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.

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

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_

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.

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