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We Don’t Deserve Everything Now – New Arcade Fire

31 Jul

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Arcade Fire, the uber-eccentric Canadian Indie Rock band, released its fifth studio album last Friday. The album follows the natural progression for Arcade Fire who embraced the dance rock feel with their last LP Reflektor. For Everything Now the band brought in Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and the sound reflects this collaboration.

Arcade Fire and I have a volatile relationship. I embrace a few of their tracks, placing those songs in the rare coterie of “listenable no matter what,” but there are many tracks that just fall flat to me. Hence, I judge Arcade Fire releases accordingly. Everything Now features a few absolute clunkers – dance rock needs to be pretty infectious for me to enjoy it and, well, several of the tracks on this album just don’t do it for me. That said, I will say that Arcade Fire’s focus on lyrics this album was a big success, and I enjoy the theme. The big release is the title track, which serves as the central motif for the album – its melody opens and closes the record. Here is the track below:

Sensationally catchy, right? That melody is toe-tapping goodness. The sampling of “The Coffee Cola Song” by Francis Bebey works well – I always appreciate some well-placed pan flute in music. The song is even electric in lyric – “Every song that I’ve ever heard
is playing at the same time, it’s absurd” – a Delillo-like wall-of-sound image. The song is one of Arcade Fire’s finest since The Suburbs. However, it is not the best song on the album. That is reserved for the song that closes out the album (putting aside the reprisal of the title track).

I’m not sure why “We Don’t Deserve Love” has not received more attention in the critic’s reviews of the album. Perhaps it is the type of song that will grow on listeners. For me, though, the song’s significance hit immediately – this track is Arcade Fire’s most sincere in years – a true testament to the excellent band that Arcade Fire is when it gets down to its Indie roots. The song’s electric rhythm calls to Radiohead’s most recent release – a bit morose but eclectically beautiful. The dulcet and eerie melody reflects the lyric perfectly – a song about trying to persist with a loving connection in a sea of confusion and mixed messages. Consider the lyric below:

The men you love always leave you alone
You hear your mother screaming
You hear your daddy shout
You try to figure it out
You never figure it out
Your mother’s screaming
That you don’t deserve love
If you don’t deserve love
And if I don’t deserve love
Could we deserve?

The string of lyrics are telling and the rhetorical question at the end is so sad but oddly hopeful because who the heck cares if one “deserves” love – love is love – even in the infinite content wasteland portrayed in Arcade Fire’s album. Through its warped melody is clarity and that seems like an eloquent concluding message for the album.

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Dan Auerbach is the King of a One Horse Town

20 Jun

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There is something quite old about Dan Auerbach’s second solo studio album Waiting on a Song (June 2017), and I like it. Auerbach, who is the guitarist and vocalist for The Black Keys, has not released a solo album since Keep it Hid (2009), and this new release is certainly different – more modern in its year and more oldies in its sound. It comes as no surprise that Easy Eye Sound (Auerbach’s new record label) holds the catchy slogan “Good Sound Comes Back Around.” Auerbach, though, is able to toe the line between copying the sound he wants to pay tribute to and creating new variations on that sound. So, yes, while Waiting on a Song would have fit the record players of long-haired 1970s-era teens, it still holds a uniquely modern spin that attracts listeners of all ages.

On a track-by-track sample of the album, George Harrison pops into mind, especially with “Shine on Me,” a lively guitar-driven ditty that was one of George Harrison’s staples during his post-Beatles solo career.

The song is carried by its rhythm, jaunty percussion matched with fragmented guitar strumming. Auerbach’s lyric matches the rhythm, persistent with its mention of smiling and shining. It’s almost a bit mawkish, but thankfully there is a brief riff that brings the song back to Earth. It’s a ditty of the finest variety and while I know many Auerbach/Black Keys fans are accustomed to a dirtier blues sound, this deviation is welcome, as it credits a time when music balanced fun and talent.

“King of a One Horse Town” is a bit more traditional Black Keys, but it takes the sooty blues and replaces it with a distorted spaghetti western. The song fits the soundtrack theme with its ethereal echoes and orchestral melodies. The way the twang is balanced by the string motif is masterful, and Auerbach’s vocals fit the piece neatly. It’s another original testament to songs from back in the day.

 

Reborn with Katie Grace Helow

20 Nov

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A few months ago, I had to interview prospective interns for a music development agency. I was forced to ask that horribly bland question, “What’s your favorite type of music?” and though I won’t say I’m surprised, I did get one answer more than any other: “Anything but country.” This is clearly a product of the direction that mainstream country has gone, but let’s be fair to alt-country and the underground musicians that keep alive the real art of the genre: country is not dead. Florida native Katie Grace Helow has created a dark and compelling alt-country record with emotional depth, proving not all country is bad.

Past Lives is Katie Grace Helow’s sophomore album, following a more acoustic effort, titled On Time & the Ocean. Her debut was gorgeous in its own right, but her new record has turned up the intensity in every way. The instrumentation is somber, yet powerful, creating the perfect tone for Helow’s commanding voice. The album is comprised of ballads that are world weary, inspired by real life experiences that Helow only felt comfortable sharing in song. The opening track, “Savior or Sin“ features the widest range of Helow’s vocals on the record, which admittedly never reaches any notable highs, but rather has a remarkable depth.This is Helow’s signature sound, one that sets her apart from whatever stereotypical female country singer that you may be thinking of. Though the vocals in “Left For Dead,” the following track, are subtler, they are still just as powerful. This actually could be said about most tracks on the album; her voice is simply impressive.

Helow hasn’t completely abandoned her acoustic sound, with some simpler tracks in the middle of the album. No matter what the backing instrumentation is, whether it be a full band or her singular guitar, Helow still manages to capture your full attention. And I also really appreciate an artist that doesn’t compromise with “radio length” tracks, four minutes and under. A long track is the hallmark of a talented songwriter, and Helow has this in spades. “Scorpion” is an enduring odyssey at seven minutes long, but it has some of the most soothing guitar work on the record. The same can be said of “Live Wire,” though the backing vocals are what haunt in that track. Helow’s good friend Zach Lever contributes to the harmonies throughout the album, and complements the rest of the record perfectly.

When analyzed, Past Lives has all the elements of a talented indie artist. Let’s not make assumptions just because it’s got the word country in it. 

Past Lives is out now. Find more info on Katie Grace Helow on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Avoid the highways, just take Sunset

28 Oct

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By my estimation, more music has been made about New York and LA than any other areas combined. Both places are enormous cultural melting pots, a huge draw for artists. But even given the vastness of these cities, the art that comes out of them all too often includes themes of loneliness and solitude. This dichotomy is so clear that people around the world feel intimately connected to these cities, even if they have never once visited. Last year, Canadian songwriter Nicholas Krgovich released an album called On Sunset, about life in the city of angels; the kicker is that, despite how emotional and close the record feels to the city, Krgovich never actually lived here full time. The album presents an impartial view of LA, one that likely benefitted from not having been made here.

Krgovich creates a beautiful story on this album, riddled with disappointment and anguish, told through vivid images of nefarious characters, distant relationships, and regret. It all begins with a failed romance in “The Backlot,” and the self pity and hopelessness that come with it.

“I don’t know what came along and tricked me into believing,
That you’re the only one for me”

It feels as though Krgovich, or more generally, our protagonist, is constantly pulled into the social nature of the city, but he doesn’t connect with that scene. First he is absent emotionally, then physically, when he refers to the attention given to Hollywood for the Academy Awards, as if LA has forgotten him. This vignette, and the several others in the following tracks, are best described as fabricated memories. As detailed as the scene and sentiment, remember that Krgovich conceived this project in the Canadian Rockies. A cold, snowed in artist creating a piece about sunshine isn’t a surprising image, but his love for LA reached an unhealthy level. Rather, he had an obsession with the idea of LA, manifested in his songs, which he never put down for the better part of eleven years. This album might as well be dubbed the Boyhood of music.

His obsession did not stop once the album was complete, either. Krgovich dissected the very record he had just devoted a decade of his life to making, and created a sister record, On Cahuenga. It features the same songs with the same arrangement, but it is stripped down to only vocals and piano. Because of how arrhythmic the piano melodies are, I had assumed it was like a remix record, where he simply deleted the other instrumentation on top of it and called it a day. Well, he didn’t. He went back into the studio to re-record the exact piano and vocal arrangements that he had for On Sunset, and the results are chilling. The lyrics are so clear, and the piano gives a darker and deeper dimension to the story.

Together, both records ache with a home-sickness that I shouldn’t even relate to, but, somehow, I miss LA. And I live here.

Buy On Sunset here. Buy On Cahuenga here. I learned a lot about these albums from this Noisey feature, you should read it. Find more information on Nicholas Krgovich on his website, or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Take Solace in Area of Refuge

17 Sep

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We’ve all had those nights, where for whatever reason, we decide to simply lie down and become consumed by music. Those are the instructions I followed quite literally on my first Joanna Newsom listen, just add wine. I also did this when I first heard Vulnicura, a heartbreaking record. And Area of Refuge have created something equally as immersive with their recent Series One LP.

Area of Refuge is a duo, consisting of Christopher Morin and Jahna Stanton. Morin was beginning a career making easy listening music, writing riffs on a classical guitar after his band broke up. He played at an art show and there met Stanton, a violinist. They decided to collaborate and play a few songs together, but those tracks turned into an album, sometimes with the addition of the piano, and on one track, an upright bass, viola, and cello. And despite that seeming like fairly limited instrumentation to work with, all fifteen tracks on this record are genuinely unique.

Morin’s guitar work is delicate but cinematic. “Leap of Faith” shows this off, and also makes abundantly clear how talented Stanton is on the strings as well. It and the violin act as voices, with complementary melodies that warm your heart. In fact, the entire record is comprised of the quiet melodies that are better cherished alone. Each chord rings with beauty, and makes it tough to dislike. The grandest of them all is “Seeds of Aspen,” the tune with the upright bass et al; its composition almost seems to tower above the other tracks, but the emotion of the track that follows is equally as impactful. “Big Bad Luck” has a particular violin chord progression that makes me feel a yearning, as if my soul has opened up but I’m not sure for what.

My favorite song is “Shipwreck,” because it inexplicably reminds me Laura Marling. The guitar strums are very deliberate and methodical, then it slides into something bigger, more meaningful. There is something special about each track here, and because Area of Refuge is giving it out at a pay what you want rate, you have no excuse to download it and listen for yourself.

Visit Bandcamp to listen or download Series One.

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