pop music with sunny guitars and adorable if little mannered girly vocals. Sorbet for the ears.




Gold Panda - Companion <> 5.5 out of 10
No follower to Gold Panda's debut "Lucky Shiner" out in 2010 but a collection of his last three EPs which appeared in between time with the raga influenced "Quitters Raga" (sic), among others. Bedroom producer Gold Panda is offering a portfolio of scratchy electronic and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) full of colourful tunes, but it wears a little thin thru the end of the record. Like many electronic producers, Gold Panda seems to suffer from ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) which makes him jump from one idea to the other without keeping much cohesiveness. Some fine stuff however.


The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar <> 5 out of 10
Welsh power trio with passionate and emotional frontwoman on vocals and guitars, and an impressive rhythm section, takes you back into the grungy/shoegazy 90s with new freshness, excellent guitar riffs and pedestrian song melodies. Strip down this album from 'The Big Roar' and you've got very ordinary MOR songs. Pleasant and forgettable.



Yuck - Yuck <> 5 out of 10
Covers collection of never released b-sides by Dinosaur Jr, Teenage Fanclub, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, Sebadoh and a whole bunch of late 80s/early 90s noisy guitar bands. It sounds like a yucking popularization of these bands' work. A very nostalgic affair for ageing or neo-grungeheads. Very well produced and delivered but go for the originals.


Frank Ocean - Nostalgia/Ultra <> 5 out of 10
Rick Rubin's Def Jam neglected badass R&B artist releases his first mixtape of an album through the hyped Odd Future collective. After some moments of brilliance like on "Songs For Women", others not so bright like on the uncanny retake on The Eagles "Hotel California", you're left with an unbalanced lo-fi record full of potentials and bad ideas.


The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong <> 4.5 out of 10
Well crafted pedestrian pop ditties disguised under hifi noisy shoegaze guitars and 80s synths outfit.





The Dodos - No Color <> 4 out of 10
Fourth album for this augmented drums and guitars duo and a return in physical though uninspired shape on this noisiest and most agitated effort to date. You just want that drums tantrum to end and silence is the real bliss. They don't even come close to their second and absolutely magnificent "Visiter" in 2008. And Neko Case's presence doesn't add anything to this cacophonous misstep.



The Strokes - Angles <> 4 out of 10
Ten years ago so called rock'n'roll saviors are jumping in this 80s revival pandemic bandwagon crap with here and there solid guitar riffs, disgusting synths and upsetting poses.




Jo Hamilton - Gown <> 4 out of 10
Actually this is a re-issue of an album which was already released in 2009. There are some songs added and I just wonder why. The beautiful, warm, velvet voice of Jo Hamilton doesn't stop the overblown artistic ambition of this album to fall ultimately flat except for three songs, the quite Anja-Garbarek-meet-Maria-Joao opening track "Exist (beyond my wildest dreams)" and the two stylish twilight torch songs  "There It Is" and "Winter is Over". Both later songs can be listen to on the short film "A New Instrument (full version)", some showcase where Jo Hamilton is working with the world's first working prototype of the AirPiano (see below). A complete mixbag of an album, Jo Hamilton should take more time in writing songs, less in promoting them. The mentioned video is great, you won't need more. http://www.youtube.com/johamiltongown#p/u/2/DTp5MFgzqZk


Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place <> 3 out of 10
Julianna is very cute and compared to the music proposed on her debut album Enya sounds like Barbra Streisand and Cocteau Twins like The Runaways. This thing has been presented as the first successful album inspired by Panda Bear's "Person Pitch" (2007), well if that's the case I really don't need to hear the other ones. If you're insomniac, this could do the trick. I can not choose between naive or pretentious. Or is it me? But she's cute.

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