Album Review: Heaven is Attached by Slender Thread by The One Am Radio

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Slap some reverb on it!” seems to be the credo of many indie-pop bands these days. How else are modern listeners to discern between their tightly structured, melodically driven songs from the mainstream stuff you hear on the radio?

With Heaven is Attached by a Slender Thread, The One AM Radio are not throwing on layers or drowning their sound in effects to fill any emptiness—instead, they rely on full, orchestral arrangements, grooving rhythms and playful melodies to get the job done.

What’s interesting about Heaven is that, from a distance, the record sounds similar to contemporary chillwave acts like Toro y Moi and Small Black; but the production style of these two effects-and-reverb-heavy acts is absent. Many of the songs feature a fat, droning synth that’s perpetually on the verge of peaking, but never quite does. The vocals are at times a cool falsetto, and at other moments are softly sung—almost spoken—in a gentle style similar to Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. The One AM Radio’s Heaven is a head-bobbing tribute to what an indie-pop band is capable of when they leave the chillwave at home.

Written by Christian Koons

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Album Review: When The Madhouses Appear by The Fling

June 13, 2011 § Leave a comment


What’s most immediately respectable about The Fling’s debut album When The Madhouses Appear is its ability to synthesize its noticeable influences in a way that doesn’t pull directly from them—a valuable skill in an age running rampant with duplicates. At a glance, the blend of southwestern folk and alternative rock of Madhouses will draw comparisons to Ode to Sunshine, the debut album of The Fling’s fellow Long Beach natives, Delta Spirit. But Madhouses isn’t an ode to anything sunny, and The Fling is no Delta Spirit duplicate.

Clocking in at about 45 minutes, the album is a raggedly waltzing trip through songs about insomnia, women, seeking comfort and trying to make sense of things. The soaring harmonies of the record’s opener “Friend of Mine” make the southern California four-piece sound like a band that boasts greater numbers. The lead vocals of Dustin Lovelis are lower and more soulful than both Robin Pecknold’s of Fleet Foxes and Ben Bridwell’s of Band of Horses, but not quite as raspy and rugged as Matthew Vasquez’ of Delta Spirit.

The album is well-structured—each heavier or more upbeat song is punctuated by a stripped down or slow-rocking ballad. The band has previously been called “psychedelic,” but the songs on Madhouses are straightforward, except for a few well-placed rhythm changes and tempo shifts to keep you guessing. They get in, do their job, and get out before overstaying their welcome. In fact, you could argue that the brevity of some of the songs is one of the record’s weaknesses. “Nothing Makes Sense” and “Out Of My Head” are both strong tracks that would benefit all the more if they had bridges to put them over the three-minute mark and keep them around long enough to make a statement.

Despite its brevity, “Out Of My Head” is a standout. It’s also the track on Madhouses most similar to their previous single “Lonely Fool” from their Ghost Dance EP, and is clear evidence of the band’s growing maturity. “Cold Comfort,” with its instrumental intro and heavy-cutting tremolo guitars, was expanded from its original form on Ghost Dance EP into the six-minute centerpiece of album.

The boys of The Fling sing with the abandon of newly-released prisoners, but also with the dreariness and foreboding that comes with the sobering inevitability of ending up back in jail. The lyrics of the closer “Devil’s Man” sum up the overall impression Madhouses leaves you with: “I am a tourniquet down at the bottom of a well / I’ll stop the bleedin’ but I’ll make it hurt like hell.”


Christian Koons, Music Writer

Golden Days @ the Eddy

April 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Photos by Stephan Hernandez, Guest Photographer, www.shvisuals.com/blog.

Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes

April 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Lykke Li is many things—songstress, singer, dancer—but what is so captivating about her is the paradoxical nature of those traits she posesses.  She is both fierce and delicate, fragile and dark.  It is this juxtaposition of affect in her music that is so beautiful.  There is a danger, though, in settling for the undisruptive middle ground between the opposing sides of the spectrum, neither abandoning both sides nor fully embracing them.  Such was the case in Li’s debut album, Youth Novels.  It was safe and inexperienced; the structure was too straightforward and the layers too thin.  But there was something substantial at the heart of each song that drove the album forward and seemed to signal that something bigger was coming.  That something was Wounded Rhymes.

It has been a long three years since her first release, and it is clear that a lot has occurred during that time, including Li’s relocation from Brooklyn to Echo Park in Los Angeles.  She said in an interview with Pitchfork Media earlier this year that she has “been exposed to many things during these last few years; all the baby fat is gone. I dove into the craziness.”  And it shows.  Everything about Wounded Rhymes is more intense than could have been anticipated, as if she is screaming now what she had only whispered before.  The largeness of the album is due in large part to her powerful voice, which is now robust and certain, illuminating melodies with confidence and vitality over layers that are significantly thicker than before.  On the other hand, the album bares her vulnerability for the first time, as in the sparse ballad, “I Know Places.”  The track is reminiscent of Radiohead or early Dylan, its loneliness upheld by Li’s characteristic determination to survive in the darkness.

Perhaps the biggest change is seen in the form of each song, and the form of the album as a whole.  Whereas Youth Novels was held together by the similarity of its tracks—lullaby-like songs that flowed from one to another with very little distinction, each song on Wounded Rhymes is more a journey than a statement, a total exploration of the ideas that were only suggested in her previous work.  The result is graceful but strong, and finally presents us with a wide-open door into her world.

Watch the short film Solarium starring Lykke Li:

By Kelsey Upward, Staff Music Writer.

LCD Soundsystem

April 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of the sucky things about growing up is seeing your favorite bands continue to produce music well past their expiration date. Plenty of musicians seem to be content to drag out their careers as long as humanly possible. So it’s always refreshing to see an artist finding the exact right moment to call it quits, when they are at the peak of their game. Still, it was bittersweet when James Murphy announced the end of LCD Soundsystem, marked with a final show at Madison Square Garden on April 2nd.

I was lucky enough to score a very last minute pit ticket (and no, it wasn’t from a scalper) to the show Muprhy dubbed “The Long Goodbye”. The show itself had been heavily hyped as a three hour set and promised special guests. Even with a few Terminal 5 shows added to accommodate fans, everyone knew the MSG show was the true final statement by Murphy. Just how would he close out the incredible ten year run of LCD Soundsystem?

Saturday night, the energy inside MSG was spilling over. By the time LCD hit that amazing first crescendo in the opener “Dance Yrself Clean,” the crowd was ready to tear the roof off. Murphy was obviously the focus of the show, but his backups were as tight and precise as ever, with staples Pat Manhoney and Nancy Whang joined by transplants Tyler Pope (!!!), Al Doyle (Hot Chip), and Gavin Russom. LCD’s constantly rotating backing band actually became a theme of the night, as Murphy brought out former members to play on older songs.

Along with the usual standards of any LCD show, the MSG set threw in some curveballs for the devoted fans. It was great to hear the rarely (or never) played songs such as “Too Much Love”, “Tired”, and “Sound Of Silver” along with covers of “Jump Into The Fire” and “Bye Bye Bayou”.

The second half of the show started with chopped up, extended jam on Murphy’s workout mix “45:33”, and featured DFA labelmates Shit Robot, a brass band, choir, as well as comedien Reggie Watts dueting with Murphy. Aziz Ansari made a guest appearance in a comedy video played during one of the brief intermissions. And of course, the biggest, most joyous surprise of the night was the Arcade Fire providing the backup vocals for an amped up rendition of “North American Scum”.

By the time the show was diving into its third hour, with the iconic “Yeah” punctuating a long string of hits, there was never a sense of sadness from Murphy, or even the inkling that this was really their final show. During “Losing My Edge”, the band kicked into a mini-cover of “Da Funk” after the infamous “Daft Punk to rock kids” line.

When Murphy announced it would be their last song, and the crowd moaned in sadness. In the way only James Murphy could do, mixing humor, cynicism, and joy, he told the crowd to cheer for the closing number. The crowd erupted into the biggest applause of the night. And then they played a perfect version of “New York I Love You,” as white balloons fell over the thousands of fans during the final reprise. A single balloon swam up on stage. Murphy picked it up, smiled, threw it back into the crowd, and walked off stage.

And that was the end of LCD Soundsystem.

By Wes Lagattolla, guest writer

Rap Rivalry

April 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

OFWGKTA. Don’t try to pronounce it; those sitting nearby will think you’re either sneezing or cursing them in Swahili. It’s the abbreviation of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, the rap collective from L.A. you’ve probably already heard about. Tyler, the Creator, the group’s leader, directed and starred in the disturbingly cool video for “Yonkers,” the first single from his upcoming sophomore release Goblin. On February 23rd Kanye West tweeted that “Yonkers” was video of the year, an endorsement that probably helped it reach its current view count of just under five million views.

On February 16th they made their television debut on Jimmy Fallon with Tyler, the Creator and fellow Wolf Gang member Hodgy Beats performing a heavily edited version of the song “Sandwitches.” The performance featured music by the Roots, an excessive use of fog machines, green ski masks, the girl from The Ring, a wardrobe change, a cameo from Mos Def, an Ellen DeGeneres reference, and a piggy back ride. Check out that video here.

Countin' some chedda green.

Despite the group’s rapid rise in popularity, Odd Future isn’t out to make friends. In “Yonkers,” Tyler the Creator calls out Hayley Williams (of Paramore), Bruno Mars, and B.o.B all in a single verse, rapping that he’ll “crash that (expletive) airplane that (expletive) (expletive) Bob is in.”  The lyrics are a direct reference to “Airplanes,” a song that was arguably the most overplayed radio hit of summer 2010, and that both Hayley Williams and B.o.B contributed to.

B.o.B decided he wasn’t going to take the diss sitting down, and on March 25 the track “No Future,” appeared online. Besides the obvious reference made in the song’s title, the lyrics are riddled with slams against the L.A. supergroup. B.o.B raps, “You see the (expletive) I gotta deal with from these beginners?” and warns, “The future ain’t looking promising for these rookies.”

Those lenses are prescription, I'm sure.

Tyler was impressed by B.o.B’s “diss track” response. He tweeted, “Whoa. I Don’t Think The ‘No Future’ Song Is Even A Diss. But I’ve Never Heard Him Spit Like That. Took Me By Surprise, Cus Its Tight.” But afterwards, still tweeting, he said “Still Hate That Airplanes Song Tho. It Has The Same (expletive) Chord Progression As (expletive) ‘Love The Way You Lie’ And That One Song By Kay Perry.”

Watch the videos for “Yonkers” here, and listen to “No Future” here. Warning, the language of both songs are NSFW, and the visuals in “Yonkers” are just plain spooky.

No word yet on whether or not Hayley Williams and Bruno Mars have a diss track of their own in the works.

No word yet on whether or not an attempt in that regard would be intimidating at all.

Written by Christian Koons, Staff Music Writer

Music Review: My Double, My Brother

March 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Enduring a glacial Los Angeles evening, over a hundred students huddled together in an amphitheater on Biola University’s campus to demonstrate their loyalty to Biola-based band My Double, My Brother.  Previously named “The Fragrance,” the band was formed in 2007 by four music majors and frontman Joel Hasemeyer.  Since then, they have become a regular installment in the Biola community, but have also toured all over California and the Midwest.  The show was a release party for their first full-length album, What We Found Beneath The Ground, and after opening sets by Paulie Pesh and Boris Smile, they played the album from start to finish.  Their performance was tight and well rehearsed, and the musicianship was outstanding.  Evan Eliason on fretless bass provided a solid backbone to Matthew Bushyeager’s energetic and creative drumming.  Linzy Spann showed great technical expertise on both keys and accordion, and Andy Leong’s well-placed guitar melodies complimented Joel’s rhythm guitar and lead vocals flawlessly.  They sang of parades and rivers one moment to loss and redemption the next, making poignant statements about suffering and enduring hope.  The songs were never heavy-handed in their delivery, though, as the band seemed to ask as many questions as they answered.

Though What We Found does not stray from what they have already established musically, it does show the band taking large strides toward something unique and imaginative.  This is due in part to their experimentation with texture and form, but it is likely that the main reason they are able to achieve such prowess early on is the irrefutable creativity of every member, each of whom contribute to the songwriting with equal fervor and poise.  This makes for a full, mature sound that, along with superb post production, is strong enough to support their substantial songwriting.  What makes the songs—and the band—distinct is their insatiable energy.  It is present from the start of the album until the very end, punctuated with well-placed moments of quiet openness, as in the stunning “Seed in the Shadow,” or in the opening verses of “They Built Them All To Last” and “The Morning.”  This intensity is present in both the writing and the execution, though it seems to suggest an even greater amount of energy veiled beneath its surface.  They have much more to give, and are only beginning to flex their muscles as musicians and as performers.  Showing such sincerity and potential in their first efforts is a good sign, and if Arcade Fire’s recent Grammy Award domination is any indication of the current musical environment into which they are entering, their determination will pay off.

 

By Kelsey Upward, staff music writer.

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