Album Review

Review: Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’

By Will Oliver, September 10th 2013 — with 3 comments

Arctic Monkeys - AM

Arctic Monkeys – AM | Domino Records | September 10, 2013 | Purchase

With every band there will be those fans who cling onto the bands past doings, digging their nails deep into a certain page in the bands history book, holding no room for change or alteration of that memory. You can’t be one of those if you’re an Arctic Monkeys fan. You just can’t. But with two instantly successful albums with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not & Favourite Worst Nightmare, you will always have fans whose necks are permanently craned backwards. That’s fine. Arctic Monkeys are moving right past you, with slicked back hair, leather jackets, all while riding on motorcycles and in convertibles, with your girl by their side. Every step they take is a new exploration, a new passion, a new feeling. You can either get on board, or hang on to the past.
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Stage Diving Into Ty Segall’s ‘Sleeper’

By Jimmy Mcquade, August 20th 2013

ty segall

The most crucial part of Ty Segall’s sound is the energy he puts forth. It comes through in almost everything he’s released. Take, for instance, a song like “Sad Fuzz” from Melted (2010) with it’s staticky powerchords descending in halfsteps to Ty’s delightful whine as he belts out “Please don’t be sad, my baby, no / Please don’t be sad, you know you’re mine / Oh yeah, you’re mine…” The lyrics starting with an unassuming, almost innocent air (“Please don’t be sad my baby, no…”) but morphing into something else entirely as Segall inflects the last bit (“Oh yeah, you’re mine…”) with menace. There’s an urgency and fervor to such songs that burst through the speakers and grab you by the collar, leaving you no choice but to pay close attention.
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[Album Review]: Local Natives – Hummingbird

By Will Oliver, March 2nd 2013 — with 1 comment

Local Natives - Hummingbird

January 28, 2013 | Frenchkiss Records | Purchase

Local Natives have had a tremendous journey over the last few years. It’s been great to watch these guys blossom into the confident indie mainstays that they are today. I waited a month to review this album, as I felt that anything sooner wouldn’t have been fair to the album, which is as close to the definition of a “grower” as can be. I’ve had plenty of time to listen to their new album Hummingbird, and to truly let it settle and work it’s magic on me.

It goes without saying that this is a different album than their tremendous debut Gorilla Manor, one of my favorite albums of the last few years. There’s no use comparing the two. Bassist Andy Hamm left the band in 2011, and The National’s Aaron Dessner produced the album, giving us all a clear indication that this would be a darker, more serious effort.

Looking around my peers and the rest of the musical landscape, it seems like a lot of people unfairly bashed the album too early on, insisting that it was a slow, listen that absent of the sunny hooks and harmonies that their debut so effortlessly established. It’s unfair because this album is a reflection of all the bands hardships, such as the losing of a band member/friend, and more serious forms of loss. Take “Colombia” a touching song written by Kelcey Ayer about the loss of his mother. Obviously we will never feel how Ayer felt after such a devastating loss of a loved one, but he guides us as close as he can in the song, putting us right with him emotionally.

Where as Gorilla Manor could be seen as various pieces of a puzzle, Hummingbird is the whole thing, an album that features an aesthetic heavy on melancholy, reminders of the past. The theme of loss hits home on “Three Months”, a simply beautiful ballad, that tackles the grieving process of losing someone, and the recovery that never quite seems like enough (“I’ve got to go on now/Having thought this wasn’t your last year”). The band strikes a similar chord on the dark bouncy riffs of “Black Balloons” that are begging for a more immediate recovery from a painful experience (“You hold me down and bring me back up again/ Until I can’t, I can’t tell the difference”). It’s the little things and details that you notice that make this album a remarkable listen. Such as this moment on “Ceilings” (“I haven’t stopped your smoking yet/So I’ll share your cigarette/Just to feel it in my fingers”). We’ve all been there, foolishly submitting ourselves because we fancy someone.

There’s nothing like when a track that does nothing for you at first slowly turns into your favorite. This is the case for “Mt. Washington”, a track that crept up on me and slowly hit my emotional core like nothing else. It doesn’t do anything more than it has to, and it builds and builds off lovely vocals from Taylor Rice, creating an emotional moment that works because it’s so simple and pure. It bears it’s soul to us, and we have no choice but to open ours right back.

Hummingbird is a somber, personal reflection that is highlighted by the touching “Colombia.” If I had any real gripe with this album, it’s that it should have ended on this song. It’s a remarkable song that perfectly captures the theme and power of the album. It’s power is inescapable. What’s also inescapable is the power of Aaron Dessner at the helms. He had a great deal to do with the restraint somber nature of this album. Hell there are flashes of The National on the album, such as the frantic drumming by Matt Frazier on “Heavy Feet.” Frazier is arguably the secret weapon of the band. If you want to argue, please listen to his drum fills on “Wooly Mammoth” on full volume and try telling me otherwise.

I previously said that there’s no use comparing Local Natives two albums, but I do think that this is the better one, and time will prove that as these songs have room to grow on listeners as quick as a hummingbird can fly.

Rating: 8.5

Foxygen - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic

January 22, 2013 | Jagjaguwar | Buy Here

Last October Foxygen delivered what would come to be my favorite performance of CMJ 2012. The band played in a tiny Chinese restaurant located on Canal Street and left quite the impression. Their set was an exuberant mix of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Bowie, that exploded into the night and left me wholeheartedly impressed. Last year they released the solid Take The Kids Off Broadway EP, which is an excellent release on its own, but their debut album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic is the fully formed next step that should propel these guys to the next level.
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[Album Review]: Christopher Owens – Lysandre

By Will Oliver, January 30th 2013

Christopher Owens - Lysandre

January 15, 2013 | Fat Possum | Purchase

When I heard that Girls broke up, I was devastated, but took solace in the notion that Chris Owens would move on as a solo musician. One would be hard pressed to deny that Owens was the heart and soul of Girls. His pure talent for songwriting was a major driving force for the band (as was J.R.’s production). I had hopes that Owens would be able to take his natural talent and make it work on his own. Lysandre, Owens debut solo release, unfortunately left me underwhelmed.
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[Album Review]: Free Energy – Love Sign

By Will Oliver, January 22nd 2013 — with 1 comment

Free Energy - Love Sign

January 15, 2013 | Free People | Purchase

Look around the musical landscape in 2013, and it seems like it’s all about having fun. Turn on the radio, walk into a bar, and you’re surround by music that capitalizes on the carefree nature of getting plastered and waiting for the “drop.” They say that EDM and pop works because it’s easy to digest and connects with audiences on a large scale. They also say rock is dead. With all that said, it’s hard to convince people that rock music is alive and well these days. Well, I would like to bring Free Energy into the conversation.
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[Album Review] Tennis – Cape Dory

By Will Oliver, January 18th 2011 — with 6 comments

Tennis – Cape Dory | 2011| Fat Possum

Purchase At Insound

The project of Tennis came to be when Denver, Colorado’s Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore sailed across the east coast together. They lived on a sailboat for nearly a year and decided to soundtrack their experiences on the sea. They released a few songs last year to the delight of music lovers everywhere. It’s not hard to get into Tennis. They make highly accessible music that is a modern take on retro sounds.

“Take Me Somewhere” is a charming opener that displays what Tennis is all about. You wouldn’t be wrong if you thought that Cape Dory was an albums from the hey-day’s of the 1950′s or ’60s. Alaina Moore’s airy vocals are easy on the ears, and this is a perfect fit for the throwback sound that Tennis emulates so well. Sure, Tennis isn’t making the most original music, but what they lack in originality, they make up with their ability to charm with pop styling.

These are 10 songs that are easy to love, and even easier to play over and over. Isn’t that what made the music so great in the ’50′s & ’60′s?

It’s hard to deny the two and a half minutes of pop glory packed into “Marathon”, a song that I haven’t stopped playing since last year. The guitars are tuned with a warm wholesome twang similar to the Walkmen. This vintage sound gives the band its edge. Tennis are successful in their attempt to turn back the clocks and make old fashioned music sound good again. Many bands have tried to do it over the past few years, and not many do it as well as Tennis.

“Cape Dory”, “Marathon”, and “Baltimore” all sound sharper compared to the early versions that we heard last year. They’re solid offerings, but the real star of this album is “Pigeon”. It’s the most intimate offering from the band, and it may just be their most charming moment. It’s a side of Tennis that I would love to hear more of. It’s the understated simple beauty that this world needs more of, and “Pigeon” rises to the challenge.

Cape Dory is an album that you will love the hell out of in the summer when it has time to dance freely in the warm summer air. Grab your friends, sit by the water, and take a trip down to Cape Dory.

This is as solid of a debut that you can ask from a band like Tennis. Not every album needs to be a game changer. Sometimes we just need an album that we can rely on. I don’t think I’ll have any problem playing this album over and over this year.

You know what, sometimes that’s good enough for me.

Rating: 8.3

Tennis – Pigeon

Tennis – Marathon

Tennis – Take Me Somewhere

[Album Review] Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

By Will Oliver, January 17th 2011 — with 2 comments

Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde | 2011 | Fat Possum

Purchase at Insound

Smith Westerns self titled debut was a great first effort. Even with though it was extremely lo-fi, they showed great promise, leaving fans eager to see what good production would be able to do for the Chicago gang.

You can stop imagining, because Smith Westerns new album, Dye It Blonde is that dream put into reality. The unstoppable record label Fat Possum took the Chicago band under their wing with producer Chris Coady and produced a stellar effort.

On this 10 song album, the bands sound is taken to incredible new heights. “Weekend” was our first taste of cleaner sounding Smith Westerns, and its the perfect album opener. It bleeds of youthful exuberance and romantic hope. The combination of Cullen Omori’s light vocals and the glimmering guitar riffs will leave you in awe.

“Imagine Pt. 3″ shines with bright energy, even if it’s penned with sad lyrics like “The look in your eyes makes me wanna die. You’re not the girl I used to know”. Just like everyone else, Smith Westerns are growing up and experiencing everything that life has planned for them on the way. Craving love is a huge theme on this album, but they never take it too seriously.

“All Die You”, the standout of the album, is an emotional ride through the tribulations of life. It’s a dramatic song that nearly causes time to stop when played. The boys change the tempo towards the end, transitioning into a playful reprise of “All die young, when love is love, and when you are young”. It’s their way of playing it all off. Their too young to get totally consumed by adulthood.

The thing that’s so great about these songs is their instant appeal. “Smile” has all the ambition of an early 90s brit-pop classic that would make the Gallaghers proud. It’s one of the many songs that will win you over. Ultimately it’s up to you to choose which songs are your favorite, because they’re all top notch.

Each song is packed to the brim with hooks and jangly guitars that you will fall in love with. These guys know how to create killer harmonies that have the perfect balance of catchy pop and emotional sincerity. They’re incredibly talented for their age, and they make it all seem so effortless. It’s almost criminal.

As a whole, Dye It Blonde stands incredibly tall. The most honest way to describe it is polished indie anthems with lots of heart. The scariest part is that these guys are only getting started. Imagine what they will be capable a few years from now?

Dye It Blonde’s arrival is perfect timing for me. I’m about the same age as these guys, and am still experiencing all that life has to offer. I have a feeling that I’ll be alright as long as I have these songs accompanying me on my journey.

Rating: 8.8/10

Smith Westerns – All Die Young

Smith Westerns – Weekend

Smith Westerns – Imagine, Pt. 3

[Album Review] Glass Vaults – Glass [EP]

By Will Oliver, June 29th 2010 — with 1 comment

Note: This is my first review in a while. Let’s see how it goes down. I have a rating system from 1-10, and I form the score based on indiviual song rating, which I average together to get a score. I figure it’s the best way to get as accurate of a score as possible.

Glass Vaults. What to say, what to say. Well, I can honestly say that they are one of the most talented young bands that I have come across since running this blog. Many bands impress me sure, but there is something about the Wellington, New Zealand band that I’ve taken an extreme liking to.

The just released their debut EP, Glass, on local Wellington record label Sonorous Circle. The EP consists of 5 powerful songs that paint a emotive landscape of New Zealand. The songs have a dreamy element to them that bring to mind the barren landscape ambiance of Sigur Rós. They also share the electronic prowess of M83, and the experimental creativity of Animal Collective that I dare call avant garde.

“They Will Grow”, the EP’s opener, taps into your soul. If you listen hard enough, you just may be able to taste the fresh New Zealand air. Things take off further into flight on the 7 minute epic “Set Sail”, taking you through a journey of self reflection. Try to tell me that you can’t hear the genius of M83 floating around.

“New Space” hits on sonic experimentation and tropical drums that would Animal Collective proud (one could swear to hear an Avery Tare shout during the songs beginning) . It tickles the mind to a drug filled state that you wouldn’t mind be stuck in for a few hours.

“Worrier” is song that would have fit quite nicely on Yeasayer’s debut album. The band formulates the tempo to draw out feelings of longing and return, with great effect. When he pleads you not to go, you beg along with him.

Glass Vaults cover a lot of different sounds and genres within this EP, and the culmination of all these sounds is the EP’s final track, and finest moment, “Forget Me Not”. With vocal harmonies that are ready to sweep the stiffest man off his feat, it’s a hard pressed not too be taken away by the washed out sounds that infiltrate the song. When the electronic effects tickle away into silence, you have no choice but to hit replay.

This is an EP crafted with careful hands that have created some of the most tender musical moments in 2010. Listening to these songs brought out distinct feelings on longing, regret, and passion from my life. It made me feel something, which is a true indicator of a powerful record. This is one of the finest EP’s of recent memory. I can’t wait to see what other beauty they unleash with a full length.

Rating: 9.0

Guess what, you can download the whole EP for free at their bandcamp. You got nothing to loose. Give it a try below, with two cuts from the album:

[mp3]: Glass Vaults – Forget Me Not
[mp3]: Glass Vaults – Set Sail

[Album Review] The National – High Violet

By Will Oliver, May 11th 2010 — with 3 comments

There aren’t many bands that are able to tap into my mind and connect with me emotionally like The National. With each album the band seems to find new ways to improve. With High Violet, I held the National to sky high expectations, with little doubt that they would live up to them. Look at that, they did.

“Terrible Love” opens the album, and fittingly so. The National’s performance of Terrible Love on Jimmy Fallon was the first real taste of promotion for the album, after all. The band decided to use the demo version on the album, finding no other takes fitting. It was a gutsy move, but one that paid dividends. This version builds upon itself gaining momentum with every passing second. It’s a grand statement amongst an album built with them.

Matt and the rest of the band came together to create an album that drips with rich imagery and vignettes that we can all relate to. We have all felt the sorrow that Matt sings about in “Sorrow”. We are used to him describing life as a middle class man. He still does, but now he has a wife and child. His focus is on his family, and now his thoughts are more self-conscious then ever before.

“Afraid Of Everyone” is hidden with elements of Joy Division with it’s vibrant drumbeat. When Matt sings, “You’re the voices swallowing my soul, soul, soul,” you can’t help but get swept up. “Lemonworld” was a song that the band argued over for months unable to decide on which take to use. It turns out that sometimes more is less, especially with such a strong song as “Lemonworld.” It sits alongside “Conversation 16″ as one of High Violet’s finest moments. I don’t think there will be a more beautiful moment on any song this year then when Matt sings “I was afraid I’d eat your brains…cause I’m evil.” It’s the type of moment the National have become so great at creating. You almost come to expect it.

High Violet is built with moments that will stop you in your tracks. Moments that deserve to be played on vinyl with good speakers. Bryan Devendorf once again steals the show as the drummer, crafting beats and drum fills that the band would feel lost without. He serves as both the backbone and the heart of the band. Then you have the Dessner twins who use their guitars as another voice in the band.

Matt’s vocals have never sounded better. He learned how to use his voice to complement the band, rather than to stretch it too far, as some felt he did on Boxer. It works like a charm, completely rounding out the band’s sound. They sound stronger than ever.

The National had high expectations to live up to. They came back with a powerful album full of dense songs that improve upon each listen. These are songs that call for listens in the dark with a bottle of wine, ready for quality digestion. The National have given us a piece of art, and it is up to us to truly appreciate it. It is my album of the year right now. I don’t think there will be another album that I will attach myself like I have with High Violet. I dare someone to prove me wrong.

Album Rating: 9.0

[mp3]: The National – Conversation 16
[mp3]: The National – Lemonworld



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