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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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

Wallet 4p 2CD Glue End

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_

Relic Radiation: Prog Rock, Still Progressing

Relic Radiation – Prog-Rock from New Jersey? Sign me up. This trio linked me to their page on ReverbNation and I was stoked to give it a listen. I’m a fan of East Coast bands, and the genre has had me hooked for the better part of a two decades.

Relic Radiation’s demo features the sort of articulate guitars and ethereal rhythms one expects from the progressive label, feeling at times a combination of classic rock with the charm of Christmas. The actual progression in the demo’s tracks is still developing, as the band segues between modes rather abruptly, but the intent is clear: Relic Radiation is keen on making music.

As the band ramps up their intensity, and sampling, the guitars speak for them. The leads still carry a distinction amid fast, palm-muted riffs. The samples themselves tend to act as a lead in for the instrument work, but still adds to the overall ambiance, meshing well with the frenetic tones and grinding backgrounds.

The album is short on vocals, but big on sounds, which can both drag down the album’s cohesion, but allows for its musicality to remain at the forefront. The same can be said of the drum’s presence, as a more percussive rhythm would add the necessary backbone to the tracks that will give them some punch, and really tie it all together.

As far as demos go, it’s pretty clear that Relic Radiation is a band that is still growing, together and individually. These musicians are passionate about their creations, there’s no questioning that. When their passions fully align with their goals, cohesion will take them to new heights, both in popularity and in content. For the time being, support the work they have constructed to date, and be a part of their growth. You will have the uber-privilage of saying, “I listened to them back when their demo had just been released.”

I’ll have a sample available, once I’ve mastered the ReverbNation Widget configuration. Until then, check the band out on twitter @relic_radiation

JJXO – Split Lip Serenade

I recently had the pleasure of being contacted by the members of JJXO, who linked me to their site on http://jjxo.bandcamp.com/ where the album may be streamed for free, or purchased at a price the listener desires. It’s a novel idea for a novel band.

Members Jeremy Haffner and Stephen Cohen produced some well coordinated synth-rock, featuring unique vocals unaffected by auto-tune, but certainly carrying the effects of the New Wave movement. The result is simultaneously disorienting, yet easily familiar. The opening track, “On the Leash,” combines punk rhythms  with sexualized lyrics reminiscent of a dominant/submissive relationship. The Leash, as it is referred, seems just as suggestive as you might think.The theme carries over into “Too Much,” which echoes of an unhealthy, one-sided relationship. This track tones down the beat-driven tempo of the opener, but maintains a pop-quality that would ensure its placement in a primetime playlist, as perhaps the album’s most catchy tune.

The album’s strongest quality is its inherent familiarity. While it is an avant-garde collection of well-produced rhythms and vocals, it does not stray so far into the experimental as to distract from its overall enjoyability. “Grind” seems at place in a dark nightclub, perhaps the setting for some tryst that would precede some noir adventure. I try not to undermine the efforts of a group by comparing it to another, but there are distinct hints of influence present in Split Lip Serenade, culminating in the latter half of the six-track production. Overall, the album’s primary weakness is also a strength for it, in that it is not exceedingly edgy, but rather, is incredibly welcoming. JJXO will do well in the background of an intimate gathering or over your car stereo, provided you aren’t a fan of sub-woofers. I hope to be hearing them on popular playlists by the fall. So, do yourself a favor, check out the link, enjoy yourself, and contribute to their success by purchasing Split Lip Serenade. 

Follow them on twitter: @jjxoband