Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Album’ Category

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.”

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.

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

Ólafur Arnalds, “Living Room Songs”

In Album on January 6, 2012 at 10:24 am

Music like this is often compared to icebergs floating in translucent blue seas. Icicles dripping from eaves, warmed by the slanted light of the mid-January sun. Brown grass tufted through piles of snow. This music moves slowly, building humbly, begging us to listen. But if we’re busy – cooking dinner, running on the treadmill, walking the dog or navigating a traffic jam – then we are missing the point. This is music meant to be listened to. Simply hearing it isn’t good enough. Letting it pass across your eardrum while you are distracted is not enough. This is music for rainy days. For sick days. This is music for January, when we nurse our New Year’s hangovers and try to eat healthy and light. We need a soundtrack to accompanying our contemplation. Why did we eat and drink so much? Why are my toes so cold? Why can’t I stop coughing? Why does green tea seem like a viable alternative right now? We need music like this if only to convince us to slow down. To take it easy. Put away your headphones, turn down the lights. Sip your tea, take a mental health day and listen.

~ Jay Cullis

The Beat Jab Podcast will return next week. Until then, click here to have a listen to Ólafur Arnalds“Living Room Songs” on Spotify.


TKOL RMX 1234567, Radiohead

In Album on December 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm

These are revisions in the most complicated and satisfying way. More than extended versions or jam sessions, these are whole new thesis statement revisions: songs you know, but in an entirely different wardrobe. Nineteen interpretations of songs from The King of Limbs, with artists chosen to collaborate. Certainly this album is for the fans–for the ones who already love these tracks, but if you’ve ever really known an artist, you know that they keep messing with their masterpieces long after they declare them finished. Tinkering, re-spacing, adding depth, removing shadow, trying a new color. You will go back to the original version of this album; you’ll find yourself skipping through some of these renditions, but this band embodies the artist that is never finished. Steve Jobs’ now famous line, “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” applies here. This isn’t a new album, obviously, and a lot of times people (even huge fans) are turned off by remix albums (almost as hokey as “best of” albums). But here, it seems more like a project–more like a band letting us inside the brain. This is really just Thom Yorne messing around–but people crave that: the video of him dancing to Lotus Flower went absolutely viral earlier this year. The man is onto something–keep watching.

-Micah Ling

An Argument With Myself (EP), Jens Lekman (Secretly Canadian)

In Album, Uncategorized on December 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Think The Magnetic Fields and Beirut and Beck. This guy is almost certainly charming and silly. I mean, he’s from Sweden: that’s cool. He’s been around the world; he’s worked in a bingo hall. This EP is a little popped up (almost reggae in style) compared to some of the ballads from previous albums. Be honest: most arguments that you have are actually with yourself. “Fuck you, no you fuck you.” Let’s all just say that. For real. Much like The Magnetic Fields, even the goofy songs are rooted in something that stings a bit. These songs are easy to sort of laugh off on first listen, but they echo beyond their first impression. Something that proves he knows what he’s doing. “A Promise” has a little lounge-singer going on, in a way that will make you move your hips. Sometimes it’s almost like he’s mocking himself. He’s got all the talent of a symphony and all the wit of Monte Python. It’s fun to listen to: he’s telling stories–exaggerated real-life. Small talk, gossip, inner monologues, “I’m sorry I’m babbling, hey how was your day?” These songs are short: this is a short commute EP, a getting ready for a night of goofing around thing to play.

-Micah Ling