3 Stars Archive

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Tennis – Young and Old – album review

Colorado dream-pop duo Tennis return with another collection of sun-faded beach tunes on Young and Old. This time around, the husband-and-wife team are more focused and charged than they sounded on their debut, Cape Dory (2011). And thre are some excellent highlights, especially the brilliant “Origins”. But Young and Old feels like a natural extension, rather than progression, from Cape Dory. It’s a great place for new fans to start, but those that caught onto the Tennis thing early might be a little disappointed. Then again, “Origins” (and, to a lesser degree, “Traveling”) may be enough to keep Young and Old in heavy rotation for a while.

3.5 / 5

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Mark Lanegan – Blues Funeral – Album Review

Though Mark Lanegan remains one of the greatest relics of the grunge era (Screaming Trees, Mad Season), and one of the most awesome rock singers of the last twenty years (influenced by many from Kurt Cobain to Josh Homme), Blues Funeral is something of a misstep. Songs lack dynamics and melodies can’t seem to gain traction on the Ellensburg, Washington-born singer’s seventh album. That said, there are moments of genuine brilliance throughout Blues Funeral. “Riot in My House” and “Quiver Syndrome” seriously rock, “Ode to Sad Disco” pushes Lanegan’s sound into goth pop territory (seriously!) and a couple of gems near the end, “Leviathan” and “Deep Black Vanishing Train”, recall the experimental spark that made his last LP, Bubblegum, so goddamn rad.

 

Check out “Quiver Syndrome”…

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Miracle Days – Something for the Weight – Album Review

Despite what the name suggests, Los Angeles duo Miracle Days’ debut, Something for the Weight, kind of isn’t really that heavy. It’s breezed, willowy indie pop loaded with soft hooks and familiar melodies, and something that we haven’t been able to get out of our heads since we first heard it a few weeks ago.

Although (ultra-sticky) album openers “Miracle Days” and “Time Spent With You” set a sunny tone, there’s a charming melancholy that creeps into Something for the Weight’s second half (see album standouts “Never Know” and “Black Ice”). It’s a welcome turn that gives the LP an excellent balance. Along with shifting tone, Miracle Days give depth to Something for the Weight with a range of guitar textures (acoustic and electric, finger-picking and chords) and rhythms (“Time Spent With You” waltzes, “No Place” has a bossa nova vibe).

While singer Dre Babinski’s voice is the star of the show, the album’s modest keys and dramatic strings are what drive much of the album’s emotional edge. Yet perhaps the album’s strongest element is honesty. Something for the Weight isn’t trying to catch any trend or break any new ground, it’s a straight-forward, comfortable demonstration of two people’s passion for making music. And that’s a pretty cool thing.

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Danava – Hemisphere of Shadows – Album Review

Portland 70s-bent prog dudes Danava grabbed our attention in 2008 with the mighty Unonou, a killer album jammed with jagged, wandering riffs and epic, spiraling rock architecture. We were floored by the band’s daring psychedelia, and their ability to make songs that clocked in close to ten minutes pass so effortlessly. On their latest, Hemisphere of Shadows, the epic sweep of Unonou is gone, and the songs are a lot shorter. This should be a good thing. But Danava are big, complicated thinkers. And they don’t succeed as well with shorter songs (we’re as surprised as you are). The riffs are still bitchin, but Hemisphere of Shadows starts to feel repetitive before the mid-point.

Standout tracks: “The Illusion Crawls”, “Shoot Straight With a Crooked Gun”

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Mister Heavenly – Out of Love – album review

Death, 50s nostalgia and indie rock collide on Mister Heavenly’s debut LP, Out of Love. It sounds like something hatched in an advertising war room: let’s take sunny 50s pop hooks, dark lyrical themes and a bit of indie rock bombast, mix it together in a totally not lo-fi package and see what the kids think. Well, we think it sounds pretty cool (for something that could have come from an advertising war room).
 
Who are the ad wizards behind this LP? It’s actually a cast of not-so-familiar names from familiar bands: Modest Mouse’s Joe Plummer, Man Man’s Ryan Kattner and Islands’ Nick Thorburn. The croon-vs-howl vocal interplay between Kattner and Thornburn keep Out of Love afloat, but Plummer’s drumming is the spark that keeps the ship moving. Alas, the obsession with 50s rhythm and melody wears thin by the album’s midpoint and never really recovers. Still, Out of Love is a worthy experiment with some very cool highlights.
 
Standout Tracks: “Bronx Sniper” is one of the best rock songs we’ve heard this year. Early single “Pineapple Girl” is still one of our favorites. And “the very cool “Reggae Pie” would have been totally awesome if it were two minutes shorter.
 
More Mister Heavenly
Download “Bronx Sniper” free
Grab “Pineapple Girl” and “Mr Heavenly” free
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Radiohead – King of Limbs – Album Review

After their mind-bending, space-aged turn on Kid A (the band’s fourth album, released in 2000), Radiohead was slowly creeping back into rock territory. But on their eighth LP, King of Limbs, the band has shifted back into orbit with a sound more reminiscent of jazzy, cosmic electronica than rock. And while that type of shift can lead to an uneven, jagged object, Limbs is a smooth, dark gem with subtle highlights and a cool glow.

Confusing to fans, critics and retailers alike, King of Limbs is an album without a genre. It falls closer on the music spectrum to Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma than Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, and while everybody says they like it when their favorite music doesn’t easily fit into a category, many people aren’t happy with Radiohead’s Limbs. But that’s the trouble with musicians like Radiohead that act like artists. It’s demanded they  defy expectations, and inevitable they will occasionally disappoint.

For me, this makes Radiohead a fun band to watch, but not one that I get too emotionally invested in. So, for me, King of Limbs isn’t a disappointment. I like it. But it’s not an album I’d recommend either.

Radiohead don’t care whether or not you like how King of Limbs sounds. This isn’t pop. Instead, Limbs is an experiment in how far Radiohead can push guitars, bass and drums into the future without totally conceding their jobs to a computer. As most true artistic experiments turn out, King of Limbs is not a hit. There aren’t any block-rocking beats, sing-songy choruses or hit singles. This is a subtle album with a comfortable mood.

Though King of Limbs doesn’t grab you with sticky melodies and bold choruses, it is an easy album to listen to. Highlights include the shuffling, dour “Lotus Flower”, the anxious and melodic “Little By Little” and “Give Up the Ghost”, a beautiful, spacey acoustic ballad where the band sounds about as conventional and accessible as they’re gonna get.

There’s not a bad song on King of Limbs, but after repeated listens, the short, spare LP doesn’t really stick in your head. It passes easily and occupies a space by itself. It’s a lonely, muted expression. And though many people turn to music for something outgoing and bold, Radiohead simply weren’t in that kind of mood when they recorded this album.

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Com Truise – Cyanide Sisters – Album Review

As an EP, eighties-wave atari-electronica guy Com Truise’s Cyanide Sisters works really well (released last year, free download here). As a bonus-tracked LP (released this year), Cyanide Sisters (aka Seth Healy from Princeton, NJ) gets a little repetitive (which is a common challenge in this genre).

But at $5.99 through Amazon.com ($6.99 at iTunes), it’s a pretty good deal. And if you’re not familiar with the eighties atari electronica that’s been slowly emerging from the chillwave movement (see Toro y Moi’s first album, Washed Out and Neon Indian), this is a reasonable entry point (though not as strong as Ford and Lopatin‘s 2010 EP released under the name “Games“).

Cyanide Sisters starts on stable footing with the title track and “Sundriped”, but by the time you get to the third song, “Basf Ace”, it’s hard to distinguish between the songs you’ve heard (with the exception of some slight tempo changes). But things start cooking with “Slow Peels” and hit their stride with the lush, melodic “lwywaw” and swaggering “Norkuy”.

On the album’s closing third, the bonus tracks, Com Truise maintains the flow, but doesn’t break any new ground. However, you’ll want to stay tuned for “Space Dust”, which is one of the albums highlights and the song on Cyanide Sisters that most closely resembles the chill wave movement of yore.

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Talib Kweli – Gutter Rainbows – Album Review

Gutter Rainbows is Talib Kweli’s fifth solo release since he and Mos Def split ways after producing a single album as Black Star. SInce then, Kweli has tried (with some success) to cross over into hip-hop’s mainstream, but it always felt forced. Not a big deal, but we always though he was better than that. On Gutter Rainbows, Kweli seems more comfortable with his status as an underground hip-hop icon, and he’s closer than ever to making a killer LP.

It takes Gutter Rainbows a while to warm up. Most of the first half lounges in tepid rhythms and tired baselines dressed with layers of ordinary synths, vocal harmonies and guitars. (We’re not sure, though it sounds like there’s a live band at work here.) Don’t give up on Gutter Rainbows, though. It gets better.

At the midway point of the album, on “I’m On One” (featuring a rad cameo by Yo MTV Raps’ Ed Lover), Talib flows over an old school beat reminiscent of the Beastie Boys, which totally works, and things start to get interesting. A bit later in the LP, on “Wait For You” and “Cold Rain”, the live band effect is at its funkiest. But the highlights of the album are closer to the end: the dark, menacing “Tater Tot” and “Uh Oh (f. Jean Grae).

By the end of Gutter Rainbows, It feels like Talib Kweli is close to making his way back to the underground roots that launched his career. If he can put an underground mastermind like Madlib firmly in control of his next project, it should be off the chain.

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Kylesa – Spiral Shadow – Album Review

Kylesa is one of the lesser known acts from the epic metal scene down in Georgia (which includes band you know like Mastodon and Baroness, and bands you should know like Black Tusk). With their fourth studio release, the totally bad ass Static Tensions (2009), Kylesa was squarely on the map and on the Downcast’s radar. Now they’re back, just a year later (this album was released in 2010), with Spiral Shadow.

Spiral Shadow shows Kylesa stepping into psychedelic and indie pop territory. It’s not psychedelic in the 1960s, 13th Floor Elevators-sense of the word. But psychedelic in the metallic, Tool-esque sense. As far as indie pop, you’ll hear Built to Spill and The Pixies around the albums midsection (especially on “Don’t Look Back). There are even moments that remind us of The Smashing Pumpkins (listen to the melodic riffing in “To Forget).

Kylesa also does a good job with dynamics on Spiral Shadow. Songs alternate between dense and spacious, quiet and loud. Voices range from anthemic chanting to screams. And guitars shift from stoney riffs to atmospheric wandering.

By now, you can probably sense my lack of enthusiasm for Spiral Shadow. I’m not using words like “amazing”, “incredible” or “killer.” And that’s not to say this isn’t a good record. It is. It’s just not great.

While I like how Kylesa is branching into new territory, it feels like a very natural progression from Static Tensions. So there’s a spark of danger, urgency that’s missing here. And despite the dynamics, after listening to Static Tensions about a dozen times, songs (especially on the first half) don’t really stand out from each other. On the ones that do, the riffs and melodies feel tired and worn (familiar). In the end, we wouldn’t recommend picking up the whole album, but we strongly recommend the following…

Standout Tracks: “Tired Climb”, “Spiral Shadow”

Around the web

  • “Spiral Shadow supersizes everything, from song lengths to layers of deep-focus space-rock effects, but the sprawling songs are still built around riffs as sweaty as a south Georgia summer.” (Spin, 7/10)
  • “This is a great psychedelic hard rock album, only occasionally returning to the sludgy metal of Kylesa’s early releases.” (All Music, 4.5/5)
  • “These perennial up-and-comers are now operating at an elite level. Welcome to the upper tier of American metal, kids.” (Pop Matters, 8/10)
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Cut Copy – Zonoscope – Album Review

Expectations were high for Cut Copy’s third studio release, Zonoscope. It’s the followup to 2008′s commercial and critical success, the mad killer, In Ghost Colors. The pressure was on, and unfortunately the band came up short.

On In Ghost Colors, Cut Copy masterfully combined dance pop, rock and rave-techno components, and glossed it with a bold sheen of 80s style. It was an inspired, swaggering amphetamine that wowed critics and had kids dancing their brains out. High score.

Enter Zonoscope. Once again, Cut Copy brings a familiar set of tools to the table (dance rhythms, rock beats, pop structures and psychedelic rave textures), but they’re dulled and worn on Zonoscope, creating a monochromatic, ordinary object. It’s as though Cut Copy is trying to reinvent themselves by dialing down all the settings on the television: tint, brightness, color and contrast. What they should have done is tossed out the television, bought an LCD screen and cranked all the setting up.

The first three songs are hard to get through. The laid-back vocal textures that sounded so ironic, so cool in the high-voltage setting of In Ghost Colors range from boring to bad in the drab confines of Zonoscope. And the synths range from unnoticed to annoying (especially the keyboard stabs in “Take Me Over” that recall Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”… ugh). Probably the worst song on the first half of the album is the jock jam-inspired “Where I’m Going”. (See what I mean?)

Things do warm up a bit at “Pharaohs and Pyramids” (a decent, 80s-washed new wave pop song) and the band seems to hit a gentle boil at “Blink and You’ll Miss A Revolution”. But neither of these songs would have made the cut on In Ghost Colors.

The best part of the album is the final act. “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” is a slow-rolling, stylish slice of synthpop. On “Corner of the Sky”, a mid-tempo dance cut, the band finally shows a flash of the inspiration present on In Ghost Colors. And “Sun God”, probably the best track on the album, revolves around a swaggering, pounding beat layered with psychedelic synth textures and bold, crawling keyboard riffs. Unfortunately, “Sun God” is the last song on the album (Will anybody still be listening?) and it clocks in at 15 minutes (So if listeners haven’t already tuned out, they will by the 11 or 12-minute mark).

Zonosocpe isn’t horrible. It’s just an ordinary album with the unfortunate task of following up one of the best albums of the last ten years. Cut Copy will recover from this. They’re talented artists that have been in the game for a decade. Now that the pressure of following up In Ghost Colors is out of the way, I’m very curious to hear what they come up with next.

Standout Tracks: “Corner of the Sky”, “Hanging onto Every Heartbeat”, “Sun God”

Around the web

  • “[Zonoscope] catches Cut Copy in a pop-attuned mode they’ve only hinted at in the past.” (Spin, 8/10)
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