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Since 2000, there’s hardly been a better bet in alt-country than Ryan Adams. But while this year’s Ashes & Fire marks his 13th album, it also marks his return to recording since the disbanding of his backing band, The Cardinals. And boy, what a return it is, helped by heavy hitter Norah Jones’ piano and backing vocals. Theres even some vocals from his former teen-pop star wife, Mandy Moore.
The opening track, appropriately titled “Dirty Rain” makes it clear this is the Adams we all know, not necessarily the sci-fi metal of Orion, recorded in 2007 and released two year later.
The title track equally shines through, playing an upbeat acoustic tune against Jones’ melodic piano. You see his trademark personal tone on the first single, “Lucky Now,” which features lyrics like “I don’t remember, were we wild and young? All that’s faded in the memory."
It’s nice to have you back, Mr. Adams.
Listen to "Lucky Now" -
There is something about a band, or musical group that
comes out of New Jersey that brings a different spin on
anygenre — it must be the water. Caged Animals didn’t miss
thememo on their first, Eat Their Own.
A whining keyboard and melodious bass intertwine to expose “Teflon Heart,” a song
prevalent with the goofy lyrics that can come out of lead singer, Vincent Cacchione’s mouth. L
yrically, Cacchione could be compared to Of Montreal’s “Our Riotous Defects.” The song is the
epitome of Caged Animals trying to mesh chillwave with electro-pop in a hazy, yet upbeat
“Hazy Girls,” on the other hand, is a whimsical track heavy on a washed-out sound.
The words still portray simplistic ideas and images, but this time, they’re more relatable. Upon
listening, your lids may get heavy on your head in which case I would suggest laying back, and
taking the music in.
Listen to "Teenagers in Heat" -
Following in the footsteps of successful bands out of Long Island's alternative/noise rock scene, like Brand New (which Sainthood Reps guitarist Derrick Sherman is a member of) and The Movielife; Sainthood Reps have managed to make a splash with their debut, Monoculture.
The title track opens the album and it immediately pulls you in with how aggressive it is. The distorted guitars screech throughout the song over a heavy drum part, all while lyrics are being delivered in a protesting manner. “We’ve come a long way/From the bottom up to minimum wage/Another day, another dollar”, sings Francesco Montesanto. It’s a great opener and it immediately grabs you with its sound. The lyrics provide a backdrop as to what’s coming vocally on the album. “Animal Glue”, the 5th track on the album, includes a very Jesse Lacey-type vocal performance, which isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. The guitars are very noticeably the work of Derrick Sherman, because of its distinguished echoing.
“Hunter” stands out so much because of its sense of anthem-type singing. It’s sung with such passionate desperation. Lyrics like ,“There’s nobody left to fight for our side and?/All my enemies are at my back door?/All my friends are at my back door" makes this such a beautifully written song, and something you find yourself emphasizing with.
This album will take you on an emotional journey. It’s very engaging lyrically, the emotion and content of the lyrics sucks you in and forces you to really listen to the message being poured over the amazing musicianship by the rest of the band. This band sounds mature beyond its years and has set the bar high for future releases.
Listen to "Animal Glue" -
This second Dum Dum Girls album, Only in Dreams, is a homerun. It’s exemplary of the girl rock genre. Lead singer/guitarist Dee Dee Penny created a more mature and authentic record, welcomed with open arms.
Previous Dum Dum Girls albums are more lo-fi with muddy vocals. Only in Dreams is a big step in the right direction. The production is superb. Unlike the past albums, Dee Dee’s vocals are getting the justice they deserve.
“Hold Your Hand” is different than the former three songs, and it’s still amazing. It’s a ballad that could break a heart made of crystal. The song sounds like a prom scene is an 80’s movie.“Wasted Away” is comparable, but stands out. It’s just Dee Dee being very… Dee Dee.
Overall, this album is great. It flows well. It shows a maturity that I Will Be didn’t quite have. It’s definitely worthy of rotation.
Listen to "Bedroom Eyes" -
A year ago, Carrie Brownstein told NPR she’d been playing some new music with some old friends. Twelve months later, Wild Flag dropped its eponymous debut on the world—and what a year it’s been.
Brownstein, former Sleater-Kinney vocalist and current writer-co-star of IFC’s “Portlandia” along with Fred Armisen, sings the songs on Wild Flag with great command. It doesn’t hurt that she’s backed up by former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, Helium guitarist-vocalist Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole, formerly of The Minders.
We all know them; rebellious indie kids with a knack for finding the perfect music to compile on their summer playlist. How aggravated they must have been when the release of Grouplove’s first full-length album occurred in mid-September.
Listen to "Naked Kids" -
With her previous two albums, St. Vincent mastermind Annie Clark developed a reputation for being a wispy, mesmerizing chanteuse with an elegant eccentric streak. Not much changes with Strange Mercy but her remarkable continuation of artistic development. From start to finish, Strange Mercy is a triumph of the creative process.
Clark continues along the same vein she struck with 2009’s Actor. Angular guitar plucks and gentle, almost unassuming vocals drift alongside jolting, sometimes bizarre rhythms. Album opener “Chloe in the Afternoon” is a frenetic, haunting juxtaposition of tranquil melody and a staccato drum loop. It starts Strange Mercy off on a hobbling note, and may put some listeners off.
Yet Clark’s greatest strength may be the unconventional beauty she forges from the sum of her music’s parts, something more determined listeners will realize as the album progresses. “Cruel,” a bouncy pseudo-disco track flaunting Clark’s ability to write a catchy hook when she needs to, is just strange enough to beckon you in further.
A sense of emotional immediacy also permeates Strange Mercy that sets it apart from St. Vincent’s previous efforts. The title track is a poignant ballad with a melody that never lets go of your ears, an experience both cathartic and harrowing.
Clark’s guitar work is something to praise as its own entity—she uses the instrument not to ground the music, but to help propel the music to celestial heights. Its crunching, distorted flourishes put the heft of Clark’s emotions under pressure, making each song struggle with anxiety and nearly frantic energy.
“Champagne Dream” is another triumph, showcasing Clark’s lower range in a stark confession of self-doubt and reflection. “Dilettante” and “Hysterical Strength” gallop along on the weight of solid beats and virtuosic instrumentation, recalling Björk at her tamest. Strange Mercy closes on a high note with “Year of the Tiger,” a song that suggests there is sanctity in the strange and abstract.
With all of Strange Mercy’s musical fragmentation, it can be easy to forget its backbone—the songwriting. Clark proves that she’s a force to be reckoned with among the music world’s canon of great songwriters, the Joni Mitchell of our generation. Strange Mercy is an uncompromising beauty that will retain its magic for ages.
Bands are often given several paths to choose over their career. Some reinvent their sound for mainstream success, or even to avoid it. Others continue to perfect the sound they've settled on.