urgencytobleed: (Default)
2020-01-01 12:00 pm

IMPORTANT!

A note about tags:

Each post is tagged according to the artist or band it contains music by, so if you're looking for someone specific, it's probably easiest to go straight to the tags page and see if they're in the list. I've also tagged most posts with category tags to make it easier to browse through posts of a certain type. For convenience, here's the rundown:

Best of 2007 Lists
Best of 2008 Lists
Best of 2009 Lists
Best of 2010 Lists
Best of 2011 Lists

Artist Features
Mixes
Concert/Album Reviews
Song of the Day Posts (Older)
Song of the Week Posts (Newer)
Themed Posts
urgencytobleed: (Default)
2012-04-01 02:57 pm

Song(s) of the Week #4

Well, it didn't take me very long to get way behind in posting, did it? Anyway, as an apology, here are three really kick-ass songs for your listening pleasure. (Also, I kind of got progressively wordier with each one, sorry.)


I'd heard of this band awhile ago but never really listened to them because I got the impression they were super twee and precious. And while Alaina Moore's voice is very girlish and sweet and their songs are chock-full of quirky synthesizers and catchy pop choruses, the duo's true talent for writing keeps their music from becoming too overbearingly sugary. This song in particular is just... immensely glorious and is actually what made me consider giving them a bit of my attention in the first place. It perfectly marries a modern, synth-drenched electronic pop sound with one that borrows more heavily from the past: those boppy, infectious background vocals are straight out of the sixties. Basically, it's just one of the best pop tunes I've heard all year - in fact, their entire new album, Young and Old, is bursting with fantastic pop songs - and if it doesn't have you immediately reaching for the repeat button, well, then, you must have a heart of stone.


Morgan Nagler is a difficult woman to keep tabs on. Early on in her musical career, she performed under the joke moniker of Vagtown2000, which eventually transformed into a fully-fledged band called Whispertown2000. They then released a rather charming little debut album, Livin' in a Dream, but reached their peak with its follow-up (and another pointless name change, this time to The Whispertown 2000), 2008's alt-country/pop mash-up Swim. Since then, the band's been rather low key, releasing a few songs here and there and undergoing some line-up rearrangements. Pared down finally to just Whispertown, the band is now basically back to being Nagler on her own, with a little help from her friends when appropriate. Despite the decrease in numbers, the richness of Whispertown's sound has thankfully not suffered at all. Nagler still has a knack for writing songs that are poignant, charmingly simple and often incredibly catchy and Andy LeMaster's skillful production makes her new EP, Parallel, a real treat for the ears. Standing out to me as especially memorable is the title track, a lush, lovely ballad which is perhaps not particularly adventurous but that's not the point of it; what's so spectacular about Nagler's songwriting and singing is how completely earnest and believable it is, even as it sometimes slightly misses the mark, especially as it sometimes misses the mark, for the appeal lies in her rawness and honesty. (Also of note are LeMaster's understated but gorgeous backing vocals - because we all know I'm a bit of a devotee and, Christ, it's going on six years since Dark Light Daybreak; a girl's gotta get her fix somewhere.)


Listen, you are all incredibly lucky that I've held out on posting more Parenthetical Girls this long. If I gave into my urges, I'd have posted basically every song they've ever released by now. So it's really not too soon for another at all. Besides, you need to hear these songs. Because a. they are incredible, hence b. after being in the game for so long, this band should really have five times as many fans as they actually do. I now consider it my duty to promote the shit out of them until everyone is converted. Anyway, this track is from 2008's Entanglements, which, by the way, is a delightful little gem of an album. The thing I love most about it is that it doesn't overstay its welcome. It would have been easy for the band to go overblown and epic what with an entire orchestra at their fingertips but instead they chose not to indulge on a single unnecessary second and at under thirty-five minutes, succeeded in producing a cohesive whole that is incredibly satisfying and, for the most part, beautifully subtle. This song in particular is absolutely crushing. Between the heartrending string arrangements and Zac Pennington's knack for poetic turns of phrase, it somehow leads the listener to sympathize with the narrator when he finds out that his former illicit teenage lover is now marrying another man (that instrumental subtlety? Pennington more than makes up for it with the theatrical bent of his lyrics). Speaking of those lyrics, I just think the man is an incredible wordsmith. He's no Joanna Newsom but he plays around a lot with various techniques like internal rhyme and dissonance and assonance, which allows his lyrics more flexibility within the confines of sticking to a certain melody. They roll off the tongue so easily and are just really aesthetically pleasing, both heard and read, while also being incredibly clever - all aspects which I very much appreciate in lyricists.

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urgencytobleed: (Default)
2012-03-14 12:01 am

Song of the Week #3


I'm a bit late on this week's post but, anyway, I thought I'd stick with the recent releases theme. I was first turned on to Bowerbirds when I saw them open for Joanna Newsom back in 2010 (has it really been two years already?!?). They put on a fantastic show, which prompted me to pick up their then latest album, Upper Air, afterwards. Though I liked a few songs, I never truly got into the album as a whole until recently, but now I think it's absolutely gorgeous and its just released follow-up, The Clearing, might be even more so. It doesn't exactly veer far off-course in terms of the sound Bowerbirds has established with their first two albums: organic, mainly acoustic folk-rock anchored by Phil Moore's Andrew Bird-esque warble and his heavily nature-influenced lyrics and Beth Tacular's airy harmonies and warmly playful accordion accompaniment. However, it's difficult to fault the band for sticking to what they do best when they do it so damn well. The Clearing contains some of their finest songs yet; in fact, the first half of the album is rather close to flawless, from sprawling opener "Tuck the Darkness In" to the quirky, Tacular-led "In the Yard" to the trifecta of perfection that begins with the track featured here, "Stitch the Hem." The best thing about the song is how it both packs an immediate punch with its catchy chorus and simmers slowly in the back of your mind, listen by listen coaxing you into believing it may in fact be one of the best things you've ever heard. If anything, it will certainly be one of the most beautiful. If Moore and Tacular's impossibly smooth harmonizing, better here than ever, fails to win you over, well, then, I think you should probably have your ears checked immediately.
urgencytobleed: (Default)
2012-03-05 12:29 pm

Song of the Week #2


I'm resisting the urge to post more Parenthetical Girls, as they're essentially all I've been listening to for the past week with very few exceptions (seriously, if you listen to any one band I've ever recommended here, please make it them). But instead I'll post about another band I've known for awhile but had kind of forgotten about for the past couple years before recently rediscovering. Unfortunately, said rediscovery has been put slightly on the back-burner by my current obsession but that's not to say this band isn't just as worthy of your time.

Winterpills has been consistently releasing very lovely, low-key music since their self-titled debut in 2005 but they've really stepped up their game with this year's All My Lovely Goners. It's a staggeringly gorgeous album that is, sadly, flying completely under the musical radar though it certainly deserves much more attention. It's also a bit more dynamic, sound-wise, than Winterpills' past releases, which makes it even more appropriate for multiple listens. From the lush male/female harmonies of "Amazing Sky" to the more upbeat and instantly catchy "Dying Star" to the devastating, subtle intensity of "Sunspots (Ruins)," there's truly something here for everyone to love. The song that stole my heart right away, though, is the comparably bare and simplistic "Small Bright Doses." Philip Price and Flora Reed's soothing voices and the heartbreaking lyrics are placed front and center while the instrumentation slowly but beautifully unfolds and develops in the background, culminating in a stunning yet still understated finale. It actually reminds me very much of a Carissa's Wierd song, particularly Price's deeper, raspier vocals at the beginning and the melancholy beauty of the song's atmosphere. If you like what you hear, I suggest you head over to Winterpills' Bandcamp page and stream the entire album right away, then maybe throw $10 their way for making such ear-pleasing sounds.

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urgencytobleed: (i put a pearl in the ground)
2012-02-26 12:32 pm

Song of the Week #1

I've decided I'm going to try this format out exclusively for awhile. It gives me a chance to tell everyone about the things I'm obsessed with still, but without making me feel like I have to churn posts out at a rate of every couple of days. Also, I plan to be more in-depth with these than with my old songs of the day.


I first heard Parenthetical Girls a couple years ago, just around the time they were beginning to release Privilege, a five-part 7" project that would ultimately come together to create a full-length album, so it somehow makes sense that I've just started to truly love the band this year, when it looks like the fifth and final part will be released soon. In just a few days, the intensity with which I've grown to adore the music I've heard (so far, only a fractional part of the Parenthetical Girls catalog) is a bit staggering, so much that it's hard for me to grasp how I've had the first three parts of Privilege and the band's last album, Entanglements, sitting on my computer for ages without realizing how legitimately brilliant they are. Hopefully, now that I've seen the light, I can convince a few others to as well, because the biggest shame of all is how relatively unknown the band still is after so long.

For the past several years, Parenthetical Girls has consisted of Zac Pennington and a rotating cast of additional band members. Pennington is an immensely talented vocalist and songwriter with an eccentric performance persona and the grand musical ambitions to match; luckily, he's also got the uncanny ability to execute every one of his ideas to perfection, no matter how drastically it differs from the last. Privilege, so far, is kind of a bizarre but genius combination of the richly orchestrated, baroque-styled Entanglements and criminally catchy, synth-drenched electronic pop, with the occasional burst of cacophonous experimentation to spice things up.

There are any number of songs from the project that could serve as a perfect introduction but I've gone with "Weaknesses" because it's simply the one I literally cannot stop playing. Even when I'm not listening to the song itself, it's on a constant loop inside my head. The song is just an ideal representation of everything that makes Parenthetical Girls so great. Though Pennington's voice doesn't go through as many elastic twists and turns as it does in some of the band's other songs, it's instantly engaging: unique, strong and slightly strange in a way that makes you want to keep listening. His lyrics, too, are in top form, somehow managing to be sexy, witty, a little bit sarcastic, and even slightly devastating all at once (try and tell me that last line isn't one of the best endings for a song ever). The music reflects this multifaceted quality. It is complex enough to stay interesting with multiple listens but catchy enough to win you over from the start, inexplicably sensual, unsettling and infectious as fuck simultaneously. Basically, it's just a perfect, perfect song and I wish everyone in the world could hear it right now.

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urgencytobleed: (Default)
2012-02-04 12:28 pm

Three-One.

Guess who feels like an asshole right now? Yep, me. I knew it was a bad sign when I started skipping days between posting reviews and I knew it would only get worse once I started school again... so, of course, fast forward a month later and I still haven't revealed my top three. I'm sure anyone who once would have cared hates me by now. I also don't have proper reviews to post with these. Not because they aren't good. Naturally, they are very good. I just don't have it in me to write about them at length. So I'm mostly going to let the music speak for itself, though I do have a few half-hearted words to go along with it. Seriously, ignore how flaky I am in my posting habits and just listen to it, please.

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Alright, now I'm probably going to disappear again for... awhile. The foreseeable future. You can keep up with me here or on Tumblr, where I need more friends!
urgencytobleed: (hand that pen over to me poetaster!)
2012-01-05 06:17 pm

Four.

Bombay Bicycle Club - A Different Kind of Fix


Hey, everybody, A Different Kind of Fix is probably one of the year's best albums that you haven't heard; seriously, is it just me or has this album flown way under the radar? I haven't seen very many people at all talking about it, at least not here in the States. Even if the rest of the album was utterly horrible (which, obviously, it is not), "Shuffle" is the best pop song, bar none, that I've heard all year - hell, it's probably battling with one or two others for the best song of 2011, period. It's that good (and, in an alternate universe, should be a massive radio hit). The song showcases everything Bombay Bicycle Club has to offer at its absolute peak: the instrumentation is interesting (note the repeated piano motif that sounds a bit like a little kid hitting the keys at random and the electronic sampling that also reoccurs throughout the song) but not off-putting, Jack Steadman's vocals are quirky and highly individual but not polarizing and the melodies are diverse enough that, though it follows in the vein of a classic pop song, it also retains a sense of unpredictability. Basically, the song is immediate and traditional enough to appeal to a mass audience while also being creative and refreshing enough to impress those music aficionados who are a little harder to please - it's truly the best of both worlds. The rest of the album works in a similar way: there may not be anything too edgy here but it isn't simply a rehash of things we've all heard before either. The technique of heavy repetition in a single song can easily backfire and become boring or tedious to listen to but the repetition in opener "How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep" gives the song a hypnotic and driving quality that is anything but dull; it sets the bar for the rest of the album extremely high. Luckily, Bombay Bicycle Club best themselves time and time again. Vocalist Lucy Rose contributes to several tracks and her clean, airy timbre contrasts well with Steadman's characteristic warble. On the almost tropical-sounding "Lights Out, Words Gone," her subtle backing vocals only contribute to the song's unique atmosphere, like a cool island breeze, and her effortlessly light repetition of the song's title in "Leave It" leads beautifully into the more intense sections of the song, which find Steadman singing passionately, "Don't you go evade me now/Come see what you've done/I keep thinking lately how/All these feelings won." Other highlights include "Bad Timing," which is slightly more jarring and experimental than anything else on the album, "What You Want," another basically flawless pop song, and devastating closer "Still." In this final song, Steadman sings purely in a wavering, heartbreaking falsetto such potent lines as, "Did he fill the empty spaces/Was he everything I'm not?/There's no force behind my mouth/But in just three words he brings you down/There's a movement out the door, I swear, but no/Your lips, they stay perfectly still." The way this last word is electronically drawn out, simmering just beneath the vocal layers of the chorus, lends an even more unsettling effect to the song. It's an intensely emotional finale, most similar in style to the minimal, acoustic balladry of last year's Flaws but dialed way up to ten, and it'll stay with you long after listening. As a whole, A Different Kind of Fix is one of the most immensely listenable albums I've heard in a long time - it's certainly the one I've most often felt the urge to put on.

urgencytobleed: (Default)
2012-01-05 09:26 am

Five.

Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness


It's staggering to consider how prolific Los Campesinos! has been since the band released their debut full-length, Hold on Now, Youngster..., in 2008; less than four years later, Hello Sadness is their fourth album (along with a rather impressive array of single releases and b-sides). Even more staggering is just how much the band has evolved musically in that span of time. To play the dark, brooding Hello Sadness next to the buoyant, youthful Hold on Now, Youngster... makes for a stark contrast in both mood and complexity. Yet, at the same time, both sound distinctly like Los Campesinos! albums, impossible to mistake for anything else. While Gareth's vocals have deepened and become less erratic, his acerbic lyrics more introspective and mature and the infectious melodies subtler and more experimental, these essential elements that set the band apart from others of their ilk still remain. "By Your Hand" and "Hello Sadness," with their bouncy choruses set off by rather depressing lyrics ("It's only hope that springs eternal/And that's the reason why/This dripping from my broken heart/Is never running dry"), are among the catchiest songs the band has ever concocted; they also display a stunning amount of depth, building on the heightened emotional resonance of last year's Romance Is Boring. In fact, the heart-wrenching "To Tundra" brings to mind one of that album's late highlights, "The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future," with its gradual build-up to an impassioned finale, which finds Gareth pleading in a wounded wail, "Take a body to water/Take a body to tundra/Just take me with you as well." Also memorable in the second half of the album are "The Black Bird, the Dark Slope" and "Baby I Got the Death Rattle," the latter for Gareth's characteristically self-deprecating and humorous lyrics ("You are an angel, that's why you pray/And I am an ass and that's why I bray") and the former for its soaring chorus, a rare solo moment for Gareth's sister, Kim. As a replacement for former female vocalist Aleksandra, she is utilized mostly for harmonies throughout Hello Sadness, which makes her raspy, slightly soulful turn in the spotlight all the more delightful. At only ten songs, Hello Sadness is a much more compact affair than its predecessor and it is also much more consistent, without a moment of filler. It is the band's most accomplished album to date and it'll be a difficult one to top - though I think the members of Los Campesinos! have already proven they're quite capable of outdoing themselves time and time again.

urgencytobleed: (Default)
2012-01-05 02:53 am

Six.

I really do have three of these to post today. They're written and everything this time, promise.

Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know


At first, A Creature I Don't Know seems like Laura Marling's chilliest album to date. Gone is the earnest romanticism of Alas I Cannot Swim. Gone too is most of the unbridled passion and world-weary cynicism of I Speak Because I Can. The absence of these qualities may initially make the album appear to be less of an accomplishment than its predecessors, slight and strangely closed-off. Even the most bombastic songs - the darkly playful horn-infused "The Muse," the sinister and bluesy slow-building rocker "The Beast" - sound naked and blunt, simplistic in a way that even the most reserved, stripped-down moments on I Speak Because I Can were not. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly makes the album so initially impenetrable: is it the no-frills, organic production that perhaps sometimes falls a little too flat? Is it the more abstract, impersonal lyrics or the fact that Marling's voice remains, for the most part, on a low simmer? Though these slight changes may at first keep the listener distanced from the music, ultimately, it is also these changes that makes A Creature I Don't Know such a beautiful album. It is possible that the songs here will not immediately hit you emotionally, the way that I Speak Because I Can felt like such a punch to the gut; their simplicity and subtlety is instead more like a slowly-twisting knife - they root themselves inside of your brain, ever so slightly chipping away with every listen until, suddenly, they become some of the most tender, aching and genuinely affecting sounds you've ever heard. This time, the impact of Marling's voice is not in its volume or intensity but in the barely perceptible changes in inflection it can undergo in a single line and the impact of her lyrics is not in their barely-contained anger but in what lies beneath the surface of that anger. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the three-track run of "Salinas," "The Beast" and "Night After Night." Emotionally dizzying on all levels, it is actually in their quiet beginnings that they most shine - nothing is more heartbreaking than Marling's understated, slightly husky voice barely rising above a whisper with only a gently-strummed acoustic guitar for accompaniment. The way she utters certain lines, imbuing them with far deeper meaning than comes across simply in the words ("That gun will turn before the sun starts to burn, understand;" "He lies, he lies, so sweet that I choke;" "Dear lover forgiven, my love is driven by rage"), is stunning to say the least. "I Was Just a Card" and "Don't Ask Me Why" are less sprawling and adventurous musically but thanks to some lovely string arrangements and, again, Marling's impressive talent both vocally and lyrically, just as affecting. The lyrics in "Don't Ask Me Why," particularly, are downright poetic: "I took the wind from the sea/I took the blood from an arrow/I took the wisdom of spring/I was thrown and blown and tossed and turned until/Time found its hand and called it an end/Me and time, we go way back when/I was a child/And I always knew why." A Creature I Don't Know is not an album that wears its heart on its sleeve - but do not let that lead you to believe it does not have a heart at all. Marling only keeps growing better and she is also an artist who does not seem content to settle; her musical future is wide open.

urgencytobleed: (kneel and crawl to hell and back)
2012-01-03 04:11 pm
Entry tags:

Seven.

I apologize. I missed a couple days because I had a bit of trouble writing this review and/or I just felt incredibly lazy. Anyway, I may or may not post one or two more reviews today to catch up. Either that or this'll just take a bit longer than I expected.

Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes


Wounded Rhymes is, oddly, one of the most playful albums I've heard this year but also one of the most melancholy. The insanely catchy melodies and Lykke Li's uniquely cheeky delivery make it an incredibly fun and addictive listen. At the same time, that voice, an intriguing combination of girlish and husky, can just as easily transform into something achingly mournful. That, along with the album's slower, subtler moments and its boom-y, spacious production, lend Wounded Rhymes a far more mature, reflective, even bleak quality than Li's lightweight debut, Youth Novels. As both a songwriter and a performer, Li's growth over the past few years is obvious and remarkable. What is most stunning about Wounded Rhymes is the confidence it exudes and the fact that it carries such a distinct sound - yet Li's newfound confidence never grows overbearing. Though the album's most immediately infectious tracks - "Youth Knows No Pain," "Get Some," "Rich Kids Blues" - find Li tossing out quick-witted, sarcasm-laced lyrics in an aggressively flirtatious way (most memorably, the oft-repeated guarantee, "I'm your prostitute/You gon' get some"), she is also capable of dialing down the cockiness to genuinely tug at the listener's heartstrings. "Love Out of Lust" is a gorgeously languorous track, a sort of slow-motion dance song, rich, expansive and cinematic. The album's emotional peak, "I Know Places," is an incredibly stripped-down ballad which allows Li to give her most plaintive, truly goosebump-raising vocal performance, sucking the listener completely into the song's sorrowful realm. The moments that shine brightest, though, fall between these extremes. There's "I Follow Rivers," which is just as catchy as any of the previously-mentioned tracks but also just eccentric enough and just dark enough to leave a real, long-lasting impact. It's actually oddly unsettling, with its slightly off-kilter percussion, quirky and child-like in an almost creepy way, and lyrics that are maddeningly cryptic, but not enough to keep you from listening over and over again. "Sadness Is a Blessing" is far less eerie but just as captivating. It most successfully embodies the layered, echo-laden '70s pop style that informs the entire album and it features what is probably Li's most technically impressive vocal. Also, for being so deceptively cutesy, the chorus is one of the album's bleakest: "Sadness is a blessing/Sadness is a pearl/Sadness is my boyfriend/Oh, sadness, I'm your girl." Wounded Rhymes, as a whole, is memorable not only for showcasing such a drastic change in sound and leap in artistry but also, simply, for being one of the finest albums of the year from beginning to end. Li may not be the best composer or lyricist or vocalist on this list but the fearlessness she displays on Wounded Rhymes has been one of my biggest - and best - surprises this year. I didn't go into this album expecting to adore it, which makes it all the more satisfying that it managed to win me over so thoroughly.

urgencytobleed: (you're not happy but you're funny)
2011-12-31 04:11 pm
Entry tags:

Eight.


Because I'm convinced he knew it would make my year, Leighton Antelman released not one but two albums in very quick succession and, despite my loyalty to Lydia and my excitement over the fact that there was a new Lydia album at all, this is my clear favorite of the two. I think it's because I didn't really have any expectations for it. All I knew was that Antelman and Matt Malpass were teaming up to make some catchy, decidedly un-Lydia-like pop tunes and, as it turns out, My Blood Is Full of Airplanes, despite aptly fitting that description, is far more substantial and memorable than it might imply. The ten songs here are not only catchy pop tunes but damn good and damn catchy pop tunes, so slick and layered with electronics and effects that some may call them overproduced - but, to me, the indulgence works. Malpass' no holds barred production technique turns extremely simple songs like "Kill It" and "Picasso" into sonically intriguing ear candy, massive and instantly infectious. Antelman's incredibly distinctive vocal style is perfectly suited to these types of songs and, surprisingly, despite its familiarity, My Blood Is Full of Airplanes sounds nothing like his work with Lydia. Perhaps that is its most appealing quality: that Antelman and Malpass have committed themselves so fully to their mission of stepping outside of their comfort zone and creating something totally unexpected. "Satellites" and "Kinetic" are downright joyous, more cheerful and upbeat than anyone probably expected from them based on their past endeavors. The songs are unabashedly poppy yet, at the same time, unexpectedly refreshing. Despite their allegiance to a specific genre, they switch melodies and tempos so quickly and with so much ease that the transitions are seamless and natural and there are so many miniscule elements buried in the music that, instead of growing stale with repeated listens, they only grow better. Though these tracks and others like them are rather light and frothy, the album also holds a great amount of emotional depth. "Say It Like You Mean It" is one of the few mid-tempo songs and its catchiness is slightly more subtle; understated verses lead into an explosive chorus built on a simple sentiment that packs a surprising punch: "I don't mean it like I say it and you don't say it like you mean it." Near the end of the album, two songs especially stand out as much darker and more intense than the surrounding tracks. "She's on My Arm Now" is, compared to the rest of the album, quite heavy musically and has a more difficult, disjointed melody. Antelman's vocals here, which we've already witnessed transitioning through their many shades and facets, are a revelation, growing more and more passionate as the song progresses. Upping the intensity even more is the closing title track, which actually sounds quite out of place, but is phenomenal nonetheless. There is no moment on the album more sincere and affecting than when Antelman wails partway through, "Lately I've been thinking about the molecules I've been breathing/And now my skin's so soft it breaks with every breath I'm taking/And now my blood is full of airplanes and they're flying me away/From all these goddamn dirtbag neighborhoods, singing, 'Don't look back, don't you dare look back at me.'" It's a truly chill-inducing moment, just one more indication of how much magic Antelman and Malpass are capable of creating together. Whether or not the Cinema remains an ongoing project, My Blood Is Full of Airplanes is the perfect culmination of their talents and it will prove difficult, maybe even impossible, to ever top.

urgencytobleed: (Default)
2011-12-30 01:53 pm
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Nine.

Eisley - The Valley


It's been four years since Combinations and, after such a long wait, The Valley, on one hand, might be viewed as a disappointment for it doesn't really bring anything new to the table and, to some, may even be a step backward in quality. Gone are the dark, heavy songs that made Combinations so interesting ("Many Funerals," "Invasion," "A Sight to Behold") and the whimsical lyrics that have permeated Eisley's music in the past. Instead, The Valley finds the band sticking mostly to brighter, shinier sounds and lyrics about love lost and found (which makes sense, considering the amount of relationship drama the DuPree sisters have been through over the past several years). Though there isn't much here that can truly be considered new or innovative - most of the songs adhere to the traditional pop song format and never veer too far off course - The Valley is still a worthwhile listening experience. The melodies, though predictable, are undeniably catchy and the harmonies Stacy, Sherri and Chauntelle DuPree are capable of crafting are nothing short of stunning, as rich and vital to the music's effect as any other form of instrumentation. In fact, it is really the strong vocals that set Eisley apart from similar bands that aren't quite so memorable; Stacy and Sherri, who trade leads back and forth over the course of the album, both have the unique capability of selling absolutely anything they're singing about. Even if, as on The Valley, the lyrics aren't particularly mindblowing and often seem quite repetitive, the girls sing with such feeling and conviction that it hardly matters. Songs like "Smarter" and "Sad," on paper, are a bit cliched in their representations of anger and betrayal but Sherri's vocals are fierce and biting, allowing the songs to rise above their middling premises. Later in the album, "Better Love" and "Please" are rather generically constructed yet stand out for their energy and hard-hitting choruses. Meanwhile, Stacy's songs tend to be slightly more experimental than her sister's. The piano-based "Watch It Die" provides some of the whimsy that is missing from most of the rest of the album; light and playful, it begs immediately for the repeat button. "I Wish" finds both Stacy and Sherri switching off vocals during the verses, creating a discombobulated effect that is resolved in the layered, swelling chorus, one of the biggest on the album, sounding much larger than the two or three voices it is constructed upon. Closer "Ambulance," on the other hand, dials down the intensity but is no less riveting. Though it was released more than a year ago on the Fire Kite EP, it still sounds just as fresh and emotional now as it did then and serves as a perfectly understated yet poignant ending to the album. If you're looking for something that's never been done before, The Valley isn't the place to find it. However, if you're looking for something that's perhaps not very new but is injected with passion and energy by a band that has grown ever more confident in their abilities, then it's a very fulfilling album. Despite being relatively inconsequential, I have come back to many of the songs here far more than most other releases this year. Still, it'll be interesting to see how Eisley continues to develop; they already have an EP slated for release early next year and, considering how long this album had been sitting on the shelf prior to release, it's difficult to say, musically, exactly where the band might be now.

urgencytobleed: (Default)
2011-12-29 10:05 pm
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Ten.

Feist - Metals


To me, Metals is undoubtedly Leslie Feist's greatest accomplishment to date. I know a lot of people are lamenting the lack of lighthearted, cutesy-quirky pop songs but that's never been the aspect of Feist's music that has drawn me in - to be honest, I've always thought "1234" was one of The Reminder's weakest links and the songs that have stuck with me from that album are its darker, more atmospheric moments such as "The Park," "The Water" and "Intuition." Metals, then, is a perfect album for me because it's built from beginning to end on such sublime melancholy. Containing both some of the edgiest songs Feist has ever released and some of the subtlest, Metals is finally the album that, as a whole, is substantial enough to stand up to her spectacularly evocative vocals. In the past, I've mostly found her voice more memorable than the songs themselves but, here, the music is just as intriguing and complex as the many shades of Feist's vocal timbre. Even the poppier, peppier songs - "How Come You Never Go There," "The Circle Married the Line," "Bittersweet Melodies" - carry a certain amount of musical heft that transforms them into something more than delightful but ultimately frivolous concoctions. Still, the most intriguing tracks to be found on Metals are those that don't sound quite like anything Feist has ever done before or, rather, like more daring and large-scale versions of things she's tried to do before. Aching ballads like "Graveyard" and "Anti-Pioneer" aren't too dissimilar at their cores from much of Feist's past material but on Metals, in large part due to the addition of gorgeous string arrangements and strangely haunting group vocals, they soar and swell like never before and refrain from veering anywhere close to elevator music, a tendency which some of her past material has suffered from. Elsewhere, Feist travels even further outside her comfort zone, such as on the expansive opener "The Bad in Each Other," which is quirky but also remains very rooted, retaining an almost earthy, naturalistic quality despite its extremely layered and bombastic instrumentation. "Undiscovered First" follows along these same lines. It rises and falls effortlessly, building up from a restrained, foreboding opening to a sudden burst of energy in the chorus to a chaotic sea of voices and instrumentation at the end. Among such cacophony, however, Feist's pained delivery rings out clearly above all, and there is no more affecting moment on the entire album than when everything fades away and she wails nakedly, her voice echoing and distant as if in a cave, "Is this the way to live for me to be yours? Is this the way to live? Is it wrong to want more?" Overall, Metals is a phenomenal album, one that keeps giving the more you listen to it, which can't really be said for Feist's past efforts, at least in my personal experience. Though The Reminder was one of my favorite albums of the year when it was released in 2007, I've hardly listened to it since then. Metals, I feel, will keep revealing more to me far after the luster of newness has worn off.

urgencytobleed: (sebastian <3 <3)
2011-12-28 07:18 pm

Eleven.

Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams


Dum Dum Girls' Only in Dreams is the equivalent in the world of independent music to escapist pop - fortunately, though, it has enough substance to place it squarely outside of guilty pleasure territory. The album also represents a huge musical leap for the band, who, until their He Gets Me High EP earlier this year, specialized in making simplistic, short and often times barely discernible lo-fi garage pop tunes that were more likely to hurt your ears than leave a genuine lasting impact. With Only in Dreams, frontwoman Dee Dee (also known as Kristen Gundred) and the other Dum Dum Girls have upped their game by a rather staggering amount, finally allowing the addictive, unabashedly poppy melodies that lurked far beneath the murky surface of their earlier material to step into the spotlight. The production is much better, giving all of the songs an energetic, sugary sheen reminiscent of girl group pop from decades past, the instrumentation is more layered and interesting, the songwriting, though often still adhering to the formula of "less is more," comes across as less sloppy and lackadaisical, and Gundred's vocals are more confident. All of this has probably prompted some longtime Dum Dum Girls fans to cry "sell out" but if that's true, I've never heard a band sell out and sound so damn good before. With their previous releases, Dum Dum Girls was only one of many in a long line of bands capitalizing on the current lo-fi craze in indie music but Only in Dreams has set them off on their own distinct path. It still may not offer up any true innovations and it's only lighthearted pop music at core but it's also the kind you can keep coming back to without fear of growing bored. The majority of the album is brimming with such gems, from the brief but glorious opener, "Always Looking," to "In My Head," "Heartbeat" and "Caught in One," three truly perfect songs that follow one after the other, in such quick succession that you'll somehow end up with all three stuck in your head at once because none stands out over the rest. On these songs, Gundred's voice is given more room to impress; though it still remains rather muted, the impassioned pre-choruses briefly bring to mind her old bluesy garage rock band, Grand Ole Party. They also lend a bit more attitude to the songs, counteracting the sweetness of the music and melodies so that it doesn't become too overbearing. Later in the album, the band branches out a bit: "Coming Down," a hazy six-minute Mazzy Star-ish ballad, is gorgeous and intense but sounds slightly out of place amongst this set; "Hold Your Hand," though progressing at a similar tempo, is more stripped-down and organic, allowing it to blend more easily with the rest of the album's atmosphere. As a whole, Only in Dreams in far from groundbreaking but it's such a truly infectious listen that its originality hardly matters - I haven't been able to stop playing several of these songs in my head since I first heard them and, sometimes, that's just as great an achievement as emotional depth or musical experimentation.

urgencytobleed: (Default)
2011-12-27 12:41 pm
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Twelve.

The Elected - Bury Me in My Rings


It's been five years since the release of Sun, Sun, Sun, the Elected's excellent sophomore album, and four years since Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight and I was beginning to think Blake Sennett had given up on music altogether - which would have been a shame because he's always been unduly overshadowed by Jenny Lewis when his talent certainly rivals if not exceeds hers. Lewis has unarguably got the stronger and more versatile vocal chops (though Sennett's now are certainly admirable, considering he often struggled to stay on-key in Rilo Kiley's earlier days) but, at this point, based on what they've done apart from each other so far, I'd have to call Sennett the better songwriter. A few years ago, at the peak of my Rilo Kiley obsession, I would have given the victory to Lewis but her music seems to have only grown more simplistic and forgettable while Sennett's remains rich and lasting. Though Bury Me in My Rings is probably the poppiest thing he's done so far apart from Under the Blacklight, it's poppy in an inspired way and not a limp, bloodless way like Lewis' most recent project, Jenny and Johnny. There are a couple missteps - I could do without the R&B-inspired "Babyface," for example - but, overall, the album is incredibly consistent and also much darker than its often light atmosphere leads one to believe. Though very catchy, at times almost bouncy, most of the songs here feature heavy subject matter, from failing relationships ("Look at Me Now") to death ("When I'm Gone") to domestic disillusionment ("Who Are You"). Adding fuel to the rumors of their volatile relationship, two of the album's most intriguing songs feature unflinchingly honest barbs that sound suspiciously like they might be directed at Lewis herself (similarly, Jenny and Johnny's "My Pet Snakes" sounded as if it could be meant for Sennett). "Go for the Throat" is an impeccably groovy track, straight out of another decade, and the lyrics are decidedly pointed: "Cooked up some big dreams, escaped a small life/You heard the kids scream every night/Now you're on late night, you're doing co-writes/And you just left the rest behind." In the second half of the album, "Have You Been Cheated" is even more wicked: "You put all your best words/In your worst song/And you can't bear to sing it/When they won't sing along... You may not know what you are but you know what you've done/And now you're back out on the road having fun." These lyrics, their richly-orchestrated instrumental accompaniment and Sennett's impassioned vocal delivery make it one of his best songs yet. Another standout is the six-minute ballad "This Will Be Worth It." Its length and gradual build-up bring to mind Sun, Sun, Sun's grand finale "Biggest Star," though it doesn't ever reach such intense heights. Despite its subtlety, it's a highly emotional track, particularly when Sennett croons with heartbreaking earnestness, "If we get the chance to do it all again/Feel free to do it, love, with another man." The fact that such self-deprecating charm sits side-by-side with aggressive confidence and both facets of Sennett's personality come across as equally genuine makes Bury Me in My Rings all the more intriguing - for a pop album, it's surprisingly complicated.

urgencytobleed: (hand that pen over to me poetaster!)
2011-12-26 04:29 pm
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Thirteen.

The Antlers - Burst Apart


To describe it in the simplest terms possible, Burst Apart is nearly the complete opposite of 2009's Hospice: where Hospice is organic, revealing and potent, Burst Apart is electronic, cryptic and aloof; where listening to Hospice feels a bit like pulling the bandage off an open wound, Burst Apart is far less uncomfortable and exposed. However, none of these differences should be misconstrued as weaknesses. In fact, the album is no less musically challenging or enthralling than its predecessor and, though it may not wear its heart quite so obviously on its sleeve, below its surface sheen, there's still plenty of misery to go around. Opener "I Don't Want Love" is the perfect example of this phenomena. The majority of the song floats along in a lovely, shoegaze-inspired haze - all lazy guitars, downbeat percussion and Peter Silberman's light falsetto - until a quick, subtle burst that finds Silberman wailing emotively, "Keep your prison locked up/And I will leave my gun at home/I don't want love," lyrics that provide a very bleak undercurrent indeed; the song then fades out with ghostly wordless vocalizing that, though simple, is capable of raising the hairs on the back of the listener's neck. This is one way in which Burst Apart continues to follow in Hospice's footsteps: both are very subtle and may not do much of anything upon a single listen. It is only later that the layers begin to unravel themselves and the songs are slowly transformed from aurally pleasing to a punch in the gut. Songs like "French Exit" and "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out" are far brighter-sounding than anything on Hospice and also more complex musically, with textures and techniques the band has never before employed, but they are also quietly devastating. Other tracks, like "Parentheses," "No Widows" and "Corsicana" are noticeably darker on the surface but become even more so when investigated closely: Silberman's sorrowful croon and his regretful and often sharp-tongued lyrics ("Close up your knees/And I'll close your parentheses") lend them an infinite amount of depth. Though these electronic-tinged musical riddles can be slightly difficult to crack at first, once they've been opened, they reveal themselves to be less remote and emotionally distant than they initially seem. So maybe, in the end, Burst Apart really is nearly as exhausting as Hospice, though for very different reasons: Hospice because it's so easy to instantly relate to and Burst Apart because it is so elusive. Closing track "Putting the Dog to Sleep" is an odd sort of relief, then, in the fact that it adheres most closely to the frank, emotional nakedness of Hospice. A sadness-drenched track that is less embellished than the rest of the album and features Silberman's voice at its most unhinged and desperate, the song, which compares the embers of a dying relationship to putting down a beloved pet, requires no excess digging on the listener's part to be profoundly affecting. "Prove to me I'm not going to die alone," Silberman begs at the start, prompting his lover to proclaim later, "I can't prove to you/You're not going to die alone/But trust me to take you home/To clean up that blood all over your paws/You can't keep running out/Kicking yourself off the bed/Kicking yourself in the head/Because you're kicking me too." It's an appropriate end note; after traveling a vast spectrum of unexpected musical sounds over the course of the album, Silberman and company return to the basics, proving they're capable of trying most anything and pulling it off successfully without abandoning the stripped-down style they've already perfected.

urgencytobleed: (Default)
2011-12-24 04:59 pm
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Fourteen.


I could go on about all of the ways Paint It Golden fails to live up to Illuminate - the lyrics aren't as strong, the music isn't as layered and rich, the songs are more repetitive and predictable structurally - but the fact remains that, despite these shortcomings, Paint It Golden is still, in my opinion, a very good album and, really, there isn't much reason to be disappointed in it. Sure, it doesn't touch Illuminate but what possibly could? That was a perfect album that gripped me and wracked me emotionally at the perfect time, a once in a lifetime listening experience that is rarely replicated, particularly by the same band. Taking that into consideration as well as realizing that, at this time last year, Lydia no longer even existed, Paint It Golden is far more than a fan could expect or ask for. Though, as a studio band, Lydia now consists only of frontman Leighton Antelman and drummer Craig Taylor, along with the invaluable assistance of producer Matt Malpass, Paint It Golden still sounds surprisingly like the work of a full band. It may only occasionally rival the expansive swells and crescendos of Illuminate but this seems to be a deliberate choice and not a side effect of the band's reduction. Songs like "Seasons" and "Birds," built on multi-layered harmonies and slowly-building instrumental sections, sound full and lush; the former particularly sounds like a lost Illuminate track, though slightly more upbeat. In fact, the overall biggest difference here is that, though the lyrics remain rather depressing, this is a lighter, more major-key version of Lydia. The majority of the first half of the album is overtly poppy; some of it is excellent ("Dragging Your Feet in the Mud") and some of it is just okay - "Get It Right" and "Best Nights" are catchy, highly enjoyable tracks but they also illustrate the album's biggest problems, namely the fact that they sound a bit too surface and glossy as well as Antelman's occasional tendency toward lazy lyrics that seem to depend on curse words in place of something deeper (for example, the chorus of "Best Nights:" "On my way home/Still wishing I was inside your bedroom/Just talking shit for the hell of it/Yeah, on the best nights/So hurry up, hurry up/Goddamn, this just feels right"). The second half of the album, on the other hand, contains some of the best songs he's ever written. "I'll Bite You" and "Skin+Bones" are very simple musically but reveal far more depth and emotion than some of the earlier tracks and their simplicity allows Antelman's unique voice to shine through. "Ghosts" is probably the biggest highlight, musically, lyrically and vocally. Here, Antelman finally allows his vocals to soar like they did on the biggest choruses of Illuminate and the lyrics leave a meaningful impact, making the earlier inconsistencies in that department even more baffling: "I just followed the birds right to the coast/Hoping she would follow my footsteps like some kind of ghost/Whispering close,/'We're not here for long, let's live for this week/'Cause I'm so goddamn sick of losing my sleep'/She'll be my defeat." I feel like I may have ended up making more points against Paint It Golden than for it but that's only because I hold the band to such impossibly high standards. Even if this album failed to live up to those expectations completely, I do still genuinely love it and any complaints are just minor nitpicks on my part. In the end, Paint It Golden really cannot be compared to Illuminate at all, because they're very different albums and both have very different, but no less vital, things to offer.

urgencytobleed: (i put a pearl in the ground)
2011-12-23 11:06 am
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Fifteen.

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy


Though I've been a fan of St. Vincent since 2007's Marry Me, I'll admit I've always considered Annie Clark to be a sort of second-rate Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond). Both women share a flair for the dramatic, once played second fiddle to Sufjan Stevens in his touring band and have similar rich, nearly operatic vocal timbres that, at times, are capable of sounding eerily identical. However, as Worden has veered in a lighter, more playful direction with her latest release, Clark's music has only grown darker, weirder and louder over the years. In fact, within the first thirty seconds of Strange Mercy's jarring yet oddly addictive opening track, "Chloe in the Afternoon," it becomes quite clear that, three albums in, Clark has succeeded in carving out a musical niche all her own, specializing in sounds unabashedly cluttered and cacophonous but also strangely beautiful. Strange Mercy picks up where Clark's last album, Actor, left off. Much heavier and more experimental than her debut, Actor also felt slightly undercooked; though brimming with large-scale ideas, it seemed often too scaled-back and reserved, as though Clark didn't feel quite courageous enough yet to fully let go and bring her crazy concepts to completion. Now, with Strange Mercy, she seems to have finally cast off all reservations and though the results aren't always conventionally pretty, they are refreshing and intriguing. The first half of the album is near flawless. Following the aforementioned opener is the perfect representation of Clark's numerous talents in "Cruel," which sets her deceptively sweet vocal delivery up against wicked lyrical barbs ("They could take or leave you/So they took you and they left you/How could they be casually cruel?") and abrupt bursts of distorted, punchy guitar. "Cheerleader" does away with the faux-sweetness entirely, instead employing unsettling vocal effects to lend a creepy atmosphere to the verses and culminating in a satisfyingly passionate chorus. With all of its intricacies and technicalities, Strange Mercy could have easily gotten lost in the process and, as a result, come off as remote and cold. Luckily, this is not the case and the title track is perhaps the album's most emotionally affecting moment. The first half of the song meanders along gorgeously before unexpectedly switching gears, allowing Clark to croon insistently, the determination in her voice palpable, "If I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up/No, I - I don't know what." The interrupted, stream-of-consciousness style of the lyrics only adds to their impact. Past this point, the album does begin to drag slightly, though it never becomes anything less than a pleasure to listen to and the final track, "Year of the Tiger," is another marvel. As a whole, Strange Mercy may not be as immediately accessible as Clark's previous albums but it rewards repeated listens in a way that they do not. It's the kind of album that's full of tiny surprises; the fun lies in uncovering them.

urgencytobleed: (why do you edit? just give me credit)
2011-12-22 12:06 pm
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Sixteen.

Jeniferever - Silesia


Two years ago, I named Jeniferever's Spring Tides my number one album, a decision I still stand by completely. It was one of those albums, for me, that happen once in a blue moon: it hit all the right notes both musically and emotionally and it also happened to have really good timing. I'm not sure I would have been in a place to appreciate Jeniferever's music if I had heard it at any other point but just then, in that perfect moment, it impacted me like nothing else. For this reason, it is a difficult, perhaps even impossible, album to top and with Silesia, Jeniferever have not quite done it. Though the songs range from four to nine minutes long, Silesia as a whole feels somewhat streamlined. Part of the appeal of Spring Tides were the instrumental breaks that slowly unfolded, building up layer by layer into these grand, cinematic soundscapes and Silesia is lacking in that department. This time, the band seems to be going for melody over atmosphere and while this isn't at all a bad thing in moderation, it's a bit disappointing in a song like "The Beat of Our Own Blood," which, though good, is a bit devoid of individuality. Still, when the album shines, it really shines. "Waifs & Strays" is another one of the catchier tracks but also remains distinctly Jeniferever in sound. The opening title track is truly stunning, vast and monumental in a three-dimensional way when much of the rest of the album sounds slightly two-dimensional. Closer "Hearths" is equally impressive though for opposite reasons; its restraint creates intensity from the inside out rather than the other way around. However, the true standout for me is actually one of the most straightforward songs they've ever written, "Where the Hills Fall Towards the Ocean." Lyrically very simple, the impact lies in the instrumental build-up and comedown, one of the few instances in which the heights of Spring Tides are reached, and in Kristofer Jönson's vocals. Though his voice could quite accurately be described with such adjectives as "nasal" and "whiny," it's somehow beautiful anyway. You can hear the emotion bleeding out as he sings and, ultimately, this is what holds Jeniferever's music together: the unfiltered intensity he instills in each and every word, whether he's whispering or wailing. Silesia may not be a masterpiece but most things aren't. It is a band doing what they do best; even when their efforts aren't fully successful, they're always fully genuine.

urgencytobleed: (the many faces of lee pace)
2011-12-21 12:17 pm

Seventeen.

My Brightest Diamond - All Things Will Unwind


Shara Worden has one of those voices where she could probably recite the phone book and get away with it. This perhaps accounts for the fact that each of her albums, though vastly differing in tone, has been such an aural feast. First came her debut album as My Brightest Diamond, Bring Me the Workhorse; dark and dramatic, it was propelled mostly by the dizzying rise and fall of Worden's operatic wail and her wickedly black lyrics. Its follow-up, A Thousand Shark's Teeth, was a more subdued and somber affair, sometimes so gorgeously soothing that it verged on soporific, though the voice remained always inspiring. Now, three years later, she has returned with All Things Will Unwind, which builds on elements from both of her prior releases while also bringing something new to the table: it is, so far, the brightest, most playful thing Worden has ever done. Thanks in large part to their richly-orchestrated arrangements, even the sleepiest songs here sound full of life, like the slowly building "She Does Not Brave the War" and the endearing closing ballad, "I Have Never Loved Someone." Meanwhile, faster-paced numbers like "Ding Dang" and "There's a Rat" are delightfully tongue-in-cheek and quirky but resist tumbling into the cutesy cliches they could so easily become in lesser hands. Where the album most succeeds, however, is in the moments that fall somewhere between these two extremes. "Reaching Through to the Other Side" and "Escape Routes" are intriguing paradoxes, quixotic and lively but with a melancholy, vaguely foreboding undercurrent. "Be Brave" is both strangely chilling and highly infectious. It shifts through several moods, from the sparse, spooky beginning to a threatening pep talk from Worden to herself ("Shara, now, get to work/Shara, this is going to hurt") to the uplifting chorus to a final emotional outburst of frustration ("It's so hard, it's so heavy to be hungry to be happy/It's so light, it's so easy just to be/Oh God, what would you do with me?/Oh God, what's my responsibility?"). Also sublime is "Everything Is in Line," a call-and-response duet with DM Stith. Featuring passionate vocals from both parties, the most surprising thing about it is its relative simplicity, considering how immense and complex it sounds. It's the pinnacle of All Things Will Unwind, which explains why its chorus provides the album's title. Overall, All Things Will Unwind is a diverse and immensely enjoyable listen, not only because Worden's got one of the best voices in independent music today but also because she's also a brilliant songwriter. She knows exactly when to pull back and when to let it all hang out, which is precisely what makes her music so compelling. You may come for the voice but you'll stay because of the songs.