Category Archives: Album News

New Music on WUSO This Week!

The WUSO CD Review Committee (Kent, Andrew, Nate, Caity, Joe, and Rory) have their picks from our new music this week. Their favorites are starred, and we’ve listed clips of some of the highlights. Tune into WUSO to hear more from these albums!

Interested in joining the WUSO CD Review Committee? Email Kent at s12.kmontgomery@wittenberg.edu

*Big Tree- This New Year*
Mix with: The Dirty Projectors
Caity says: “Jazz rhythms and time signature with a pop base and colorful harmonies, strong female vocals.”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah- Hysterical
Mix with: Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade, The Rapture, Girls
Nate says: “A really fun mix of indie rock and indie pop. Vocals take some getting used to, but are still solid.”

Cut Off Your Hangs- Hollow
Mix with: Red Distribution
Nate says: “Jangly guitars and a driving pulse offset the band’s somber lyrics to create a very indie rock sound.”

*Dawes- Nothing is Wrong*
Mix with: Drive by Truckers, Old 97s, Deer Tick, Wilco
Kent says: “Good rock band with country and folk influences. Great harmonies, nice mid-tempo tunes.”

A Little Bit of Everything:

Dreamers of me Ghetto- Enemy/Lover
Mix with: The xx, U2
Nate says: “Dark, atmospheric rock. Some good trucks mixed in with some filler.”

The Drums- Portamento
Mix with: Surfer Bood, The Vaccines, Cults, Bombay Bicycle Club
Nate says: “A fun mixture of Brit-pop and surf rock with occasional dips into the falsetto.”

What You Were:

*Feist-How Comes You Never Go There (Single)*<
Mix with: Cat Power, Dan Auerbach
Caity says: "Smooth female vocals, occasionally horse and black keys-esque guitar."

Gary Clark Jr.- The Bright Lights EP
Mix with: Black Keys, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Jimi Hendrix
Andrew says: “Straight modern blues. Lo-fi vocals and breezy guitar.”

Jens Lekman- An Argument with Myself
Mix with: Joseph Arthur, Belle & Sebastian
Caity says: “Simple male vocals with Belle & Sebastian feel; road trip themed, sometimes added instruments (horns, strings).”

*Pujol- Nasty, Brutish, and Short*
Mix with: The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, Ramones
Andrew says: “Pretty catchy, poppy, alt-rock. A lot of lo-fi vocals. Very playable for college radio. Some cool interesting guitar rifs.”

S.C.U.M.- Again into the Eyes
Mix with: Explosions in the Sky, WULYF, Bon Iver
Kent says: “Really ambient and spacey… not really my kind of music, but worth a shot.”

Shivering Timbers- We All Started in the Same Place
Mix with: Iron and Wine, The Black Keys
Nate says: “A completely original sound that mixes elements from folk, blues, indie, and country to create an eclectic record that requires several full listens through the appreciate.”

Sun Wizard- Positively 4th Avenue
Mix with: My Morning Jacket, The Strokes, Elvis Costello, R.E.M., Wilco
Andrew says: “Wilco/Bob Dylan-esque edge vocals. Very nice, colorful, indie guitar lines. Great start to the album, a little less interesting towards the end.”

We Were Promised Jet Packs- In the Pit of the Stomach
Mix with: Manchester Orchestra, We Are Augustines
Kent says: “Heavier rock music with a few really good tunes. Definitely check out if into punk/hard rock.”
Medicine:

Album Review: The Horrible Crowes – “Elsie”

"The Horrible Crowes" (Sideonedummy Records 2011)

“Elsie”, the debut record from Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon’s side project the Horrible Crowes, offers a wide range of sounds: half of the record picks up where Gaslight’s last record, “American Slang”, left off; while the other half dives deep into new experimentation.

The Horrible Crowes project is essentially a duo consisting of Fallon and longtime friend and guitar tech Ian Perkins. The group began writing songs on the last Gaslight Anthem tour, influenced by PJ Harvey, the National, and other moody artists. On “Elsie”, each player’s role is clearly defined in the group: Fallon sings and forms the songs’ structures; and Perkins adds the flourishes that define the music, like slide guitar and organ.

The result of the collaboration is, when compared to Gaslight Anthem, both familiar and new. “Elsie” songs “Crush” and the leadoff single “Behold the Hurricane” recall recent Gaslight tunes “Bring it On” and “American Slang,” respectively. These are the most straightforward and upbeat rock songs on the album, which says something about this project: The Crowes at their peak volume recalls some of Gaslight’s more subdued moments. “Go Tell Everybody” is another rocker, this one with a great melody and more organ and R&B conviction than Gaslight could ever offer.

The experimentation is heavy on other “Elsie” songs; Fallon seems eager to delve into other genres without the burden of writing for a straightforward rock band. “Mary Ann” is rough and heavy, with Fallon delivering his vocals in a nearly Tom Waits fashion. “Black Betty and the Moon,” on the other hand, is all texture, with light drums and acoustic guitars. “I Witnessed a Crime” is a barroom ballad, with tons of organ and slide guitar. And “Ladykillers,” one of the best songs from “Elsie”, recalls latter-day U2, with Fallon doing his best Bono-ballad impression on the first verse.

The ballads are the real focal point for “Elsie”, as they directly contrast most of the Gaslight repertoire. The album’s opening two tracks set the tone for the whole record: the short intro “Last Rites” gives way to the impressively somber “Sugar.” The beautiful “Cherry Blossoms” sets the record’s low point, at least as far as mood and energy go, until the album’s closer “I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together” brings the record to an end in a slow, spare way. “We Did it When We Were Young,” Fallon’s lament from American Slang, suggested that these ballads were coming, but nothing on American Slang was this moody or desperate.

That’s not to say any of the songs on “Elsie” are bad. If anything, they offer a larger picture of what exactly Fallon is capable of. Gaslight’s punk rock blues from Sink or Swim and hero worship of The ’59 Sound have given way to a more introspective, diverse sound, and that sound translates into the Horrible Crowes music. Side projects are usually written off as unnecessary or obscure, but “Elsie” is definitely a record to check out, and not for just the die-hard Gaslight Anthem fan.

 

(Kent Montgomery is a Staff Writer for the The Wittenberg Torch. He can be reached at s12.kmontgomery@wittenberg.edu)

James Blake, “James Blake”

"James Blake" (A&M Records, 2011)

James Blake’s self-titled debut is far from being a typical summer album. Then again, his music hardly qualifies as typical no matter how one looks at it. It was also released in February.

Since the LP’s release however, Blake has completed a modest first tour of the United States (including festivals like SXSW in Austin, TX), had his album shortlisted for the UK Mercury Prize for Album of the Year, and grown from relative obscurity to a sensation in some circles. The album follows a series of well-received, yet musically distinct EPs—ranging from noisy to ambient and quiet, with a pinch of R&B—recorded during Blake’s last year as a music student in London, winning him early attention on select European airwaves and alternative music websites on both sides of the Atlantic.

The beauty of 2011’s “James Blake” is that it ventures into sparsely explored musical territory and, as a whole, sounds very little like anything we have heard before. Coming from a background of production in dubstep and related genres of electronic music, Blake’s healthy use of electronic clicks and pops, sputtering drums, echoes, sub-bass, and sampling (usually of his own voice) is apparent from the start. The opening track “Unluck” evokes hints of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s solo electronic release “The Eraser,” or moments from Radiohead’s own revolutionary and experimental “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” from the early 2000s. Before anyone gets scared though, James Blake’s employment of electronic sounds is surely among some of the most calculated and tastefully subtle of such uses, in contrast to the often violent and aggressive 8-Bit Nintendo noises of acts like Crystal Castles or Sweden’s The Knife.

Blake’s skill and artfulness becomes especially apparent when the rich and textured synths creep into the mix, accompanied by Blake’s soulful and occasionally warped vocals, singing concisely and with conviction, with a degree of lyrical introspection that most electronic artists rarely reach. This distinction from its musical roots has prompted some music journalists to consider the style of “James Blake” so significantly divergent as to refer to it as “post-dubstep,” a genre that didn’t exist until this year.

“James Blake” is at once dynamic and minimalist. Tracks like single “The Wilhelm Scream” begin with tactful drum beats and understated synths, onto which Blake sings variations of the same melodic verse. The sounds behind the vocals then gradually intensify, much like in “I Never Learnt to Share,” which Blake sustains on two short lines of lyric, brooding that “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me / But I don’t blame them.” By the end of the track, the formerly soothing musical background has grown to a full-out, thick and noise-driven climax.

The more narrative “Lindisfarne I” features only Blake’s vocals, fed through a vocoder, followed by a more melodic “Lindisfarne II,” which begs comparisons to the crooning falsetto of Bon Iver, on 2008’s “For Emma, Forever Ago.”  The Feist cover “Limit to Your Love” is probably the album’s most immediately approachable song, stripped down to piano and Blake’s raw, British-nuanced vocals. Notable here is the song’s delicate use of silence and minimalistic reverberations, building tension and anticipation in the middle of the track.

“Give Me My Month” and “Why Don’t You Call Me” are two of the most tender and personal moments on the album, featuring vulnerable lyrics from a fragile voice, accompanied by bare piano chords, giving the tracks more of a singer-songwriter sound than others. “To Care (Like You),” and “I Mind” bring variety to the album with R&B-inspired hooks, rousing beats, moments of soul, and even choral music, as on the relaxed album-closer “Measurements.”

While it might not get guests dancing at the next wild dance party you attend, there are few albums more potent and cathartic for when you do come home alone at 3 a.m. and collapse on the couch to calm those last jitters of dancing and ponder your night’s successes and failures. “James Blake” is a collection of tender and unquestionably unique songs that holds the potential of becoming a modern classic.

(Martin Lukk is a Staff Writer for the The Wittenberg Torch. He can be reached at s14.mlukk@wittenberg.edu)

Brett Dennen’s “Loverboy” Left me Swooning

Brett Dennen’s newest album, Loverboy, finds Dennen exploring more upbeat pop and funk-based themes than his previous and most popular 2008 record, Hope for the Hopeless.

After listening to Loverboy, it’s clear that Dennen has come a long way with his songwriting abilities from his first self-titled studio album released in 2004. Dennen’s earlier releases, including So Much More in 2006 and Hope for the Hopeless in 2008 focused almost solely on social and political issues where he challenged his fans to really think about society’s problems.

Loverboy is a far cry from the social landscapes painted in Dennen’s previous albums. Instead, Loverboy offers up a fresh dose of happy, melodic, and almost nonsensical lyrics that challenge you to get up and dance rather than think while maintaining Dennen’s signature beats and West Coast vibe throughout.

With only a couple exceptions, every track on Loverboy was recorded in one take. This gives the album a true-to-life effect that you can feel while listening.

The songs that stand out most on Dennen’s record have the most infectious melodies and showcase the evolution of his songwriting abilities. The goofy and radio-friendly tune “Comeback Kid” is perhaps the most memorable tune on the record. Dennen sings repetitive lyrics like, “that’s my dog” in such a fun and uplifting way that you can’t help but sing along.

Yet another example of Dennen showcasing his ability to write fun and almost mindless songs is the single “Sydney (I’ll Come Running).” This tune is reminiscent of some of Dennen’s more poppy songs from the past, yet uniquely different. “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” has more of a driving force and feels far more polished than Dennen’s other pop songs.
“And all the hipsters on the East Side they think they’re too cool for school but they don’t know,” sings Dennen on his track “Queen of the Westside”.  Dennen almost pokes fun of his own image as a hipster from the West Coast throughout the song. “Queen of the Westside” was Dennen’s experimental track with more funk-based guitar licks and a lagging synthesized beat. Dennen has fun with this track and it shows as sings “oh” in a falsetto voice that Michael Jackson could be proud of.

Overall, Brett Dennen’s Loverboy doesn’t disappoint. The record offers a mixture of signature Brett Dennen thought-provoking lyrics, but far more mindless and happy pop songs perfect for listening to in the car. The album is due for release on April 12.

30 Years in the Making: R.E.M.’s New Sound

R.E.M.’s latest record, Collapse into Now, continues the high-energy rock of the band’s excellent 2008 release, Accelerate, peppered with other musical elements from the band’s back catalogue.

Collapse into Now has a lot of hype to live up to. The album was partially recorded at the legendary Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, Germany, which gave us classic records from David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and U2. As if that wasn’t enough to get fans excited, as the band was recording they likened the sound of the record to that of their 1992 classic, the folky Automatic for the People.

Collapse into Now landed somewhere in between Automatic for the People and Accelerate. On songs like “Oh My Heart,” “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I,” and especially the harmony-driven “Überlin,” R.E.M. delivers. As promised, they rekindle the folk that made them huge with hits like “Losing My Religion” and “Drive.” These songs mark the return of the mandolin, organ, and the accordion that dominated Automatic for the People. These songs display R.E.M. at its stripped-back and melancholy best since Automatic was released in 1992.

Other songs on the album evoke different music eras in R.E.M.’s history. The piano ballad “Walk it Back,” with its atmospheric strings and reverb-laden guitar, fits in nicely with the band’s late-90’s electronic experiments. And the closing track “Blue” is a blatant re-hashing of New Adventures… single “E-Bow the Letter”: the songs are similar in their spoken-word vocals, ambient instrumentation, and a guest lyric from Patti Smith.

However, the real winners on Collapse into Now are the rockers. Much of the album continues the high-energy rock of Accelerate. Opener “Discoverer” kicks off the album with a jagged guitar line, before roaring into a muscular chorus. “All the Best” pounds away with more loud drums and guitars, before climaxing in a fury of harmony vocals set to a pulsating beat. And “That Someone is You” and “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” have the band sounding like it’s 1983 all over again, featuring the Byrds-y jangle and sweet harmony that the band first became known for.

Overall, Collapse into Now solidifies a new era for R.E.M. that began with Accelerate. This era (in contrast to the band’s cryptic garage-rock 80’s, folky 90’s, and experimental electronic 00’s) boasts big guitars and drums, tons of studio experimentation, and just enough folk to keep fans sane. The songs show a band revitalized and excited to be making music, and optimistic about the future. Collapse into Now is a fine example of the music R.E.M. wants to be making in 2011, which (along with Accelerate) represents the best music they’ve made since 1992.

Go-Go Boots, Drive-By Truckers Album Review

For their latest record Go-Go Boots, southern rockers the Drive-By Truckers ditch the dark, noisy tendencies of last year’s The Big To-Do, and opt for a cleaner, brighter collection of soul and country tunes.

From the start, it is clear that Go-Go Boots is not a typical Truckers album. “I Do Believe,” a great retro-pop tune, shows front man Patterson Hood at his most carefree and weightless. The song opens the album with Hood’s a cappella vocals: “I do believe I saw you standing there, sunlight in your hair.” The band then bursts in, offering bright guitars and organs that compliment the light subject matter (which includes a shout-out to 60’s R&B singer Percy Sledge).

The Truckers make good use of their influences throughout Go-Go Boots. On bassist Shonna Tucker’s bar room ballad “Dancin’ Ricky,” the lead guitar lines are practically lifted from an Otis Redding record. Organ parts in “Used to Be a Cop” and the title track owe some debt to Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.” The album’s closer, “Mercy Buckets,” seems to be a culmination of all these influences: the song contains a few blistering guitar solos, some organ and piano parts, and a chorus that explodes into a sweet harmony.

Elsewhere, courtesy of guitarist Mike Cooley, the Truckers sound more like a country band than they ever have before. Cooley’s three songs for the record (“Cartoon Gold,” “The Weakest Man,” and “Pulaski”) each maintain a stripped back, classic country vibe. The use of acoustic guitars and traditional bluegrass instruments like banjoes and steel guitars adds to the stripped down atmosphere here. The best of Cooley’s tunes here is “The Weakest Man,” which evokes, through a harmony-fueled chorus, any great up-tempo Willie Nelson song.

The original songs from Go-Go Boots are rounded off by a pair of covers by songwriter Eddie Hinton, who was a close friend of Hood’s father. “Where’s Eddie” is a quiet rocker sung by Tucker, who comes alive as the song explodes with organ in its last minute. The other Hinton tune, “Everybody Needs Love” is the Drive By-Truckers at their best. Hood is forced to break out of his Southern drawl and display a little soul on this tune, and he does so with flying colors. The band plays along with its best 60’s-soul tribute (organs, guitars, and tons of reverb) and the result is superb.

Overall, Go-Go Boots is a fine example of the Drive-By Truckers’ ability to expand their sound and adapt to different genres. This is a band with a great deal of musical knowledge and experience, and Go-Go Boots is the sound of the Truckers realizing their potential.

Thank You Happy Birthday

With Cage the Elephant’s sophomore album, Thank You Happy Birthday, the band strays away from the straightforward blues and punk inspired rock of its self-titled debut, instead opting for a very diverse and much more modern-sounding record.

From the opening track, “Always Something,” it is clear that Thank You Happy Birthday isnot an attempt to repeat the mold of the band’s debut. The mid-tempo song boasts a syncopated drum beat and an effects-driven lead guitar riff that wouldn’t seem out of place in a James Bond film. Overall, the song carries a dense atmosphere, and its production is much more advanced than the stripped-back sound of the band’s previous record.

Throughout on Thank You Happy Birthday, there is hardly any trace of the slide guitarblast of the band’s 2009 hit single “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” In fact, the record seems to owe more to late-80s Pixies records than to early Rolling Stones singles. Vocalist Matthew Shultz’s shrieks in songs like “Indy Kidz” and the frantic “Sell Yourself” are reminiscent of Surfer Rosa-era Frank Black. The lead guitar lines in “2024” are pure Joey Santiago. And “Aberdeen,” with its strong melody, pounding bass guitar, and feedback-laced guitar solo, could pass for a Doolittle outtake.

The band also seems much more in tune with its softer side this time around. “Rubber Ball” revolves around strummed electric guitar, relatively subdued vocals, and hardly any drums. The album’s closing track, “Flow,” is only slightly more upbeat, with shakers and hand drums serving as percussion.

Of the Thank You Happy Birthday’s highlights, which include the record’s first two singles, “Shake Me Down” and “Around My Head,” and the aforementioned “Aberdeen,” the track “Right before My Eyes” stands out as the album’s best. The song is one of the catchiest by the band, and plays as a fairly simple rock song with a great melody. The song can be heard in its original version, and as an acoustic hidden track following the album closer. The acoustic version is particularly great: it shows the band at its most personal, without tons of studio production to muddy the emotion in Shultz’s voice.

Overall, Thank You Happy Birthday goes beyond the expectations for Cage the Elephant’s sophomore release: it shows the band reinventing its sound by incorporating new influences into its palate and even taking a few risks. The result is positive, and it will offer the band a chance to transcend the “one-hit wonder” label and make more great music in the future.