A Perfect World

After the Disco

Danger Mouse and James Mercer, in their continued collaborative effort, Broken Bells, have set a high standard for the remainder of 2014 in After the Disco. In what may best be, appropriately, described as a post-disco soundtrack to the re-emerging New Wave trends in popular music, this incredible followup to the group’s 2010 debut combines melancholy lyrics with indulgent synth riffs, recreating the macabre sense of a 40 year party’s end. If that was a little too adjective-laden, you have my sincerest apologies. The simple fact is this album is amazing.

I’ve already seen a number of analyses focusing on the “disco” aspects of the product, some going so far as to compare AtD to the works of the Bee Gees, and I find that unfair and at least mildly inaccurate. This album certainly features some high-notes in its vocals, and plenty of catchy bass lines; but musically, the album carries itself well enough to breach past decades-old genre conventions. The album seems, in many respects, to be a reaction to various musical trends from numerous generations that plays ironically with their key fundamentals.

Stand out tracks from this album include the titular “After the Disco,” and the lead single, “Holding on for Life,” which set expectations abuzz for this final product. Anton Yelchin and Kate Mara’s presence in the single’s video certainly had our household agasp. Die-hard fans of Broken Bells’ debut album will enjoy “Medicine,” which is reminiscent of its consistency, while playing with radio-pop rhythms. “The Angel and the Fool,” another single, has vague hints of something from “While my Guitar Gently Weeps,” in a most interesting way. The highlight, for me, comes in the album’s opener, “Perfect World,” which features great lyrics, solid production, and sets the stage for an amazing listening experience.

The group’s sound has unquestionably moved forward since their debut, and mid-stage EP, but this movement is also unquestionably positive. A great soundtrack to a hangover, as has been mentioned by other critics, or as the soundtrack to the party itself, After the Disco is everything I hoped it would be.

On Twitter and Facebook:

@broken_bells | facebook.com/brokenbellsmusic

@romealbum | facebook.com/DangerMouseOfficial

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Half Awake and Almost Dead

In Rolling Waves

In the two years that followed the release of Passive Me Aggressive You, The Naked and Famous have been a standard in my routine. Unquestionably, this album helped us survive the move to Seattle, and the subsequent months here. There hasn’t been a week in which I didn’t listen to that album from beginning to end. If nothing else, I was glad that they released a new album to supplement my collection of their music.

In Rolling Waves features a steady pace, marked by grand swells and lush crescendos, fitting to its name. It lacks the bass-heavy rhythms of the prior album, which gave it a modern, new-wave ambiance. Instead, this release relishes more in the subtleties possible in electronic synth-pop. Stand out tracks include the first single, “Hearts like ours,” “I Kill Giants,” and “We are Leaving.” The album’s closing track, “A Small Reunion,” is a sentimental piece, incorporating strings and a somber motif. This track resorts to a number of archetypes, particularly as a final offering, but it does so in a deeply moving fashion, befitting the subject matter.

Admittedly, this album didn’t keep my attention on the first run through. It lacked the dance rhythms and vocal intensity of its predecessor, but it has a lot of heart, and it still has the amazing musical quality that made PMAY a fun listen – it has simply been redirected. The result is an album that is, perhaps, less fun, but more fulfilling. It functions less as an in-ear party, and more of an experience for your whole being. Don’t rush your enjoyment of the album, let it come to you, perhaps in waves of some sort.

Show me your Warface

Warpaint

I wrote previously about my anticipation for this, the second full-length album from shoegaze maidens Warpaint. NPR was able to provide a first listen through its website, linked, and the wait to be able to stream this album was killing me! In a fairly unrelated topic, my Windows Phone was unable to update to the most recent edition of Flash, which was necessary to access NPR’s First Listen App – just another in my litany against this particular mobile OS. Back to the goods – this album has not disappointed.

The eponymous release from the ladies of Warpaint is as enigmatic and airy as their previous effort, but with a better use of lead instruments, resulting in a tighter sound. Warpaint is a great band for Seattle, as their tone matches our winter temperament. Speaking of which, don’t visit Seattle in the winter, everyone is depressed and on lots of drugs. While this new album does nothing to raise us from Seasonal Affective Disorder, its haunting melodies, particularly in the case of “CC” help to remind us that there is something greater around the corner. This album, thus far, has embedded in me a bleak sense of optimism.

Head to NPR’s First Listen app to get hip to what’s in store from Warpaint, and look out for the album to drop on January 20. Preorder through ITunes or Amazon, or stop by your local shop and keep your cash circulating locally. I recommend Easy Street Records or Silver Platters.

A Giant Descends

Eponymous

I first heard Young the Giant on The World Cafe when their self-titled album was initially released. Since then, it’s been an integral part of roadtrips (to and from Washington and Idaho, on more occasions than I care for), and a major bonding point for my wife, Veronica, and I. The fun, poppy hooks and rolling synths are perfect for setting a positive tone and adding a bounce to your step, while the lyrics are engaging and substantial. Their new album, Mind Over Matter, is available for pre-order now, and you can preview a few songs through their website. The videos for “Crystallized” and the titular “Mind Over Matter” are quirky, with an artistic flair that is simultaneously clever and a little ridiculous.

Mind Over Matter

Their forthcoming album isn’t revolutionary, but it marks the band’s development. While the first tracks aren’t as bouncy as those found on the band’s eponymous album, they are consistent and cohesive. Young the Giant seems to be settling into a good rhythm with this next release, and I am excited for it. The “Sophmore Slump” hasn’t been kind to a lot of bands lately, I won’t name names, but I’m confident that YtG is up to the task of keeping the momentum they’ve established. If their performance on Conan is any indication, they’ve got enough energy to keep their party going.

You can pre-order Mind Over Matter through I-Tunes, Amazon, or through the band website. The available bundle set includes a marble-colored vinyl, which will look great alongside the rest of your collection, as well as a number of other goodies.

www.youngthegiant.com

https://www.facebook.com/youngthegiant

@youngthegiant

Obligatory 2014 Post

I’ve been racking my brain for these past couple weeks over what sort of post would best ring in 2014. “Best of” lists are everywhere, and I was hoping to do something unique, while still celebrating all that 2013 was. To this end, I am reflecting on some of the musical highlights from the year, in no particular order, and looking at some of the upcoming releases that I’m most excited for.

No Blues

Los Campesinos! released No Blues in October, and it hasn’t left my portable music collection since. A friend and I were discussing the band’s progression, and this album is undoubtedly their most mature yet. Their sound is more refined, and the content seems more focused. While this growth, marked by the departure of key members throughout the years, comes at the cost of the spastic quality characteristic of Hold on now, Youngster…, it is still a highlight for the band.

The Invisible Way

Low released the followup to 2011’s C’mon, which still gets playtime on my home system, in March of 2013. The Invisible Way is melancholy in a manner that prevents overall gloominess. The lyrics are sharp and witty, and the tone is often apocalyptic, particularly in the opening track, “Plastic Cup,” but the album seems surprisingly light. Low continues to impress with their tight playing and crafty wordplay. Make sure this album is in your collection, if it isn’t already.

Pure Heroine

Lorde‘s debut album was a media juggernaut, and she certainly doesn’t need the press from another blog to ensure her continued success, but any post that looks back on 2013 is legally obligated to feature at least a brief mention of Pure Heroine. Seriously, Universal is just that powerful. In all seriousness, this album was highly anticipated, and managed to live up to the hype. Snappy lyrics, minimalist production, and dedication have played heavily in her favor. I only hope that she is able to live up to the high standards she has set for herself. And I hope that she releases a followup soon.

Modern Vampires of the City

I would be remiss not to mention Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City provides the sort of consistency that is severely lacking in a great number of followup albums. I won’t mention names, but there are several major-label artists and bands that have simply not been able to recreate the magic of their first albums. Vampire Weekend not only continues to provide quality tracks, but they do so with a genuine sense of creativity that lacks the pretension so easily perpetuated by the genre.

2013 saw the release of several albums that fizzled out for me. Atop this list was Arcade Fire‘s Reflektor. This avant-garde production embraced a strong grasp on social media integration, and featured great substance, but simply lacked in musicality. Where The Suburbs excelled, their newest album fell short. I simply didn’t have enough drugs on-hand to enjoy Reflektor as much as possible.

Ra Ra Riot has always been an important band in my life. The Rhumb Line and The Orchard were integral parts of the soundtrack to my college experience. But since then, we’ve both grown – and lost. The band has a unique history when it comes to membership, to say the least, and Alexandra Lawn recent departure didn’t seem to provide the inspiration necessary to fuel the band’s growth within its niche. Beta Love comes across as just that: a beta effort, something that needed more time to process and develop. Changing form isn’t easy for any established band, and it’s something that is best attempted with great care.

After the Disco

Now that it is officially 2014, I look forward to contributing to the hype machine that will drive new music releases. Most notable for the coming year, for me, is Broken Bells‘ upcoming release, After Disco. I absolutely loved the initial effort from the ubiquitous Danger Mouse, apparently an eternal collaborator, and The Shins‘ James Mercer. While this follow up looks to embrace some different qualities, “Holding on for Life” has me hooked already.

Warpaint

Warpaint is slated to release the followup to The Fool this year, and I am stoked for it. Warpaint is already shaping up to be a solid effort from the band, as it features the shoe-gazing, ethereal sense that characterizes them, but with a marked musical progression. With vocals that explore a wider range and more pronounced, less lethargic rhythms, this eponymous effort will fuel a great deal of my daydreaming time.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Against Me! will release Transgender Dysphoria Blues this month, and as the first album following lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s recent gender transition, it promises to be a unique addition to the band’s library. With the success of the band’s previous White Crosses album, it will be interesting to see how they shift, and more importantly, how they continue to bond, as a group.

There will be a great deal more to come this year – of that I’m certain. But in the meantime, there is a lot to look forward to. On a more local note, Northwest musician Gallowbird will release his album The Driftless Adrift this week. I posted a review in December, and you can read it here. I was able to listen to this release early, and it was a refreshing experience. This album will be a great addition to any collection, and with a January 2nd release date, it’s a great way to start the year.

Ethereal Pop-Twang

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I was pleased to be invited to preview the upcoming album from GallowbirdThe Driftless Adrift, slated for release on January 2nd, 2014. This self-proclaimed North Country drifter is building his following from the ground up, and he has the talent and drive to do it successfully. His online presence is rather enigmatic, with his website, twitter feed, and Soundcloud profile leaving much to our collective imagination, but the music is there, and it’s real. Check out his site at gallowbird.com, where you can have a listen.

Update: Gallowbird’s album, The Driftless Adrift, is now available for download through CD Baby. If you’re looking for hard copy, you can find it here in Seattle at any Silver Platters. Start the new year right, and get some good vibes going.

This grass-roots campaign is inspiring, as is the music. Tracks on the January release are uplifting, dreamlike, and most importantly, filled with emotion and musicality. With a strong electric backing, his organs and guitars sing forth with an effervescent quality. His vocal styling is akin to a summer festival, filled with soul and youth, with the milky rasp of an artist’s never-ending work. Standout tracks include “Love Like a Storm,” featuring a gorgeous string section and bittersweet lyricism; “Slow November Snow,” which has the sort of eerie atmosphere familiar to a Northwestern resident; and “All the Ghosts,” a song that resonates with regret, and feels so much the heavier with its deep tone and harmonies.

Gallowbird has been featured in the Small Room Collective, where he contributed a special live recording of “Peroration for a Ghost Town,” the sales of which benefit the Pablove Foundation. His work is nostalgic and inspiring, his methods heartfelt and progressive. Gallowbird is poised to do amazing things with this album, particularly given his devotion to the craft, and grassroots methodology. I will be glad to push this album on my friends and office mates when it drops in January. Until then, keep listening, and give him a follow while you’re at it.

Twitter: @gallowbird_

Am I Getting too Old for this?

Second Stage In Keeping Secrets Burning Star IV

A friend recently posted a comment about perhaps being too old to be a fan of Coheed and Cambria. This is actually a sentiment I have felt for the past few years, being 31 now. I can’t escape that this band encompasses everything that I love not just in music, but in performance, and in concept. Hosting some of the most prolific musicians of the 21st century, the band also boasts a creative output that borders on the obscure, if not downright eccentric. Add to this an incredible live performance – I managed to see them four times while I was an undergraduate, and you have all the makings for a truly unique musical experience. The group has not gone without its challenges, including line-up changes, troubles with addiction, and the general problems of fame, but they have never failed to deliver in music, video, and print production. Perhaps then, it is not that I’m getting to old to enjoy the band, but rather, their timelessness invites a youthful audience that simply makes me feel old. Moving past this, I feel better about the band having such a large presence in my life, and I invite you to consider, should the question pertain to you: what is your favorite Coheed and Cambria album?

No World Black Rainbow Ascension Descension

My introduction to the band came from In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, when a good friend brought it and its predecessor back from a concert. I was instantly mesmerized by its craftsmanship – the rhythm section stood out strongly, while not overpowering (not that it would be possible in this band) the guitars. The seamless musical transitions and expert interplay between members made clear that their music wasn’t simply an esoteric practice in making noise and trying to impress listeners – this was a cohesive effort. Shortly after listening to Silent Earth, and The Second Stage Turbine Blade, I had the opportunity to see the band live, with an opening act that would forever change the way I looked at musical performance – but that is a different story. For the two years that followed, I would learn to play every track on these two albums, and I became engrossed in the narrative behind them, for which the lead singer would later release a series of comic books.

This experience led to an incredible anticipation for more work from the band, and for more information on an epic, albeit convoluted, science-fiction tale. Shortly after seeing the band a couple more times, and getting a signed copy of the first comic book to coincide with the albums, the band started promoting the upcoming album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. Despite the album’s pretentious title, it far exceeded all of my expectations, and certainly created an undeniable buzz for the band – they were featured on an MTV program shortly after its release, which, as I recall, is a sure sign of success and ability. The accompanying graphic novel was no less obscure than the narrative content, but the complete experience was so well crafted that the album and text could have been called All my Children and still have been as successful.

[I had hoped to embed the video for “Welcome Home” here, but the official Youtube page for C & C disabled it. Instead, enjoy their newest single: “Number City]

The albums that followed were more accessible, certainly in the case of No World for Tomorrow and Year of the Black Rainbow, although their newer works from The Afterman series recall the narrative flair of earlier works. Musically, narratively, and in terms of performances, I can’t imagine a stronger album than Burning Star IV, which boasted incredible guitars and effects, solid bass playing – it was certainly a shame that Mike Todd went down the path he did, and the drums never got better than the open-handed, and slightly pukey, Josh Eppard. Their performances reached an all-time high for me during this phase, constituting one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen – complete with a guillotine. I have little doubt that any of my readers have not heard of the band by this point, and I hope I’ve made my pick clear, with Burning Star IV as my favorite, but I would like to know: If you are a fan, which is your favorite Coheed and Cambria album?

Album covers link to their respective Amazon pages for sampling and ordering

TCBTS – Deconstructed

http://www.facebook.com/coheedandcambria

On twitter at @coheed

Anticipating Great Things…

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It’s no exaggeration to call the previous Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs, a fulfilling and extraordinary experience. This effort helped to reaffirm the presence of artistry in music and, unsurprisingly, the band is leading into their next contribution, Reflektor, with a promise to do the same. The album’s first single, a titular track featuring David Bowie, combines the musicality that we expect from the band with a unique, internet-based video campaign that invites viewers to interact with the media on a level typically reserved for psychedelics. For fans still living in a more lo-fi age, there is a traditionally produced video featuring the same giant heads that we have come to love from “Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains.”

The Reflektor website encourages users to interact with the video using a control device, a mouse or touchscreen, to add dimension to the production, enabling lighting and effect manipulation. Of especial interest is the latter portion of the video, which features the message “Break Free,” delivered with some irony, as our interactions with the product are effectively constrained by a number of external decisions and technological limitations. How this paves the way for future interaction remains to be seen, but there is definitely potential in the Arcade Fire’s newest endeavor, and I am quite excited to see where the album, and future efforts to incorporate developing technologies, leads.

Overall, the viral promotion campaign for Reflektor seems to be working, as the band, established popularity not withstanding, is blowing up news feeds around various social media platforms.

Reflektor is available now for pre-order, and will release on October 29. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to engage the interactive video on the band’s website, or enjoy the more traditional media available for the single. Either way: listen, enjoy, and get ready for another great contribution from an amazing group.

And now: something different

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I’m fortunate to live in a city that has a thriving local music scene. Now that I have had the opportunity to establish my background and interests with this blog, I would like to depart from my usual content and focus on some of the amazing talent featured here in Seattle. Sammy Witness brings an upbeat and playful tone to the stage, and her debut album, Tiger Lily, is both playful and heartfelt. The hooks are catchy, yet earnest, and her voice is sultry, yet she has made clear the fact that she is having fun with her range and lyrics – the track, “Follow Close” is a striking example of this tendency. This project, funded by Kickstarter and available as a free download from Noisetrade, embodies music’s evolution, becoming artist and audience-centered, and reflecting a pure rendition of a performer’s vision.

Sammy Witness isn’t tearing up the charts or selling out stadiums – yet, but her popularity here is quickly gaining ground. Backed by her band, The Reassignment, she provides the perfect musical backdrop for the Northwest summer – a breezy respite from area’s typically gloomy characterization. I was fortunate enough to be linked to her website through Twitter, and I would recommend here that you take the time to follow the link above, to sample and download her album, and visit her website. Her story is whimsical and reflects the dynamic personality one would expect from her shimmering vocals and tongue-in-cheek lyricism.

http://www.sammywitness.com

on Twitter at @sammywitness

Can we take a moment…

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Can we all take a moment to refrain from the madness that is our own lives and reflect briefly on how amazing the Cold War Kids’ latest album Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is? It’s been out since April, and I’ve certainly been listening to it since then, but it has really caught up with me these past couple weeks. There is something about the earnestness of the lyrics, particularly in its standout track “Jailbirds” that just gets me choked up. Perhaps it is as a parent that the line “Father make believe for your daughters/ mother take it easy on your sons” resonates so strongly, or perhaps, even as a bystander to modern parenting dilemmas, we can see the disillusionment we are passing down to our children. Without spending too much time focusing on a single track, I don’t think it too grandiose to say that this contribution to our libraries is nothing short of spectacular.

Cold War Kids have a knack for pinning down our cynicism in strong lyrics and catchy riffs, and Dear Miss Lonelyhearts starts off strong in this respect. From the start of its first track, the single “Miracle Mile,” the album makes its ambition apparent. In this album, in particular, the drums are so strong, and compliment the vocals so well, that their cohesion seems nothing short of masterful. This band has always had a strength in its narrative tendencies, and its musical backbone, but in DMLH their growth and progression is most apparent. Far more refined then previous endeavors, which are still amazing, the band proves that growing up does not have to mean growing tired. The energy in this album borders on overwhelming, even as it borders on the ethereal, such as in “Fear & Trembling” and “Tuxedos.”

In summation, if you haven’t yet picked up this album, or, God forbid, you haven’t yet taken the time to listen to Cold War Kids (which seems incredibly unlikely), then it is most certainly worth your time to make the minimum effort to follow one of my links to give them a listen. Your ears will thank you, your mind will relish in the content, and your heart will ache at the somber tones and bluesy vibes. Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is a great starting point for anyone wanting to jump aboard this gravy train, and an even better stopping point for anyone already on-board. Now, feel free to go about whatever you were doing before, and thank you for taking this moment to reflect on a great album.