Reviews in 200 Words

Author Archive

We’ve Moved!

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Check us out at Ringside Reviews from now on…we’ll get this re-direct figured out eventually…

The Decemberists, “We All Raise Our Voices to the Air (Live Songs 04.11-08.11)”

In Album on March 16, 2012 at 11:35 am

I went to my first concert when I was about ten years old; yes, with my parents. It was The Grateful Dead (with Jerry), and Sting opened. I’m not even kidding. After that I was sort of hooked on concerts. When I was in high school I spent almost all the money that I could save on concert tickets. I’ve always liked the feeling of being overwhelmed with the sound. So, naturally, this dual album (triple, if you’re into vinyl) of songs recorded at various concert venues from April to August, 2011, makes sense to me. Some of the favorites are more upbeat/faster or made goofier or extended; we get the audience’s reaction, the onstage banter—a whole season of experience from a whole career of music. “Rise to Me” is a slowed-down version with a lot more twang than the original. “The Crane Wife 1, 2 and 3” is an epic 16 minutes. If you’re not already a Decemberists fan, this certainly seems excessive, but the songs really are different enough that it’s quite a collection. And the personality comes through: you’ll feel like you get to know Colin Meloy; he’s funny. This is his life. This whole thing feels like a journey–something to be proud of.

-Micah Ling

Click here to subscribe to the official Beat Jab Podcast via iTunes.

Click here for a Spotify playlist of the new Decemberists album “We All Raise Our Voices to the Air.”

Andrew Bird, “Break it Yourself”

In Album on March 9, 2012 at 6:38 am

This is like the perfect marriage between classical music and bluegrass; except, it’s more exciting than that. Maybe the perfect fling between the two. The two on vacation. It has its indie/rock moments—but in a truly impressive way—like when you read a poem that blows you away and then find out that it’s in perfect meter. Yeah, that’s probably just me. It has about a billion instruments (that’s an estimate), and they all just fit. He really can rock the glockenspiel; really. “Danse Caribe” is glorious: it confirms that he’s a pro. His voice is comfortable—you start craving it the way you crave the beach and big water. “Give it Away” is made by the asides (“Yeah I gave it away.”) It’s got confidence. It almost has a jam-band feel, just in that the instruments are highlighted and slowed down. What Bird is doing on this album seems only possible after such a prolific career; like learning the rules really, really well, so that you can start breaking them. “Hole in the Ocean Floor” is over eight minutes long, but he pulls it off: he flaunts the rules—he’s a master musician. This song has you thinking, “Oh wait, maybe I do like classical music…uh oh, what if I like opera?”

-Micah Ling

Click here to subscribe to the official Beat Jab Podcast via iTunes.

Click here for a Spotify playlist of Andrew Bird’s new album “Break it Yourself.”

Lambchop, “Mr. M”

In Album on March 2, 2012 at 8:11 am

Let’s get this out there, first and foremost:  Lambchop is weird. There’s a whole spectrum of unsettling elements at play:  the band name, the impenetrable lyrics, the off-kilter intonation. We get only tidbits of meaning in these lyrics, fed like spoonfuls flown airplane-style into our open mouths. It’s hard to stop consuming it, though. This time around Lambchop’s man at arms, Kurt Wagner, plays Lawrence Welk bandleader, calling for “crazy flutes” and striking up gentle strings. While he may never elucidate on his uncertain lyrics, lines crawl in and nestle up in warm places in the music. “Speak now love to me of your return,” he sings on “Kind Of.” “It’s not how much you make, but what you earn.” Wagner’s honest and forthright, singing like a grandfather reminiscing on better days – like he’s telling his rapt grandchildren stories they will only fully understand after he’s gone. “Catching fish with just our hands – and they taste of some cool pastoral splendor,” he sings on “Nice without Mercy.” It’s all so confident that you can excuse the obscurity. Even when Wagner tells us “the good life is wasted on me,” we know it’s a lie, even if we’re not sure why.

~ Jay Cullis

Click here to subscribe the official Beat Jab Podcast via iTunes.

Click here for a Spotify playlist of Lambchop’s Mr. M

“Reign of Terror,” Sleigh Bells

In Album, podcast on February 24, 2012 at 6:08 am

It begins in the most appropriate place:  the surge of an arena-sized crowd, primed and ready for the show. Anticipation peaks as the lights drop. The band dives headfirst into ten sublime tracks of stomping, pulsating metal-fused anthems. But this isn’t a sweaty, muscle-shirt-meathead-four-piece. This isn’t Slayer, or Ratt, or Def Leppard. This is Sleigh Bells: a hipster chic boy-girl duo with confidence aplenty and seemingly nothing to prove. They know their job. Their job is to rock. And rock they do, with triplet echo guitars.

This all could have gone so badly: from their 2009 debut “Treats” all the way up to the early buzz and Marianas Trench pressure of this follow up. But like a pyrotechnic explosion at the edge of the stage “Reign of Terror” delivers on every fist-pumping promise made by its predecessor. If “Treats” felt fresh and bold, this one is bewildering and intoxicating. For every buzzsaw guitar riff and stadium-sized hook (“Comeback Kid”) there are delicate, beguiling waves of gentle exuberance (“You Lost Me”). Even up in the nosebleeds we’re swooning. And pumping our fists, indulging in the big sounds and the big hooks. This reign of terror is frighteningly fantastic.

Click here to subscribe to the official Beat Jab podcast via iTunes.

Click here for a Spotify playlist of Sleigh Bells’ “Reign of Terror.”

Whitney Houston, Tribute

In podcast, Tribute on February 17, 2012 at 7:24 am

The news of Whitney Houston’s death is like losing a little of my adolescence. Whitney was there for my first sleepover, for my first kiss, for growing up. She was such an overwhelming example of a woman: sexy, gorgeous, hardcore, powerful, and seemingly independent. That smile, the way she made you dance, and of course, the voice. “How Will I Know,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “You Give Good Love;” these are the songs that make you feel good about having fun. And then those anthems—the ones that may have literally made the world a little more lovely: “One Moment In Time,” “Didn’t We Almost Have it All,” and “I Will Always Love You.” Damn if she can’t have you bopping around the room and then nearly in tears. Sometimes I don’t know if I believe in true love and all the sap that comes along with it, but, Whitney did, and that makes me want to believe in it. The Bodyguard will no doubt be playing on cable nonstop for the next few weeks; I’m sure I’ll watch it, but more than anything, I’ll be thinking about what a huge influence Whitney had on music: thank you, woman. Now, get out there and feel the heat with somebody.

-Micah Ling

Click here to subscribe to the official Beat Jab podcast via iTunes.

Sharon Van Etten, “Tramp”

In Album on February 10, 2012 at 7:08 am

Sharon Van Etten is the real deal, and Tramp is the first great album of 2012. It’s the album we waited for through dark winter days, and Tramp delivers on every promise made by Van Etten’s maddeningly short, cheekily titled debut album epic. You may have heard Van Etten deals in heartache. But blessedly Tramp is devoid of whining. Van Etten avoids melodrama while spilling secrets and dreams and sadness that lesser artists would coat in cheap histrionics. Rarely are such powerful, poetic lyrics elevated so much by an artist’s voice. “You’re the reason I’ll move to the city or why I’ll need to leave,” she sings on early standout track “Give Out.” Her strength is writing lines in the present tense while imbuing the words with the seasoned voice of experience. It’s like she’s done what we’ve all wanted to do at one time or another:  go back and re-live some terrible experience with the chance to change the things that made it hurt so much. Her songs transport us backward in time. They give us options. And more often than not they remind us that changing those moments would fundamentally change the people we are today.

~ Jay Cullis

Click here to subscribe to the official Beat Jab podcast via iTunes.

Click here for a Spotify playlist of Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp.

“The Lion’s Roar,” First Aid Kit

In Album on February 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

These days every band wants to rise above the morass. They employ every gimmick, explore every throwback style, and tread the recently untrodden modes of musical taste. They hope to find something fresh, but the only key unlocking the door to notoriety — however brief — is melody. First Aid Kit have melody in droves. But this buzzed about band has something else in droves — repetition. If anything, the beautiful Americana-inspired music here suffers from repetition. The Lion’s Roar is a pleasant album. It’s dinner party music, sure no to offend. But no chances are taken and easy choices are made.

 

Taken in chunks the album is beautiful, with heaven-sent voices cooing and calling, drenched in cathedral reverb. But what more? What else can we expect? Should we just throw on that Emmylou record? Or dig out our old Gram Parsons? If anything this is great mixtape music. It’s wine and warm blanket music, dreaming during cold winters about summer nights and motorcycles. It’s wind in your hair and salt on your tongue. But after a while you want a different taste. Something to cleanse the palette. Something that points forward.

~ Jay Cullis

Click here to subscribe to the official Beat Jab Podcast via iTunes.

Click here for a Spotify playlist of “The Lion’s Roar” by First Aid Kit.

Etta James (Tribute)

In podcast, Uncategorized on January 27, 2012 at 8:40 am

No doubt iTunes and Spotify have been blown up with Etta James searches since the announcement of her death last Friday. She was a legend. She is a legend. These people never really die. But the news is crushing: just the knowing that we won’t get any more from them—that we’ll have to savior what we already have. The first thing that I listened to when I got the news, was her rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” I know: not “At Last” or “I’d Rather Go Blind”? I always think it’s momentous when legendary artists try their hand at someone else’s material. I like that. An acknowledgment of admiration for other artists. A reminder that even the most famous—the most admirable—absolutely love the creativity of their craft, and are constantly learning. (Also, I kind of have a thing for Prince). But then I listened to “Something’s Got A Hold On Me,” and damn: such an anthem of the dizziness that comes with falling in love. James has that intoxication: she gives me butterflies for real. Celebrate this woman and this voice—get the hell out of your chair and give the woman a movement.

-Micah Ling

Kathleen Edwards, “Voyageur”

In Album on January 19, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Let’s just get this out of the way: Kathleen Edwards is dating Justin Vernon. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything about this album or Edwards’ music, except that it does, and this album makes a little more sense knowing it. Vernon co-produced this, so it’s not like he’s JUST a boyfriend. He’s definitely in this. Still, Edwards holds her own—she sounds strong—she sounds like she could be going at just about everything alone. One of those people you admire for their ability to drive it home: listen to “Chameleon/Comedian.” You totally believe her when she says, I don’t need a punch line. It’s got a lot more classic pop than Bon Iver does; where Vernon tends to experiment—play around with suspending single sounds—Edwards seems to expand sounds. This is warm and familiar. Almost country-rock, but with more guitar (and piano) and less twang. You can’t help but notice that “A Soft Place to Land,” brings the same pangs of emotion that Bon Iver can. The same sort of distorted echo and marching urgency. It’s always impressive when an artist can compile an album of songs that fit together so well without a lot of repetition.

-Micah Ling