In spite of Karen O's somewhat vexatious methods for promoting her latest album, Crush Songs, there is an undeniable charm and honesty about the theme of her first solo work. Whether focusing on all of her sources of heartache is a gimmick or a genuine way to relate to her audience, the fifteen-track record offers a smattering of O's unbridled emotions when it comes to matters of love (and love lost or unrequited). The brevity of each song makes the run time top out at just over twenty-five minutes, which is rather impressive when you consider how quickly, yet in-depth she manages to cover the gamut of romantic relationships. Lost in love--like the rest of us

"Ooo" has the moody vocals of a Loretta Lynn and mirrors the tone of an old country song in terms of Karen O defending her man by asserting, "Don't tell me that they're all the same/'Cause even the sound of his name carries me over their reach back to some golden beach where only he remains." The first single from the album, "Rapt," is one of the longest (which is presumably one of the reasons it made the cut for single material--that, and it sounds most like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song) and illuminates the dichotomous pleasure and pain of love with the lyrics, "Love is soft, love's a fucking bitch. Do I really need another habit like you?"

http://youtu.be/oTvqMfvVWYQ

"Visits" sounds vaguely like the backbeat to Lorde's "Royals," but, this flaw aside, it has a special place on Crush Songs for its particular breed of fastness. It has one of the most jubilant-sounding versions of Karen O, in spite of her noting "I can't hold any soul." Channeling Lana Del Rey on "Beasts," Karen O evokes her darkest, most forlorn vibe on a song that laments, "My heart was never interested in lasting... Did you really love?" Surrendering to the beast that is love, O paints a grim portrait of vulnerability's consequences.

Album cover for Crush Songs

"Comes the Night" continues a sinister aural motif, with light baritone guitar strums that complement Karen O's aching voice. Just when you start to become enthralled by her tale, the song ends at a minute and six seconds. And, of course, as the lead singer of one of the most New York bands, it wouldn't be a Karen O album without a song called "NYC Baby." A sweet, nostalgic sort of track, O croons, "Left my baby in New York City/Oh what a pity he's in New York City/Rather have my baby much much closer to me lately than he's been."

Album cover for Crush Songs

"Other Side" finds Karen O hitting her lo-fi stride, with the distinct homemade sound of the record reaching one of its pinnacles--background noise and all. Though, let's get one thing straight: Julie Ruin by Kathleen Hanna this is not. "Come with me to the other side," O urges, whether as a lure to the object of her affection or a means to wear down someone she's already got in her clutches. Following is "So Far," another twangy sort of track that elicits comparisons to some sort of new-fangled Patsy Cline. The lyrics focus on post-breakup era sentiments as O gives the pep talk, "Hold your head high, leave your bed."

A triumphant solo artist

Once again, Karen O has a decidedly Lana Del Rey feel on "Day Go By," with a guitar riff that sounds faintly like "Brooklyn Baby." As the most obvious choice for single material after "Rapt," "Day Go By" has a less pronounced low-budget sound than some of the other songs and features lyrics that err on the more feel-good side (hear: "Gotta call the doctor doctor, gotta tell him that my pain is gone"). "Body," possibly the best offering on Crush Songs, explores the lovely, somewhat impossible notion of not settling for anyone less than what you're looking for with the assurance: "If you love somebody, anybody/There will always be someone else/So make it right for yourself."

Mourning love

"King" is one of the more anomalous songs on the album, referencing none other than Michael Jackson, which I guess counts as a form of love. Over the course of a minute and twenty-three seconds, Karen O explains, "King of pop is dead and gone away, no one will ever take his place/He's in his castle in the sky watching over you and I/And with his single sparkling glove/He blows us kisses to show us love/Is he walking on the moon?/I hope I don't find out too soon." "Indian Summer" possesses a slower than usual tempo and alludes to that strange time when one is more susceptible to falling in love: Indian summer.

Karen O's Crush Songs manifesto

"Sunset Sun" finds Karen O comparing sunsets and sunrises to relationships ending and beginning anew, promising, "Night has come, it's done.../Someday you'll know the one." "Native Korean Rock" changes the vibe altogether, with a pronounced rock-oriented feel akin to early Rilo Kiley. As a more empowering song than most of the others, Karen O practically screams, "You'll be fine, fine, fine." Especially if you listen to this album post-breakup.

Single cover for "Rapt"

"Singalong" closes out Crush Songs in a spirited campfire kind of manner, with whistling and other harmonies involved. An uplifting way to conclude an album about the peaks and valleys of love, Karen O shows us that she's capable of accomplishing what so many other solo artists who break away from their bands aren't: Establishing her own unique sound (see: Morrissey, Damon Albarn).

 

 

Jenny Lewis has been in the entertainment business for longer than most people have been recovering from the 80s. Her transition into music in 1998 by starting a band with her boyfriend, Blake Sennett, that would ultimately become the successful indie outfit known as Rilo Kiley, was a fortuitous turn away from acting. When it all fell apart as a result of her breakup (a pattern eerily similar to her own parents, who were in a Vegas lounge act together that broke apart when their relationship did), Lewis began working on her own solo projects, in addition to other musical endeavors, including her collaboration on The Postal Service's 2003 wrist-cutting essential, Give Up. The Voyager, Lewis' third solo album, is the culmination of five years of work and reflection, specifically about the disbanding of Rilo Kiley and the death of Lewis' father. Lewis at work

The Voyager begins with "Head Underwater," an ode to taking a moment. Whether you actually do that by placing your head underwater to block out the rest of the world around you or through some other means (drugs anyone?) is at your discretion. Lewis describes, "I held my breath until it passed/I closed my eyes and I was free at last." The pain she experienced makes itself apparent in the re-telling of her coping mechanisms. The second track, "She's Not Me," which is also the name of a Madonna song that you should listen to, is self-evident in its title, detailing the ways in which one's ex is fooling himself into substituting one with another ho. Lyrics like, "Heard she's having your baby/And everything's so amazing/But she's not me/She's easy," combine just the right amount of woundedness and bashing.

Album cover for The Voyager

The first single from the album, "Just One Of The Guys," has a lackadaisical beat (perhaps to match Lewis' perception of men, or perhaps a result of her San Fernando Valley upbringing) that reels you in right away. Simultaneously lamenting and relishing the fact that, "No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys/There's a little something inside that won't let me," Lewis gives us a firsthand account of having an unwanted biological clock. She hits the point home by saying, "I'm just another lady without a baby." And then there's the video, featuring Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart in their best versions of drag kings.

http://youtu.be/Irvcf6dCk-k

The laidback vibes continue on "Slippery Slopes." A comment on the challenges of long-term relationships, and the temptations that other people can present when you're bored and/or apart from the one you love, Lewis somewhat sardonically states, "I am still into you, dreams really do come true/I feel it everywhere, even in my red hair," then adds, "If you don't wreck it, then I won't wreck it either."

More album artwork

Lewis is anything but a late bloomer in terms of exposure to cracked outedness while serving time in Hollywood as a child actor (she had a role on Life With Lucy, one of Lucille Ball's many short-lived shows post-I Love Lucy, and, more importantly in Troop Beverly Hills with Shelley Long). And yet, the appearance of a song called "Late Bloomer" seems believable as Lewis sings in an autobiographical manner, crooning, "When I turned 16, I was furious and restless."

Southern California tableau

Possessing a country twang, "You Can't Outrun 'Em" is a song about Lewis' father and his ultimate demise. Singing, "I'm afraid you chose the red door with the triple six neon sign," Lewis could be speaking both to him or herself about the state of his health. Lewis, who had gotten closer to her father after he had spent most of her youth traveling (he, too, was a musician--which was, in part, what allowed her to forgive him for his absence: an empathetic understanding), also asks herself, "After all that you've been through, haven't you learned anything?", as though feeling she (and her father) should have somehow known better than to think they had more time together.

Performing

"The New You" addresses Lewis' metamorphosis and eventual ability to cope with the strife in her life. Looking at The Voyager as a form of therapy, she could be talking to any number of people when she accuses, "You perfected the art of making it all about you" (though, in all reality, she's probably continuing to talk about Sennett). Hawaiian waves of goodness and well-being wash over you when you listen to "Aloha and the Three Johns." Yet another song that sounds as though it's speaking directly to Sennett, Lewis questions, "Is this the beginning of our vacation/Or is this the end of our relationship?" The answer: it's the end.

Still from "Just One of the Guys"

A more rock-tinged sound accompanies "Love U Forever," which rehashes the encounter of a new love as Lewis sings, "When I met you, you were just a boy/And you were tongue-tied and wearing corduroys." Somewhat paraphrasing Jessica Simpson, Lewis assures, "I could love you forever"--though, of course, that never did happen (at least with Sennett, but who's to say it couldn't with her current boyfriend, Jonathan Rice?). The last track, "The Voyager," is a melancholic, symphonic bookend to an emotional album, and tells the tale of the voyager in all of us, whether this is a literal or metaphorical description. Combining her signature brand of sadness and sweetness, she recounts, "By the time I got your letter, I lost my mind/I was trippin'/When you gettin' better?, it's a jagged line." The chorus of the song also seems to be the overall theme of the album: "There are voyagers in every boy and girl/If you wanna get to heaven, get outta this world." Luckily, we have Lewis to take us to that place without ever having to leave the apartment (because you probably don't have a house if you're the type of person listening to this).

 

Dum Dum Girls may be an "indie" band, but they know the value of promotion after releasing two prior albums, I Will Be and Only in Dreams. And so, with such experience under their belts, it only made sense that they would debut the first single from their third record, Too True, through the retail platform that is H&M. "The Lost Boys and Girls Club" came out in fall of 2013, and was quickly followed with another single, "Too True to Be Good," which was first made available via V Magazine.

Too True opens with "Cult of Love," a witchy, cerebral track in which lead vocalist Dee Dee Penny declares "I belong to the cult of love." It is a cult none of us can help succumbing to in the long run and, in fact, maybe we only belong to it because "you know all my secrets, you know all my lies." The comfortableness you share with someone ultimately makes it impossible to escape your two-person cult. Penny invokes the lingo of possession with verses like, "We touch beneath our skin." The second track, "Evil Blooms," sounds oh so very much like The Strokes and spouts lyrical profundities masked behind a hyper-paced rhythm. Penny paints the portratit of some sort of tragic wild child as she sings, "Evil blooms just like a flower/It's time to judge, it's time to cast endless stones/Why be good?/Be beautiful and sad/It's all you've ever had."

"Rimbaud Eyes" may be this generation's answer to "Bette Davis Eyes." The lazy lilt of Penny as she earnestly notes, "You've got Rimbaud eyes" could either mean she loves you or hates you. The pace continues to slow with the concerned "Are You Okay?" The melancholic tone gives fellow band members Jules Medeiros, Sandy Vu and Malia James a chance to demonstrate their integral Dum Dum Girls sound. Meanwhile, Penny laments, "I know just what I'm doing/But what is this that I'm pursuing/You say, 'Are you okay?'" Penny then speaks from an empathizer's point of view with the reassurance, "What do you feel?/I feel it too."

http://youtu.be/Lg-FQbQW6e8

The wistful "Too True to Be Good" is filled with soft, near whispers of lyrics like "Won't you take me away?/I wanna feel something today." As the dividing point on the album, there is a noticeable shift toward a more sophisticated sound as Too True progresses. Producer Richard Gottehrer (of Blondie and Richard Hell fame) unveils the Dum Dum Girls at their toughest, yet most vulnerable. "In the Wake of You"--an excellently titled breakup song--picks up the beat with gentle, reserved vocals that express, "Day in, day out/I'm always alone.../Tonight I feel lonely in the wake of you." The sadness and strength conveyed in such lyrics makes this one of the most notable songs on Too True.

The following track, "The Lost Boys and Girls Club" is rather ironical when considering it was released through H&M. It is, one would like to believe, the Dum Dum Girls' way of playing a none too subtle joke on a corporation that prides itself on lively, happy clientele--which is negated by Penny's admission, "The void in my head/The hole in my heart/I feel them with things which all fall apart." Could some of those things possibly be a wardrobe from H&M? Subsequently, "Little Minx" exudes a fun and carefree vibe, with Penny acknowledging that every little minx (both literal and metaphorical) has a thought process that amounts to: "What I see defines what I think."

http://youtu.be/OOujOVALG0E

The second to last track, "Under These Hands," possesses a grunge vibe that serves as an incredible example of the Dum Dum Girls' range in terms of musical style (though many would be quick to disagree). Again, the lyrics of the song contain an almost philosophical erudition as Penny drones, "Under these hands hide strings of light.../Under these hands, under these hands, I hold my heart." Not wanting to let you think they're quite so emotionally assailable, the Dum Dum Girls conclude their short but sweet album with "Trouble is My Name." Employing the method they're most fond of--asking questions--Penny rehashes, "I had a vision, I wanted to be dead/I had a vision, destruction ruled/Trouble is my name, is it your name too?" Usually, it is. But after listening to Too True, one can only have warm, fuzzy feelings of love.

Although recording on Reflektor began in 2011, it took two years for the album to reach a state of completion. At some point in 2012, Arcade Fire began working with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy (which is always a wise decision). But even before then, the band had immersed themselves in the particular musical stylings of Haiti and Jamaica, even going so far as to move to the latter place with their other producer, Markus Dravs (who has worked with Bjork and The Maccabees). The commitment to a particular type of musical genre rarely wavers in the indie rock and pop world. For the Arcade Fire, it was co-vocalist Régine Chassagne’s Haitian background that led them to rara, a Haiti-specific form of street and festival music. So devoted to the cause of Haitian musical stylings, Arcade Fire's marketing campaign even consisted of veve drawings (which are, creepily enough, symbols used in voodoo) to promote the album. And so, it's safe to say that the band has fully embraced a new musical genre--and it's for the better. Promo graffiti for Reflektor

The first song (and the first single) on the album, "Reflektor," opens with a distinct, almost tribal beat. The sound of Win Butler's raspy, hushed voice lends a sense of illicitness to the track, while Chassagne's mellifluous French vocals add to the lamenting nature of the song. Lyrics like, "We're so connected, but are we even friends?" set a tone for intensity and reflectiveness (or reflektiveness). Following is the obviously titled "We Exist," a more rock-tinged song with frequent surrealist riffs. Butler returns to his natural penchant for blue collar lyrics with the query, "Daddy, it's true/I'm different from you/But tell me why you treat me like this?" Upon first hearing the intro to "Flashbulb Eyes," you might briefly mistake it for Jay-Z's "Tom Ford," but it then quickly delves into that rara style the band has become so fond of. And then, for some reason, there are moments where the backbeat sounds like Sublime's "April 29, 1992."

http://youtu.be/_fFAKrIntzY

"Here Comes the Night Time," ominous sounding as it may be, is an inviting song of celebration. With an opening that builds with a frenetic beat, the song then transitions into something far more island-appropriate. Laidback and whimsical, Butler pays homage to the advent of night with exuberant lyrics. A soulful piano tune is then introduced and that's pretty much the pinnacle of how good this song gets. "The Normal Person" is what Arcade Fire sounds like at their most Bruce Springsteen-esque (even the title is an indication of that). The guitars eventually shift to something that perhaps Jack White would approve of.

http://youtu.be/7E0fVfectDo

"You Already Know" opens with the echo of a Sid Vicious-sounding voice screaming "Arcade Fire!" The folksy vibe of the track is interspersed with too real for your deal musings like, "Please stop wondering why you feel so sad, when you already know." This song is succeeded by the epic "Joan of Arc," which is naturally laden with frequent French renderings of her name by Chassagne. The song works on a literal and personally romantic level as Butler sings, "You had a vision that they couldn't see so they put you down/They're the ones who put you down 'cause they have no heart/But I'm the one who'll follow you 'cause you're my Joan of Arc."

Arcade Fire's pseudonym.

The second half of the album, which is its own separate disc (even though discs don't really exist anymore), finds the band emulating their previous album, The Suburbs, by including a song called "Here Comes the Night Time II" (much like "Sprawl (Flatland)" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains"). Much more lugubrious in tone, the wistfulness is continued on the subsequent "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)." Because the album is influenced by the film Black Orpheus--and the legend itself--it only makes sense that Eurydice would be mentioned at some point on Reflektor. The "awful sound" in question is very possibly a reference to the sound Eurydice might have made upon seeing Orpheus turn around as they left Hades.

Still from "Reflektor"

Next is, appropriately, "It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus)," which sounds vaguely like an uplifting song on the soundtrack to an 80s movie. The perfect complement to "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)," this is one of those songs that's perfect to listen to when you're trying to accomplish a task you think you'll never finish (except during that part when Butler starts talking all slowly and quietly--but, shit, when it starts building up again, get ready). "Porno" is a track that could possibly be in a classier 70s porn movie (you know, something Linda Lovelace-y). The transfixing beat is complemented by lyrics that would make you think Butler and Chassagne hate each other as he laments, "I thought I knew you/You thought you knew me/And now that you do/It's not so easy."

Blue collar.

The second to last track, "Afterlife," consistently leaves you feeling like something is about to bubble to the surface, and, though it never quite does, you're most definitely left with an existential (maybe this is where Kierkegaard's The Present Age influence comes in) sentiment. Butler notes, "Afterlife/I think I saw what happens next/It was just a glimpse of you/After all this time, it was like nothing we used to know." It is one of the most lachrymose offerings on the album--apart from "Supersymmetry," the lengthy, albeit necessary, conclusion to Reflektor. Dreamy and meditative (like so many Arcade Fire songs), "Supersymmetry" segues into a hidden track at the six minute mark that you'll notice right away if you haven't been sent into a trance from the previous six minutes. This is also a statement you could make for the whole of Reflektor, for it will most definitely send you into a reverie from which you may not return.

The Arctic Monkeys' fifth album, bearing the abbreviated title AM, persists in proving to us all that their talent is no fluke. Since their viral release of Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not in 2006, the quartet--consisting of Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O'Malley and Matt Helders--has innovated how we view indie rock. Naturally, their Britishness helps, too. The album, which is an admitted homage to the Velvet Underground record, VU, highlights a more mature (yes, it's a terrible word), seasoned side of Arctic Monkeys. AM album cover

Opening with the rousing "Do I Wanna Know?", AM has the perfect establishing track for heralding the arrival of Arctic Monkeys after their two year absence (Suck It And See being released in 2011). Alex Turner's lazy tone paired with an overpowering guitar riff sets the tone for the rest of the band's evolutionary sound on this album. "R U Mine?" continues in the same aural vein as "Do I Wanna Know?" as Turner laments, "She's a silver lining climbing on my desire/I go crazy 'cause here isn't where I wanna be/And satisfaction seems like a distant memory." There is something distinctly L.A. about the vibe of the song--perhaps owing to how closely to said city the Arctic Monkeys recorded the album.

Promo for the AM Tour

"One For the Road" shifts the tone of AM to one of the more Marc Bolan variety--revealing a simultaneous homage to glam and psychedelic rock. This track transitions into the anthemic "Arabella," which wavers in and out of moments of calmness and raucousness. Its similar characteristics to a quintessential 70s rock song also showcases the Arctic Monkeys' recent musical leanings. "I Want It All" starts out with a beat that somehow resembles Gary Glitter's "Hey" as Turner extends and prolongs each of his lyrical utterances. Conveying a vaguely mourning sentiment, Turner sings, "Ain't it just like you to kiss me and then hit the road?" Peppered with the occasional "shoo-op, shoo-op, shoo-op," "I Want It All" combines a range of old school styles.

Arctic Monkeys, 2013.

The ironically titled "No. 1 Party Anthem" is a slow-paced, melancholic song. Turner's crooning voice assures and encourages, "It's not like I'm in love/I just want you to do me no good/It looks like you could." The sound of the music on the track is a throwback to the auditory aesthetic of Turner's work on the Submarine Soundtrack. "Mad Sounds" furthers the laidback tempo established with "No. 1 Party Anthem." Again, the track bears the lilt and motif of a late 60s or mid-70s hit. Turner throws in some "ooh la la la la oohs" as he sings, "Mad sounds in your ear make you get up and dance." It's another lyrical contrast considering the pacing of the song.

Single cover for "Do I Wanna Know?"

"Fireside" has a certain Latin flair in terms of its guitar sound--upbeat and light. One of the best offerings on AM, the simplicity of "Fireside" is what makes it so memorable. Turner asks, "Isn't it hard to make up your mind when you're losing and your fuse is fireside?" He continues in a philosopher's tone with, "I'm not sure what I've found/Has it gone for good?" The third single from AM, "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?", has a decidedly European tinge (think The Streets). The song differentiates itself from others on the album in that it's one of the only ones to actually paint a picture and give us a story as Turner describes, "Now it's three in the morning/And I'm trying to change your mind."

Alex Turner

"Snap Out of It"--not inspired by that scene from Moonstruck--possesses a more danceable air as Turner frustratedly conveys, "I wanna grab both of your shoulders and shake, baby, snap out of it." Following is the second to last track, "Knee Socks," which slows down the pace again as we approach the album's close. Turner, who has a knack for cushioning morose lyrics by counterbalancing them with an overpowering rock beat, sings, "I was acting like I knew/'Cause I have nothing to lose."

http://youtu.be/6366dxFf-Os

AM concludes with "I Wanna Be Yours," by far the slowest tempoed song on the album--as well as one of the strongest--sounds like something from the Kill Bill soundtrack. Discussing the topic of wanting to possess someone as fully as possible, Turner expresses, "I wanna be your vacuum cleaner/Breathe in your dust." A flurry of other metaphors abound as the song continues, proving that rock can still be literary.

 

The last time we heard from Ernest Greene a.k.a. Washed Out, it was 2011. His debut, Within and Without, was the embodiment of the chill wave movement. With his sophomore effort, Paracosm--a title that refers to a surreal, otherworldly dimension--we are taken to new depths of escapism from our everyday lives. Continuing the chill wave motif, Greene creates a musical backdrop that may be 2013's only source of salvation. Largely produced in Atlanta by Ben H. Allen, the style of Paracosm is an excellent way to transition into the late summer/early fall languor. Paracosm album artwok.

Opening with the birdlike sounds of "Entrance," we are taken into a magical Garden of Eden where thoughts of the fruit of the tree of knowledge never even occur to us. A harp signals a heavenly sound that segues into "It All Feels Right," where we are welcomed fully into Paracosm with Greene's soothing voice. "Don't Give Up," an encouraging title in and of itself, carries on the theme of relaxation and good will with a somewhat more island/tropical sounding beat. Lyrics like "Even though we're far apart/We've come so close and it feels so right" emphasize the fact that Washed Out is incapable of seeing any downsides.

The oh so serene Greene.

"Weightless" makes you feel just that. Ethereal and transcendent, the instruments on this track make it one of the most standout offerings on Paracosm. As usual, Greene's often indecipherable lilt renders it practically impossible to understand what he's actually saying, but before you can realize this, he's already lured you in and hypnotized you. "All I Know" follows with the "Like A Prayer"-esque lyrics: "I hear your voice/Hear my call/I feel the weight of the world/Can't brace myself for the fall." Hypnagogic, yet upbeat, "All I Know" is definitely the song you want playing when you have an epiphany.

The feeling when it all works out is the feeling of listening to Washed Out.

The seamless transition into "Great Escape" (not to be confused with the seminal Blur album) is vaguely akin to being in that The Sound of Music scene when Julie Andrews is bursting into "The Hills Are Alive." Alternating between serene-sounding notes and harsher, more noticeable undertones, there is something truly visceral and honest about "Great Escape." The title track, "Paracosm," lives up to its meaning of a dreamlike state. With a strong harp presence (I'm so glad someone thought to bring it back), Washed Out takes us on a magical journey that's far trippier than sitting through Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland.

Even though you probably should.

"Falling Back" is another peaceful track that may induce strong feelings of lucidity. Once again, Washed Out's voice is barely coherent, but you get the sense that he must be telling you something positive. Concluding the album (on the non-bonus track version) is "All Over Now," one of the slower tempoed songs on Paracosm. Repeating the mantra, "It's all over now," you get an unavoidable sense of simultaneous calmness and sadness. But for those of you with the bonus track version, it's not quite "all over now," as the album still has "Pull You Down" to provide you with solace. The most divergent from the rest of the tracks with its Western movie-like sultriness, "Pull You Down" is placid but self-assured. What one takes away from this final track--and all of Paracosm--is not only that Greene's talents as a musician have further improved, but also that living in a remote city (Athens) has clearly fine-tuned his ability to create and live in his own musical world.

 

 

Monks of Mellonwah have the sound of that 3 Doors Down/Hoobastank era of bands--perhaps the fact that they're Australian is understandably why their many years late on the trend. Their latest album, Ghost Stories, the first in a three part volume of releases, is often melancholic and occasionally inspired (though those moments are few and far between). The video for the first single, "Ghost Stories," is equal parts Girl, Interrupted and the "Virtual Insanity" video from Jamiroquai. As compared with the other offerings on the four-track album, it's not necessarily the strongest choice for the lead single. Joe de la Hoye, lead guitarist.

"Vanity," the second track on Ghost Stories, maintains the same angsty, juvenile vibe. Strong, ribald guitar riffs are the standout elements of the song, with lyrics that are largely forgettable as lead vocalist Vikram Kaushik repeats, "Vanity, vanity/You're stretching my insanity, sanity." It's not exactly the catchiest or most sense-making chorus. The concluding song, "Sailing Stones," is the most akin to a Creed type offering--therefore the most Christian sounding. The spiritual nature is punctuated with the lyrics, "I feel alive like none before/Don't break my fall/Sailing away blind of what's in store." Of the four tracks on Ghost Stories (including the fifty-seven second intro), it is by far the least enjoyable. Hopefully, with the next volume in the Ghost Stories series, Monks of Mellonwah will have something more substantial to offer.

http://youtu.be/NC4vhLxkV2s

 

Surfer Blood's beloved debut, Astro Coast, came out in January of 2010. The long-awaited sophomore effort, Pythons, makes evident the musical maturation (yeah, that word looks like something else) of the band. Between being made sweet love to by Pitchfork coverage, touring with The Pixies and lead singer John Paul Pitts enduring getting arrested for domestic battery, there's been quite a bit leading up to this album's release. Whether or not it has been worth the wait is somewhat difficult to say. If you were expecting more of the same, then you might be disappointed. But, if you're willing to accept a certain amount of growth and stylistic shift, you'll likely be quite pleased with the result. Album artwork for Pythons

"Demon Dance" establishes the 90s, Pixies-esque influence--though that could be because of using Pixies producer Gil Norton--that Surfer Blood has taken on Pythons. Its segue into the upbeat "Gravity" echoes tones of "Anchorage," maintaining something of a surf rock beat throughout. One of the first examples of Surfer Blood's lyrical advancement, Pitts, sings, "I think we both can see our own gravity/Is keeping our orbits in place/We've been around the sun together as one, keeping up a furious pace." Following "Gravity" is the first single "Weird Shapes," a blatant homage to Blue Album-era Weezer. Alluding to the album's title, Pitts affirms, "I'm shedding my skin, I'm spreading my wings/All with the best intentions."

Surfer Blood in their 2013 form

"I Was Wrong" is a slower, lumbering track that showcases a more contemplative Pitts crooning, "Staying up all night with my ball and chain/All the bridges burst into yellow flame/Winning and losing and pushing away/If I fell apart would you stay?" This transitions into "Squeezing Blood," which picks up the pace again with a more lackadaisical tone. "Say Yes To Me" is another Astro Coast-esque song with its fanciful guitar riffs and droning vocals. Its throwback sounding lyrics find Pitts urging, "Ohhh say yes to me, say yes to me/I love you dearly, so let me see the girl I knew is still true blue."

Video for "Demon Dance"

"Blair Witch," the title of which is difficult to gauge in terms of naming, is one of the whinier tracks on Pythons, with Pitts bemoaning, "If I can't touch you, I don't know what to do." The following track, "Needles and Pins," is one of the most successful with regard to Surfer Blood's execution of a slower tempo song. The grave, somber tone of the lyrics match as Pitts confesses, "Immaculate savior, this is my prayer to you/Dampen my tongue so I can't taste the malice/Numb me from any regret..." Subsequently, "Slow Six" starts out with another Pixies-esque riff and is perhaps one of the most singular tracks of the album for its sophisticated musical arrangement.

"Demon Dance" single cover

Not necessarily something you'd want to dance to at your prom, "Prom Song" is an interesting offering with its antithetical prom motif--though it does have the melancholic lilt of a post-prom royalty announcement track. Pitts accuses, "You tell me things aren't fair, like I was unaware," adding to the anti-prom sort of theme. The first of two bonus tracks, "Bird 4 U" showcases the exuberant, upbeat style of Surfer Blood and may very well be the best of of both worlds when it comes to combining Astro Coast and Pythons sensibilities. Concluding with "Phantom Limb" (not to be confused with The Shins song), Surfer Blood chooses a somewhat weak note to end the album on. Pitts' vocals are washed away with the forgettable guitar riffs of "Phantom Limb," leading one to believe that while their sophomore attempt exhibits progress, the band still has plenty of room for perfecting their style.

 

 

The much lusted after collaboration between David Byrne and St. Vincent reached a fever pitch during their Love This Giant Tour last year, which they're taking on the road again this summer much to the delight of disheveled (that's code for an H word I'm so sick of hearing that I can't even bring myself to write it) music fans everywhere. In anticipation of this event, the duo has released a free five track EP entitled Brass Tactics. With two songs that previously appeared on the Love This Giant album, "I Should Watch TV" and "Lightning," the offerings on this EP are not necessarily rare, but engaging to listen to nonetheless. Simpatico

Opening with the ambient "Cissus," a previously unreleased track, the seamless harmony between Byrne and St. Vincent echoes the sound of a 90s acoustic band. The following song, an M. Stine remix of "I Should Watch TV," is a gently caustic statement about investing time in television. With lyrics like, "I used to think that I should watch TV/I used to think that it was good for me/Wanted to know what folks were thinkin'/Understand the land I live in," Byrne comments on a decades old argument about the frivolity and vacuousness of this common medium. Realizing that "The more I lost myself/The more it set me free," Byrne espouses self-exploration through connecting meaningfully with others.

Performing on the Love This Giant Tour

The Kent Rockafeller remix of "Lightning" is an especially brass band-tinged song with dulcet vocals from St. Vincent. So distracting is the sound of her voice, that it's difficult to even focus on the words she's actually singing. Though, if you're truly curious, part of this tale of lightning includes, "But if I should wake up and find my home's in half/Who is it? Blame nature, I guess I have to laugh." Yet another example of the simultaneous seriousness and levity that Byrne and St. Vincent exude, this is one of the most standout tracks on the EP.

A powerhouse of a duo

"Marrow" is the first of two live tracks on Brass Tactics. Coming across as a poetic anatomy lesson, St. Vincent opens the song with an acapella overture, stating,

"Muscle connects to the bone/And the bone to the ire and marrow/I wish I had a gentle mind and a spine made up of iron/Mouth connects to the teeth/And teeth to the loves and the curses/Honey, can you reach that spot?/That needs oil and fixin'"

The track then segues into a frenetic arrangement of trumpets as Byrne and St. Vincent sing/spell "H-E-L-P, Help Me" in tandem. Perhaps one of their more sinister joint efforts, this is the most distinctive song off the EP.

http://youtu.be/v7awff__SvE

The final--and most perfect--song to conclude Brass Tactics is a live performance of the signature Talking Heads track, "Road to Nowhere." In many ways, the Love This Giant Tour is one giant road to nowhere, continuing endlessly until Byrne/St. Vincent enthusiasts stop taking an interest--which doesn't look to be anytime soon.

You can download the free EP here.

 

 

Posted
AuthorSmoking Barrel
CategoriesIndie Rock

It’s been a long time since a band has been able to embody that quintessential California punk sound. Though many believed that Best Coast was the answer, Bleached’s latest full-length album, Ride Your Heart, is proof that the melodic goodness of 70s-era punk is still very much alive and well. Blending bitter riffs with emotional lyrics, it’s clear that sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin aren’t new to the music scene. With the popular L.A.-based band Mika Miko under their belts, Bleached seems to be a logical—and welcome—progression in the careers of these San Fernando Valley-born siblings. Album cover for Ride Your Heart

As Bret Easton Ellis would tell you, growing up in the SFV can inoculate you with quite a sense of rage. Inevitably, the environment prompts the need for some sort of creative outlet to channel that sense of repression. And what better way than through bluesy garage punk? For Jennifer and Jessie, that Valley Girl existence led them past the hilly divide to Hollywood and, eventually, Downtown LA where Mika Miko became a fixture at The Smell. After releasing the single for “Think of You,” buzz began to generate for Bleached. Ride Your Heart will invariably build upon that buzz and, hopefully, make this sister duo even more well-known.

Valley Girls

“Looking for a Fight” is the upbeat opener that transports us to that unmistakable Pacific coastline. Cautioning, “I brought you home tonight, but you best stay clear/’Cause you know I’m not right,” the song establishes the tough girl/Runaways-esque vibe that the Clavin sisters exude on every song. The first single, “Next Stop,” begins with a similarly raucous guitar riff and a more East Coast depiction, with lyrics like, “Next stop, waiting for the train/Next stop, smoking in the rain.” Detailing the concept of Shakespeare’s “parting is such sweet sorrow,” the story that unfolds is one of increasing distance between a couple—both literal and figurative.

Quite possibly the closest to a Best Coast song, “Outta My Mind” is an urge for a boy to get out of your head when you just can’t seem to stop thinking about him (even though he’s probably trolling at the local dive bar). “I know it’s only a game/’Cause you keep walkin’ away…/My dreams keep givin’ me hope and I don’t think I can let go” indicates a certain resignation to obsession. But really, what else is there to do in L.A. if you’re not obsessing or smoking weed?

Nothing says California like In n' Out

With an intro that could fit in nicely into an 80s rom com like Real Genius, “Dead in Your Head” has something of an inspirational backbeat paired with dichotomous lyrics like, “Time to figure out where it all went wrong/’Cause you know, baby, it’s gonna hit you so hard.” Clavin regrets, “I never wanted to hurt the boy I loved the most…/When you lie in bed at night/Do you start to dream about all the things dead in you head?” It is, quite possibly, the best track from Ride You Heart.

“Dreaming Without You” at once sounds like David Bowie’s “Heroes” meets a Katy Perry ballad. Although it’s not one of the most remarkable songs on the album, it serves as an appropriate midpoint for transitioning into the latter half of the record. “Waiting By the Telephone,” a subtle nod to Blondie, is one of the most punkish offerings on Ride Your Heart.“ It also expresses the now quaint concept of actually waiting for a boy to call as opposed to text. In earnestness, Clavin sings, “I keep waiting for you to call/I keep waiting for you, my dear/Waiting by the telephone/It shouldn’t take this long.”

The dronish beat of “Love Spells”—a common phenomenon in L.A.—make it one of the most standout beats on the record. Clavin irritatedly remarks, “Told you once/Yeah, I told you before/Your love spells don’t work anymore.” It’s a line that could easily be exchanged between an unknown actress and her much older agent. “Searching Through the Past” takes the sound of Bleached even further past the 70s and into the Shangri-Las era of the 60s—if the Shangri-Las had been prone to a less maudlin tone. Though, make no mistake, Bleached is perfectly capable of being trite with the lyrics, “Boy, don’t tell me I’m crazy/’Cause I been missin’ you so long/Baby won’t you please come on back to me?” The album’s title track is lackadaisically upbeat, as the Clavins harmonize over the lyrics, “If you change your mind, if you wanna try…” “Ride Your Heart” is easily one of the most unique tracks on the album. Assuring, “I’m going to ride your heart,” it’s clear by this point in the album that the Clavins have delivered on that promise.

Spell it out

The aptly titled “Dead Boy” delivers the succinct dilemma: “I keep on living for the dead boy that I love.” Whether this is literal or metaphorical can be left to the listener’s discretion since—as anyone who has even been in a relationship will tell you—it’s quite easy to presume someone dead once you’ve broken up with them. “Guy Like You” is the most beach-friendly rhythm on Ride Your Heart, with the opening line, “You said the sun it still shines, but I don’t know baby ‘cause I don’t think so anymore/What am I supposed to do with a guy like you?/Always keepin’ me blue.” It reiterates a common motif in Bleached’s wheelhouse—which is to say: Being disappointed by men.

A perfect single cover for "Dead Boy"

The final track, “When I Was Yours,” has something of an 80s feel to it. Reminiscent of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” the track begins with the tale, “I saw him standing there and I knew I had to make him mine.” Referring to the eventual break-up between them, Clavin laments, “The boys these days aren’t really my kind of guy.” Pleading, “Please take me back to when I was yours,” this song illustrates an inability to replace the one you truly love in spite of trying. Moreover, it expresses an innate sense of melancholic nostalgia that stems from wanting to return to a certain time in your life even though you know it wouldn’t be half as good as you had romanticized it in your mind.

 

Two years have lapsed since The Strokes' not so well-received Angles was released. Angles, however, was not a one-off in the band’s gradual shift toward a new aural theme. For anyone who thought The Strokes would return to the original sound that made them so successful, one ought to have known better based on their decision to collaborate with Ke$ha last year (Warrior’s “Only Wanna Dance With You”). That being said, there’s nothing wrong with a band straying away from a style that made them famous—though it seems that fans and critics alike are wont to disagree. Considering the fact that The Strokes have failed to impress the critical masses since 2003’s Room on Fire, it seems that people delight in their supposed artistic failings. Perhaps, when it comes to defending the band from their detractors, lead singer Julian Casablancas said it best on 2006’s First Impressions of Earth: “I’ve got nothing to say.” Promo still

Opening with “Tap Out” (a song with faint traces of The Strokes’ former garage rock sound), a visceral guitar intro segues into a more 80s aural motif—establishing the tone for most of the remainder of the album and continuing the auditory legacy of Angles. “All the Time,” the first single from the album, sees Casablancas in a particularly vocally dronish mode as he sings, “All the time that I need is never quite enough/All the time that I have is all that’s necessary.” The accompanying video is a montage of old tour clips seemingly designed to make us remember The Strokes in their original form, which is to say, critically lauded.

http://youtu.be/TJC8zeu3MHk

The third track, “One Way Trigger,” begins fancifully enough with 80s-style keyboard music that echoes the vibe of Angles. In an endearingly feminine, uncertain voice, Casablancas croons, “You asked me to stay, you asked me to stay/But there’s a million reasons to leave.” Ultimately, the track comes across as one of the most single-friendly songs on Comedown Machine. “Welcome to Japan” sees The Strokes showcase their own version of a Japanese-influenced song as Casablancas continues conjuring smoking barrel imagery with the lyrics, “Didn’t want to notice/Didn’t know the gun was loaded.” The song evokes a somehow sinister vibe as Casablancas says, “Welcome to Japan” in a tone that comes across as sarcastic and laden with false promises.

Album cover for Comedown Machine

Next up is “80s Comedown Machine,” which could easily have been placed at one of the bookends of a John Hughes movie (think Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here.” As the most unapologetic song in terms of not trying to masquerade as garage rock, there is something particularly honest and charming about this mildly-tempoed approach. With the melancholy urging, “So please run away,” one gets an overwhelming sense of lugubriousness—but in a good way. The track can best be described as something of a sequel to “Ask Me Anything.”

Subsequently, “50/50” changes gears to a more enlivening pace that could pass for a cover of some grandiose 60s song. As the splitting point on the album, the song title seems more than appropriate. Yet again, The Strokes appear to show vague signs of an identity crisis as they aim to please classicists with an Is This It? sound. The band transitions quickly back to the sort of music they’re currently committed to making with “Slow Animals.” A mid-tempo, guitar-rich sound pervades this number, while a mildly irritated Casablancas asserts, “You don’t have to be so down/Everyone can hear you in this whole damn crowd.” It is by far one of the most standout songs on the album after “One Way Trigger.”

New York City boys

“Partners in Crime” signals a more dramatic shift in the album as we segue into the third act, so to speak. It can best be described as a frenetic, primeval song that would make the soundtrack for a remake of Bonnie and Clyde. With lyrics like “Why aren’t we leaving town?” and “We don’t belong,” Casablancas alludes to a desire to escape due to feeling ostracized—or quite possibly as a result of committing a crime. Subsequently, “Chances displays a bittersweet tinge for two reasons: 1) Just as the band is finally exhibiting genuine confidence on the album, you realize it’s about to end and 2) Casablancas laments, “I play your game, I play your game" over slow guitar riffs.

"All The Time" single cover

Incidentally, “Happy Ending” is not the last track on the album, which is somewhat telling about how the band feels regarding their future. Returning to a synth sound as the album winds down, Casablancas pleads, “Baby, show me where to go/Some things I don’t wanna know…/I’m not awake anymore/Seems I’ve changed my mind two thousand times before.” In the grim climate of 2013, it is as though Casablancas is addressing that what everyone wants to hear when it comes to reality is that it’s just a grand spectacle and we’ll all find out it was all a joke any day now.

Cover for "One Way Trigger"

Concluding with “Call It Fate, Call It Karma”—which may soon be the title of the next Strokes biography—the ambience of the album transitions to an aural homage to The Zombies. Serene and dreamlike, it is the perfect choice to end with on a record entitled Comedown Machine. And, despite the consistent criticism that The Strokes will never recapture the greatness of Is This It?, I maintain that their style has only improved with each album.

 

 

 

Gossamer, meaning a filmy substance spun by spiders, is an appropriate title for an album with a sound that aurally manifests the silky, smooth feel of such a material. Keeping the same succinct album naming methods, Gossamer is the long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s Manners, a project that was initially started as a Valentine’s Day present for lead singer Michael Angelakos’ girlfriend, which would become their debut EP, Chunk of Change.

Although Gossamer finds Passion Pit teaming up once again with producer Chris Zane, the overtones of effervescent electropop are noticeably lacking in comparison to Manners. This much is evident in the first track and single, “Take A Walk,” a jaunty song that finds Angelakos talking in the past tense (as in "took a walk") rather than the present. The single features lyrics that alternate simultaneously between talk of family and immigration, specifically, “Once I was outside Penn Station/Selling red and white carnations/We were still alone, my wife and I/Before we married, saved my money/Brought my dear wife over/Now I want to bring my family stateside.” Originating from Boston, I suppose both of these subjects are appropriate to Passion Pit’s lyrical content.

The second track and single, “I’ll Be Alright,” bears the closest resemblance to the sound of Manners. Posing the question, “Can you remember having any fun? ‘Cause when it’s all said and done/I always believed we were/But now I’m not so sure.” The reflection on a failed relationship that no longer holds the shiny appeal it used to is illustrated in Angelakos’ urging, “You should go if you want to/Yeah, go if you want to/I’ll be alright.” In spite of the melancholic theme, Passion Pit lends the song an upbeat tempo as only Passion Pit can.

“Carried Away” opens with a beat that would invoke jealousy from the likes of Thomas Dolby and Marc Almond, oozing the melodious new wave tinge of the 80s with no holds barred. Much in the same way that "Take A Walk" does, “I’ll Be Alright” pairs a contrasting tempo with the nature of the lyrics Angelakos sings: “I don’t really know you and I don’t really want to/But I think I can fake it if you can/I get carried away/Carried away from you.” Prone to the vaguely sardonic, "Carried Away" possesses a melody that would make you think Angelakos was waxing on about the deliciousness of soft serve ice cream. The mood switches from lively to ethereal (almost trip hop-like) on the album’s third single, “Constant Conversations.” As the song begins, the vocals showcase a love of self-deprecation with the epiphany, “I’m drunker than before they told me drinking doesn’t make me nice.” This lyric sets the tone for the story of a man who always seems to find himself talking to the object of his affection in a state of drunkenness. But, really, if you’re an intelligent person, you can know no other way of existing.

http://youtu.be/dZX6Q-Bj_xg

“Mirrored Sea” picks up the pace of the album again with its otherworldly vibe, using the concept of a mirrored sea as a metaphor for unwanted remembrances: “Mirrored sea/Your waves they’re haunting me/They’re all I see/Oh let me be, you mirrored sea.” In a strange way, it sounds like the doppelganger to “Moth’s Wings.” “Cry Like A Ghost” fittingly bears backing music that sounds like it could be played in a haunted house and continues the overlying theme of blaming alcohol on one’s stupidity with the admission, “And yes, I drank all those drinks on my own/My life’s become some blurry little quest.” The song then segues into a discussion about a girl named Sylvia, haunted by her past (being haunted is another significant motif on Gossamer) as Angelakos notes, “Sylvia, no one’s gonna tell you when enough’s enough.”

http://youtu.be/hFzfuJ8HQZY

“On My Way” explores another common subject on Gossamer: Blame. Cautioning, “Don’t once think this madness is my fault alone,” “On My Way” is one of the most overtly sentimental tracks on the album—without using the guise of a sprightly musical accompaniment. “Hideaway” commences with a scratchy, far-off sounding tone that transitions into something that closely reflects a more upbeat version of “Swimming in the Flood.” The assurance, “Hideaway/Someday everything will be okay” is one of the most exuberant and hopeful messages present on Gossamer.

“Two Veils to Cover My Face” is, incidentally the best interlude on an album since Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake.” With the soft, soothing voice of Angelakos crooning, “ Let the wind sing us our love songs,” among other sweet nothings, you are then rapidly ear raped by the swift shift to the frenetic opening of “Love is Greed,” a song that confirms, “Love has always been a mockery.”

The second to last song, “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy,” bears one of the most overtly uplifting musical auras on Gossamer. “It’s not fair/Still I’m the only one who seems to care” expresses the subtly ironical tenor of the track. Capping off the album with “Where We Belong,” Passion Pit makes an unwitting statement about their own place within the ranks of the music industry, inquiring, “Who says you ought to stay? How’s this the easier way?” Regardless of the subconscious implications of those questions, it seems likely that Passion Pit has plenty more to offer in the future.

While Gossamer may lack the same energetic of songs that were in full effect on their debut, namely "Little Secrets" and "Sleepyhead," it still exhibits marked signs of maturity, while managing to maintain the band’s playful air.

Metric hasn't graced us with the presence of an album in four years (sure, there have been soundtrack contributions, but those were not nearly enough to subdue a Metric fan's appetite). An entire presidential term without them has been almost unbearable, but, with Synthetica, the quartet proves that time has only ameliorated their music. Differing slightly from 2008's Fantasies, Synthetica explores a theme grounded in deciphering what is real from what is not. Haines herself noted, "Synthetica is about staying home and wanting to crawl out of your skin from the lack of external stimulation...about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection...about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions."

The first track, "Artificial Nocturne," cuts straight to the point with the lyrics, "I'm just as fucked up as they say," owning up to the melancholic tone lead singer Emily Haines is known for. "Youth Without Youth," the first single from the album, segues into a more rock-tinged, angsty sound as Haines examines the notion of what environmental factors can do to detract from one's innocence as she growls, "Youth without youth/Born without time/Can you read my mind?"

Next up is "Speed the Collapse," with an intro that vaguely resembles The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps," and stands out as one of the best tracks off the album. With occasional utterings of "Ah ah ah ah," one is reminded slightly of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. The lyrics of the song hold a certain amount of profundity, but are strung together in a somewhat non-cohesive framework, with sentences like, "We auctioned off our memories" and "Feet don't fail me now" (a phrase you may recognize from Lana Del Rey's "Born to Die").

http://youtu.be/kRadE0KHXus

"Breathing Underwater" has a distinctly U2 sound, but with a far less maudlin air. Haines, in her voice of innocence, questions her identity in the modern world, likening her existence to the difficulty of, yes, breathing underwater as she sings, "Out of place all the time in a world that wasn't mine/Is this my life?/Am I breathing underwater?" The inquisitive motif prevails with "Dreams So Real," showcasing Metric's best synth ability since "Twilight Galaxy." The hair-raising backbeat pairs well with the lines, "Thought I made a stand/Only made a scene.../A scream becomes a yawn/I'll shut up and carry on.../Anyone not dying is dead, baby it won't be long."

"Lost Kitten" is the most pop-addled offering from Synthetica, and arguably the most forgettable. "The Void" follows, with a scratchy intro that transitions into an electro-laden beat. As Haines admits, "All night, like a child, I stay up to prove I can keep up with you/All night sing along with the band, losing my voice." For a song called "The Void," it is lyrically among the most superficial of the tracks. Subsequently, the title track serves as an uptempo midpoint on Synthetica in which Metric explores the main concept of the album: Real vs. fake and how difficult it has become to differentiate between the two. Metric's poignant songwriting paints the following portrait:

"In the shadow of the big screen, everybody begs to be redeemed... /I can think for myself/I've got something no pill could ever kill/Hey, I'm not synthetica, I'll keep the life I've got/So hard to resist synthetica."

In an interview with sound editor Sean Adams, Haines speaks honestly about the inspiration for the album being so many people--herself included--willing to accept imitations and mediocrity. Haines laughingly sums it up by saying, "I got so used to certain things sucking that I forgot about them sucking anymore." This much is evident on the ninth track, "Clone." With a sound that is subtly similar to College's "A Real Hero," "Clone" is one of the slower songs on the album, and emphasizes Haines' message as she sardonically asks, "Can you clone me?/I look like everyone you know now."

The second to last song, "The Wanderlust," is appropriately ethereal for the most narrative piece on Synthetica, with Haines detailing a train ride she takes with no particular destination in mind, merely taking a trip for the sake of sanity, vocalizing, "I'm speeding out of reach/You're the one I had to meet/I never wanted to go home/ There was nothing there for me." The song also bears the singularity of having Lou Reed on backing vocals.

http://youtu.be/KPLZVFT-27U

The denouement, "Nothing But Time," revels in a dramatic pace as Haines repeats warningly, "Steal once, pay twice." It seems the perfect choice to conclude an album that denounces the concept of mimicry without acknowledgement of the original entity.

With Surfer Blood's 2010 debut, Astro Coast, a beam of light shone from the otherwise emotionally empty town of West Palm Beach. With the lazy, yet somehow upbeat vocals of lead singer John Paul Pitts, tracks like "Swim," "Harmonix," and "Anchorage" strike a perfect balance between the laidback atmosphere that goes with sipping daiquiris on a cruise ship (which is what you could have done had you caught their 2010 performance on Bruise Cruise) or the electricity of dancing rhythmically at one of their shows.

With influences like The Pixies (who Surfer Blood recently toured with) and The Smiths, it's easy to understand why the band is one of the best to emerge from the annals of indie rock in quite some time. The originations of the band began with John Paul Pitts and drummer Tyler Schwarz, who met each other at Dreyfoos School of the Arts. Although Pitts admits that, "Tyler and I kind of didn't like each other," their rapport altered once they started playing music. It was not until Ultra Music Festival in 2009 that all of the elements for forming Surfer Blood fell into place, as that is where they met guitarist Thomas Fekete.

From there, Jabroni Sandwich was created--and quickly replaced with the name Surfer Blood, which Pitts says stemmed from Schwarz being "just wasted and yelling the name over and over." Proof that one's best thinking is done while drunk. Once fellow members Kevin Williams and Marcos Marchesani (who generally only tours with the band) entered the equation, Surfer Blood catapulted to the forefront with a little help from New York City's CMJ Music Festival.

The latest offering from Surfer Blood, Tarot Classics, is a small collection of songs that will hopefully serve as a transition to their next full length album. Though Behind the Hype has fingers crossed for more of the same vibe featured on Astro Coast, Tarot Classics indicates a subtle shift in sound and content. The single "Miranda" is, in many ways, reminiscent of "Harmonix" in terms of lamenting a love gone wrong. In a languid rehashing of life with some ho named Miranda, Pitts  intones, "We just let each other down to let each other back in." It's a statement that accurately summarizes so many relationships.

Other tracks on the EP include "I'm Not Ready," "Drinking Problem," and "Voyager Reprise," as well as remixes of all four of the aforementioned songs. Anyway, we here at Behind the Hype thought it necessary to bend down on one knee and propose a lifelong devotion to the dudes from Surfer Blood--or at least as long as it takes for them to disappoint us with such high expectations.

 

http://youtu.be/moRDPPFH8V4

CSS has never been a band to be trifled with. Their recently released third album, La Liberaciòn, is a testament to the Brazilian quintet’s unwavering devotion to creating music that defies expectations and ordinary dance floor beats. Comprised of lead singer Lovefoxxx, producer/founder/drummer Adriano Ferreira Cintra, guitarist/drummer Luiza Sá, guitarist Ana Rezende, and guitarist/drummer Carolina Parra—all hailing from São Paolo—CSS is by far one of the most refreshingly zany bands to materialize in a long time.

La Liberaciòn opens with the earnest and succinct “I Love You.” Lovefoxxx urges you to “feel the beat of my heart” for most of the song. It is, in many ways, similar to the sort of simplistic introduction (“CSS Suxxx”) that appeared on their 2006 debut, Cansei de ser Sexy. Naturally, with five years having passed, the band—fun-loving though they may be—has noticeably matured. A fact that is evident on “City Grrl” (that’s just the norm for spelling “girl” now) featuring the always over the top SSION, wherein Lovefoxxx notes, “In the big city, nothing hurts”—presumably because everyone is numb to the incongruous stimuli around them.

The first single from La Liberaciòn, “Hits Me Like A Rock” featuring Primal Scream/The Jesus and Mary Chain frontman Bobby Gillespie, is even more addictive than their legendary first single “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex,” which is a fairly incredible feat.

“Echo of Love” has this strangely folk sounding beat, or as folk sounding as people from Brazil can get. “Just let it go, enjoy it while it lasts” is the message CSS wishes to convey on this track, an aphorism that goes hand in hand with the album’s title. “You Could Have It All” slows the pace of the album down a bit, while still maintaining one of CSS’ archetypal electro beats. It is also one of the more narratively structured songs, with Lovefoxxx painting the following picture: “We met in the music shop, they were playing our favorite band. After years of walking hand in hand, we were too busy to hang with our friends.”

“La Liberaciòn” is a rock song with Lovefoxxx’s typical brand of enthusiasm as she sings in her mother tongue, “I’m tired of hoping/Ran out there today/Screaming a crazy, crazy poem/Naked down the street smiling.” My Portuguese may be a bit off, but I think that’s how Lovefoxxx generally sounds when she speaks English. “Ruby Eyes” vaguely compares to an Elvis Costello song if Elvis Costello wasn’t so whiny and sang songs about smoking joints. “Rhythm to the Rebels” asks, “Wanna break some rules? I’d love to.” It’s one of the more abrasive tracks on the album.

“Red Alert” featuring Ratatat tells the tale of a girl who is “all dressed up with nowhere to go, feeling the rhythm of casual love.” The song has a somewhat melancholic backbeat that presents an interesting dichotomy to obsequious lyrics like, “Tell me what you want and I’m ready to go.” Perhaps the contrast is meant to show how empty the concept of love is in the modern age.

The second to last song, “Fuck Everything,” showcases CSS’ particular flavor of humor. Lovefoxxx complains, “Nothing ever happens in this neighborhood. I wanna rip my eyes out.” The song is barely two and a half minutes and features a brief pause of silence in between the album’s closer, “Yolanda,” before which Lovefoxxx is compelled to tell you, “Hi, my name is Lovefoxxx and I’m 12 years old. I like going to the pub with the gays, I like buying pencils and pens, I like cooking, and I like…cookies.”

So, basically, La Liberaciòn, completely outshines CSS’ sophomore album, Donkey, and nearly eclipses the group’s irreverent and unprecedented first album, Cansei de ser Sexy. Here’s hoping the fourth album gives us a collaboration with Lovefoxxx’s former fiancé, Simon Taylor of The Klaxons.

There are a gross amount of New York bands to sift through, but The Rapture is one of the few that easily stands out. So it's surprising that the trio (formerly a quartet before bassist Mattie Safer quit), consisting of Luke Jenner, Vito Roccoforte, and Gabriel Andruzzi (are you picking up on the Italian vibe yet?), waited an obscene five years to release their third full-length album, In The Grace of Your Love.

The much anticipated album opens with "Sail Away," an appropriate title to kick off a record that features a body of water on its cover, and to usher you into the world of dance beats and ambrosial vocals through which you'll be floating. In his ardent manner, Jenner decrees, "These people, they don't know how it feels with you/I look away/I see sadness, I see pain/But with you I see hope." Already gutting you emotionally on the first track, The Rapture continues the motif on "Miss You." Though this time, the band uses the reverse pattern of upbeat music with lyrics that lament:

"Always thought I could forget you, but I can't forget you. When I see your face it just tears me up inside. I wanna run, I wanna shake off this feeling I have for you. Why can't you let me go? What did I ever do to you?"

"Blue Bird" is the first track on the album to set a tone that isn't about either love starting anew or love gone wrong. It's more like a motivational assertion, repeating, "I'll see you on the other side." Who knows? Maybe The Rapture's hoping for this 2012 thing to pan out. Anyway, track four on the album, "Come Back to Me" is the point where my brain almost exploded because of how staggering the combination of the plainspoken cadence and electro sound is. The chorus of "Come Back to Me" inquires sincerely, "Aren't we all children?" The answer is obviously yes.

Next up is the track for which the album is named for, "In The Grace of Your Love," beginning with strong percussion and keyboard stylings. The message of the song seems to express that rare relationship where love is unconditional: "In the grace of your love, you don't turn me away." Track six, "Never Die Again," is one of the more lackadaisically toned songs and serves as a good midpoint to bridge us into the latter half of the album.

"Roller Coaster" is a palpably more melancholic song as Jenner repeats the words "roller coaster" over and over again before rehashing, "'Your life's a roller coaster,' she said. 'And I want to get off. It's just hurting my head and I want it to stop.'" "Children," however, immediately picks up the light-hearted tone again. I suppose any song called "Children" would have to do that--unless it was like some creepy observation from a pedophile's perspective.

Before you know it, we're at track nine, where the question duo commences. "Can You Find A Way?" asks: "Can you find a way to love yourself? A way to let yourself go? Maybe if you tried it, you would even like it." The second question in this brief series of question songs comes at track ten and asks: "How Deep Is Your Love?" And it briefly mirrors the opening to what a modern day Haddaway song would sound like, giving you some indication of how goddamn good is.

With every song averaging at about five minutes, stopping at the eleventh track, "It Takes Time To Be A Man," appears to be a wise decision. The momentous finale is the closest The Rapture will ever get to sounding like the Steve Miller Band. Of course, with a title like that, it's not shocking that there's a vibe of Steve Millery (a noun that should be real). The random and lazy sounding arrangement on this song creates the ideal effect to conclude the Philippe Zdar produced work of genius.

 

The Strokes' genre-defining debut, Is This It, was released on July 26, 2001. The album, in many ways, heralded a new era in the indie/garage rock scene. Ten years later, Stereogum saw fit to honor the album with covers worthy of the originals themselves. I mean, we all know tribute albums generally blow, but Stereogum really proves that theory wrong.

Commencing the album is Peter, Bjorn and John with "Is This It." The robust opening riff is elongated before the raspy voice of Peter Morén croons, "I can't think 'cause I'm just way too tired." The earnestness of the question "Is this it?" is also more pronounced in the PB&J rendering of the song. BtH gives it an 8/10.

Following "Is This It" is Chelsea Wolfe's "The Modern Age," an ethereal and sultry monotone that will lull you into a state of semi-consciousness. BtH gives it a 7/10.

Frankie Rose's version of "Soma," a slowed down, clearly enunciated, sort of garage meets electro blend form of the original, picks up the pace of the album. The blending of guitars, combined with the initial drum beat will have you replaying this track a few times. As the former drummer of Crystal Stilts, Frankie knows the importance of percussion in a song. BtH gives it an 8/10.

Real Estate, another Brooklyn-based band on the album, contributes its distinct sound of psychedelia to the track "Barely Legal." Lazily droning the lyrics, "I didn't take no short cuts, I spent the money I saved up," it's easy to see why Stereogum assigned the band to this song. You can almost detect a hint of genuine emotion when lead singer Martin Courtney says, "I wanna steal your innocence, to me my life don't make sense." BtH gives it a 6/10.

Wise Blood (so close to being Surfer Blood--if only that's who Stereogum had chosen instead) sings a surreal version of "Someday" that is something of a decimation of The Strokes' crowning achievement on Is This It. Sounding like a slurring drunk, Chris Laufman makes the song seem far longer than it actually is. BtH gives it a 5/10.

One of the most standout, memorable tracks on Stroked is Austra's "Alone, Together." In typical form, lead singer Katie Stelmanis transforms the song into a dramatic, almost operatic lament. Stelmanis herself stated,

"This song was really hard for me to cover because in my opinion the greatest things about it are the performance and the production. It took a while, but ultimately I just made it sound like an Austra song, which is to be expected!"

BtH gives it a 10/10.

The Morning Benders give "Last Nite" a light air that The Strokes couldn't. The angered vocals of Julian Casablancas are nothing like those of Chris Chu. But we actually think that's a good thing. BtH gives it a 7/10.

After Austra and Computer Magic, Owen Pallett is the artist most capable of making a Strokes song entirely his own. With the lush sadness of the violin playing throughout "Hard to Explain," it's almost impossible to remember how the original even sounded. BtH gives it a 9/10.

Heems is another artist who suffuses The Strokes' music with a completely different tinge. Turning "New York City Cops" into an all-out rap song (with the Jay-Z allusion "Son, do you know what I'm stopping you for?"), the hatred that The Strokes expressed for this particular authority figure in 2001 is amplified tenfold. BtH gives it a 6/10.

Deradoorian, perhaps the least recognizable name on the tribute album, is also the most recognizable in terms of being a member of Dirty Projectors. Under her solo moniker, she sings "Trying Your Luck" in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Sneaker Pimps' "Six Underground." In spite of the upbeat sentiment of the lyrics, she says, with sadness, "I'll try my luck with you, this life is on my side." BtH gives it an 8/10.

Finally, to conclude the seminal Strokes release, is Computer Magic with the frenetic "Take It Or Leave It." The song is well-suited to Computer Magic's own personal philosophy on music. Fronted by 22-year-old Danielle Johnson (more commonly known as Danz), the most youthful songstress to appear on Stroked notes,

"I grew up listening to Is This It in middle school and high school. I think everyone my age did. “Someday” was my ringtone for my old Nokia light up phone for at least three years. I love the Strokes, but I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t. “Take It Or Leave It” has a pretty level-headed, obvious message to it, it’s one of my favorites."

And one of BtH's favorites as well. But that's not the reason we're giving a 9/10 to Computer Magic.

To listen to or download the complete album, Stroked, visit Stereogum here.

If there was question as to who is the most professional rock band in music nowadays, there was no doubt after Death Cab for Cutie completed their nearly two hour long set at the Greek Theatre, Thursday night in Los Angeles. Having been the sixth time seeing the group live, it was still somewhat shocking seeing such a high level of musicianship coming from the Seattle-based four piece.

Just after 8:30 p.m., Death Cab took the stage, opening with "I Will Possess Your Heart." It was quite a daring move to open with a song that extends over seven minutes, probably the least popular single of their last few albums.

After roaring through six songs including "Crooked Teeth," "Moviescript Ending," and "Long Division," Gibbard took the time to address an issue he clearly never thought might one day become a reality.

"I'm an Angeleno now, guys," Gibbard said. "Never thought I would be."

 

"Codes and Keys," one of the strongest tracks off their newest album of the same name, lacked the energy you might expect.

This was really the only sore spot of the show. The amount of energy from song to song fluctuated, sometimes extremely high and sometimes a lackluster low.

This could of course be attributed to the fan feedback of what they were playing as well. When songs such as "Soul Meets Body," "I Will Follow You Into The Dark," and " Title and Registration" were played, the crowd erupted into an uncontainable fervor. When the band played tracks such as "Company Calls," "Photobooth," and "Your Bruise" there wasn't nearly a reaction received as deserved.

Still, the band was charming, clearly wanting everyone in attendance to enjoy themselves.

When someone from the crowd inevitably asked Gibbard, "where's Zooey?," referring to his wife, actress/musician, Zooey Deschanel, Gibbard playfully responded, "where's Zooey? This is OUR show."

 

The highlight of the night came when during "We Looked Like Giants," Gibbard dueled with drummer Jason McGerr, facing him while playing his own makeshift set, as the rest of the band jammed joyously.

After briefly leaving the stage just after 10 p.m., Death Cab returned, playing four more songs to a mostly-standing crowd for the encore.

Closing with "Transatlanticism," the band delivered yet another memorable performance, amounting into one of the largest sing-alongs most everyone at the Greek had ever taken part of.

In a time where music lovers are frantically looking for a band who might fill the holes of rock legends who continue to play shows to this day, those in attendance at the Greek Theatre might have found their best bet in Death Cab for Cutie.

"Yeah, Dashboard Confessional's good," she admitted shyly as she sipped Budweiser from a clear plastic cup. This was an utterance that would have been slightly embarrassing even back in 2003, at the pinnacle of Dashboard's popularity. There are rules about the type of music you can listen to you once you have firmly escaped your teenage years. One of those simultaneously tacit and verbally touted rules is that listening to Dashboard Confessional is kind of off limits. It is music for those content to continue wallowing in the woes of rejection and disappointment that seem, ironically, much more prevalent in one's twenties than they do in one's teens.

When Dashboard released that landmark first album, The Swiss Army Romance, in 2000, it was like a proclamation that it was okay to be indie, insecure, and generally a little bitch. It was maybe the first time since the 80s (with The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, et. al.) that unabashedly broadcasting one's moroseness was so widely embraced by a fanbase.

Although Chris Carraba started the band as a side project to his other band, Further Seems Forever, he left the group in 2001 to devote all of his time to Dashboard. All of this occurred in some of Florida's more bowel-like cities, namely Pompano Beach and Boca Raton. But I suppose it just goes to show that, upon occasion, Florida isn't totally responsible for some of the world's worst music (Backstreet Boys and Creed).

Chris Carraba went on to release The Places You Have Come To Fear the Most and So Impossible under the Dashboard Confessional moniker as well, with additional members of the band not joining until 2002. However, in the wake of writing the song "Vindicated" for the Spider Man 2 soundtrack (remember when soundtracks were important?), it seemed that Dashboard had lost all of its luster to the emo demographic.

I suppose they had all probably gotten too sophisticated to continue listening to such sentimental tripe. Subsequent Dashboard albums, like Dusk and Summer and The Shade of Poison Trees, did not chart nearly as well as earlier endeavors, particularly 2003's A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar.

In 2009, the band showcased the fact that it still had ties to its indie roots by contributing to Diablo Cody's offbeat zombie comedy, Jennifer's Body. Later that year, Alter the Ending, the sixth studio album from Dashboard was released. Based on the title, one would be led to believe it could be their final musical output. Another sign of the band slowing down is the ten year anniversary re-release of The Swiss Army Romance. It appears, now more than ever, that Dashboard is content to look back on the band it was, as opposed to attempting to reinvent themselves for the future. And perhaps that is a reflection of the type of person still unashamed to admit to loving them. A prime example being yours truly. I just can't let go of the honesty and bleeding heart nature of their lyrics. Especially in this song.

Arctic Monkeys have, as far as this listener is concerned, steadily sustained their unique indie rock sound after bursting onto the music scene with their record-breaking first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. As far as the British charts, Whatever People Say... sold more copies than any other debut album in its first week and thoroughly examined--with a distinctly acerbic tone--the way of club culture in England.

On Suck It And See, Arctic Monkeys adopt a startlingly wholesome modulation. Considering the title of the album and where it was recorded (Los Angeles), one would expect an edgier repertoire of songs as opposed to the decidedly pop tinge saturating every track. Opening with "She's Thunderstorms" and "Black Treacle," the harmonized vocals of Alex Turner and Jamie Cook come across as a futuristic hybrid of Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers. It is on the third track, "Brick by Brick" (also the first single), that Arctic Monkeys deviate slightly by including heavier guitar riffs, but, come "The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala," Sheffield's finest go right back to their homage to the late 50s and early 60s.

Returning to their roots with the inordinately long song title of "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair," the Arctic Monkeys switch gears to a more 60s garage aura. I think The Sonics would approve. Following this track is "Library Pictures," which blends a loungey vibe with an occasionally frenetic choice of chords thrown in randomly.

"All My Own Stunts" stands out on Suck It And See as the song most likely to pass for being on either Whatever People Say... or their sophomore album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. "Reckless Serenade," one of the best variations on a mid-twentieth century pop song, possesses lyrics that also show a somewhat softer side to the writing style of Alex Turner:

"I've been trying to figure out exactly what it is I need/Called up to listen to the voice of reason/And got the answering machine."

"Piledriver Waltz" is a nonpareil composition on the album in that 1) It's amazing and 2) It also appears on the soundtrack for Submarine as a solo version by Alex Turner (personally, I prefer the Submarine rendering, but the Suck It And See one is enjoyable in its own way). "Love Is A Laserquest" is another close contender for best love song on the album (after "Reckless Serenade"). "Suck It And See," the controversially named song for which the album derives its name, is purposefully sweet ("I poured my aching heart into a pop song/I couldn't get the hang of poetry") and in keeping with the ironic affectation the Arctic Monkeys are renowned for.

Concluding with "That's Where You're Wrong," an uptempo ditty that is the perfect counterpart to "She's Thunderstorms," Suck It And See is a worthy addition to the Arctic Monkeys' prior work, though Humbug is perhaps their most under appreciated (the Ray of Light of their albums, if you will). In the long run, however, I'd like to believe that the moody, cerebral nature of Humbug will triumph over the straightforward pop melodies of Suck It And See.