The Belle Jar- Union Station
Mar 5, 2014
Three years ago, five beard- and flannel-loving Seattle musicians released two magical pieces of music, the Sun Giant EP and their self-titled debut. They became a sensation, their album peaking at 200,000 copies sold worldwide. Now, they’ve added another member and more talent to their already impressive band.
Helplessness Blues is the expansion we’d all hoped for from Fleet Foxes. They’ve risen from the rustic casket that threatened to confine them.
Fleet Foxes was a gorgeous slice of pastoral folk heaven. Songs about sunrises, mountains and children in their winter gear shined with golden harmonies swiped from Crosby, Stills & Nash and rumbling percussion straight out of Appalachia.
On Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes channel a darker beauty in the vein of Nick Drake, dabbling into lower guitar tunings and atypical time signatures. The slightly Mediterranean “Sim Sala Bim” is half folk tune, half gypsy jam, and it’s a lot more experimental than their self-titled debut had room for. “Bedouin Dress” dances with a frisky fiddle melody that would have felt out of fashion on their last release.
But Fleet Foxes have grown older, as band leader and chief beard Robin Pecknold makes clear on many the album’s dozen songs, especially the title track. “Helplessness Blues” is the grand, vulnerable centerpiece of the album, showcasing the themes of identity anxiety and aging in general. Hell, Pecknold’s very first words on the album are pretty heavy. “So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter. Now what does that say about me?” he utters on quiet opener “Montezuma.”
Pecknold has made the songs more about him, in turn, making them more about us. The eight-plus-minute “The Shrine / An Argument” is more audacious than anything the band’s had the guts to try yet—and it succeeds. Starting slow with descriptions of copper pennies at a shrine, the song blooms into a breakup tale, with Pecknold’s angelic voice enriched by the band’s gorgeous harmonies.
Perhaps the most brightly colored track is the album’s closer, “Grown Ocean,” which was released with a companion video of the band’s extracurricular pursuits while in the studio and on the road. The song is a travelogue for a vivid dream, and Pecknold delivers each image with confidence and awe. “I’ll have so much to tell you about,” he sings about when he wakes from the dream.
His words are an accurate statement of what listeners are likely to say after completing the magnificent Helplessness Blues.
Listen to "Grown Ocean":
On the outside, Bill Callahan looks like a pretty quiet man. He’s the kind of person you would expect to see sitting under a tree, somewhere in the south, playing a guitar wearing a cowboy hat and flannel shirt. With a deep voice and acoustic guitar in hand, everything about this man says, “Stereotypical country music singer.”
Everything that is, except for his music.
On his new album, Apocalypse, Bill Callahan blends classic American folk rock with sounds typically heard in modern indie music. His baritone vocals ride on melodies created by one-part classical guitar, and one-part Wurlitzer electric piano. There are fiddles and flutes paired with electric guitar solos.
Callahan has been in the music industry since 1990 and he knows how to blend genres into one melody by using influences from the aforementioned American folk and indie rock with a little jazz, and some blues. This seemingly bizarre combination works out effortlessly on Apocalypse.
Throughout the songwriting process Bill Callahan proved again that he has an ear for sound and rhythm that helped create an album he can really be proud of.
Listen to "Baby's Breath":
Art rock, soul, electro-funk—such are the many masks worn by TV on the Radio. Formed in Brooklyn in 2001, this colorful crew of musical masterminds has released four critically acclaimed studio albums including their latest, Nine Types of Light.
The band’s premise is simple: soulful vocals and chimes of funky electronica permeate songs driven by nuanced instrumentation. The vocals are delivered by Tunde Adebimpe, the rhythm section is courtesy of Kyp Malone and the programming and special loops are swirled into perfection by Dave Sitek.
Lead single “Will Do” plays out over four minutes with a steady backbeat and rising/falling strings, in addition to rhythmic guitar riffs that don’t overtake the songs but add to their immensity. Opener “Second Song” starts slowly with Adebimpe’s croon and small percussive accompaniment but unfolds into a raucous dancer. Adebimpe jumps into a higher register to deliver the chorus’ powerful punch.
The band owes its current sound to funk forebears Earth, Wind and Fire, ambient master Brian Eno and even Prince’s monumental Purple Rain album. The sum of the parts is great, and TV on the Radio is a full enterprise of euphonious grooves.
Nine Types of Light are indeed found in these 11 songs. Kaleidoscopic light, that is.
Listen to "Second Song":
Imagine taking a drive with friends in the summertime. Windows down, wind-blown hair, sun beating in every window, and a certain carefree spontaneity and happiness envelops you, just like Eliza Doolittle's self-titled debut album.
Parlophone’s Eliza Doolittle has plenty of feel-good tunes, but it's not just your average bubblegum pop. Infused with her sweet-as-sugar voice are raspy kicks of jazz and smooth doses of soul. Whistling, clapping, glockenspiel (similar to a xylophone), kazoo and maracas are just a few of the unique instruments she uses in order to achieve her light-hearted sound. In addition she incorporates retro elements, like the sound of music playing through a phonograph on the song "Go Home.”
Songs like "Nobody," "Moneybox," "Skinny Genes" and "Mr. Medicine" all have similar, bouncy and very catchy choruses. Shifting once more to her deeper, more intimate side comes out through soulful picks like "A Smokey Room" and "So High."
Listen to "Skinny Genes":
Ten years after their debut EP was released, Danish indie rockers Figurines are showing no signs of slowing down with their most recent release. Their eponymous album is full of eccentric, quirky melodies laced with euphoria.
For the most part, Figurines remains upbeat and sublime throughout its 40-minute running time. However, beneath its glossy production and joyous jangle lie subtle undertones of angst and heartfelt earnestness. Vocalist Christian Hjelm’s warbling tenor draws the listener in past the surface of the music, and the use of keyboards, Beatles harmonies and certain chord progressions creates the underlying gloom beneath the glimmer and shine of the songs.
The angst that resides under the surface of Figurines is above all things full of optimism and a yearning for something better. In “Lucky to Love,” probably the song that most evidently reflects this dichotomy, Hjelm repeats the refrain “All I want to do is to wake up and make it / All I want to do is to wake up and break it” — and he makes you believe it when he sings it. “Call Your Name” could almost pass for a Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles ballad with its haunting harmonies and gently plucked guitar lines.
The lush and intricate melodic landscape of Figurines makes it a compelling and incredible listen from start to finish. It is the perfect soundtrack for either a laid-back summer drive or a rainy day. If anything, Figurines’ self-titled record proves that the band is at the cusp of breaking onto the radar of unforgettable modern bands in a big way.
Listen to "Lucky to Love":
If you’re the type of person who likes to listen to the same music that doesn’t deviate from the sounds and feelings that you’re familiar with, Gruff Rhys isn’t for you. If you are a little more adventurous, however, and like to throw yourself out there to find something different, then Gruff Rhys has made your job a lot easier on his third solo album, Hotel Shampoo.
No two songs sound similar to each other on Hotel Shampoo, and every song brings in different elements and sounds that the listener could not expect. Songs like “Take a Sentence” showcase a dramatic piano contribution, but on more upbeat songs like “Honey All Over” percussion takes center stage accompanied by melodies produced on an electric keyboard. These are sounds that we hear all the time though.
Rhys makes his biggest impact by bringing in sounds that we recognize but rarely hear on serious albums. “Sensations in the Dark”, a song about discovering new music, has a mariachi-flare to it. The vocals for “Christopher Columbus” dance over sci-fi inspired sound effects. When was the last time you heard Columbus’ oceanic trek sung over sounds that are similar to Star Trek.
Hotel Shampoo isn’t an album for idle listeners. All of the different sounds and styles present make it an album that you’ll want to devote your attention to from start to finish.
Listen to "Sensations in the Dark":
Gorillaz are back and once again on a virtual rampage through our headphones and MP3 players with a new album brought to you via the iPad.
The Fall is the newest album from Gorillaz. It‘s full of electro beats and relaxed vocals. The album, as a whole, meshes well from song to song and keeps the same tone throughout. But The Fall has sudden surprises that will keep you wondering if the rest of the album is going to change the sound or not.
The sound of this virtual band has changed over the course of the decade ever since they were first introduced in 2001. From their debut album Gorillaz to Demon Days, Gorillaz have kept their mysterious fashion in a unique way, almost as if they were adjusting to the current trends of music while keeping their characteristic sound.
This album is definitely worth a listen, their sound changes to suit any music lover‘s taste.
Listen to "Revolving Doors":
Bright arpeggio-blasting guitars, brilliant melodies and powerful chords make the North Carolina trio Hammer No More The Fingers worth the time. Hailing from Durham, these musicians play catchy and edgy songs with crisp, clear melodies, fulfilling harmonies and a beat that really punctuates every musical phrase.
In 2008, Hammer No More The Fingers debuted with a self-titled EP in that landed them on the top 25 bands to watch from both Steam magazine and CMJ. 2009 sparked the bands ever-growing career with the release of their first full length LP, Looking For Bruce. The band started gathering the well-deserved reputation of post-'90s alternative rockers with an expertise in creating fun, happy-go-lucky songs.
Black Shark demonstrates that Hammer No More The Fingers has great depth and don’t just write about the fun times but also the depressing times. Usually, the high movement in the guitar and drum lines makes for a fun listen. Some tracks, for example “The Visitor,” has slowed-down and sad motifs to them, making a much needed change of pace to the album.
If you’re looking for a band to look out for in the future you cannot be let down by Hammer No More The Fingers.
Listen to a live version of "Steam":
Maritime’s fourth full length album starts off strong and forces you to listen to the entire thing before it lets you go. Human Hearts is catchy, riffy indie rock that offers the unique combination of driving beats and relaxed melodies. The singing is dreamy and soothing, but the bass and drums keep you awake like an alarm clock, except Maritime’s instruments aren’t annoying at 10 a.m.
“Annihilation Eyes,” is a departure from the typical sound of the rest of the album. It wouldn’t be totally out of place on a Gin Blossoms album but doesn't stray too far from the members' past bands like the Promise Ring. The song begins on upbeat happy notes and that sound continues through the whole thing while the chorus will win over any skeptical listener. The song flows with peppy and anthem-like repeats of its namesake before the last 40 seconds take you off on a harmonious repeat of the chorus.
Human Hearts is a very strong fourth offering from Maritime and the band has taken no steps back in their ability to play music.
Listen to "Annihilation Eyes":
Noise-pop connoisseurs will fall in love with Crystal Stilts In Love With Oblivion. They show off with fuzzed-out, guitar-led hooks and age-old punk elements.
They pull elements from the '60s that you think are long gone before this point. You think they must have pulled their keyboard work from either The Doors or the Animals. With songs like “Through the Floor,” you can’t help but sway in your seat. The perfectly distorted track helps lead the album in the right direction.
A mere five tracks later, you’re introduced to “Shake the Shackles,” that rocks you out of the pleasant daze you must have drifted into during the first six songs.
You can hear the Brooklyn band's take on the psychedelic garage rock that you grow to think Crystal Stilts must have invented. When you realize that they’re only on their sophomore album, you can’t help but root for these guys for a long-standing career. In Love With Oblivion sets a distinct atmosphere and gives you a body high that starts with your ears and ends with a tingle in your toes.
Hear the warm echoes of "Through the Floor":