Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Album’ Category

Slave Ambient, War On Drugs (Secretly Canadian)

In Album on December 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm

The electronic background works so well with the instruments on this album that you might change your mind about the mingling of the two. It can work: it does here. This is reminiscent of The Byrds (Gram Parsons era), and even Bruce Springsteen (that familiar background hoot). But matched with a bloodline of synthesized sound. “Come to the City,” will have you feeling good—ready to go make some sort of perfect and powerful decision, the way the best of Tom Petty does. “I Was There” has a simple rhythm that you just don’t want to end. The kind of song that could have you grinding on with some mindless task, forever. A trance you’re willing to invite yourself into. With just the right amount of harmonica. In a way, this album pumps on like it is all one connected song: the way a collection of poems does, or an opera, or a week of vacation days. It’s hard to believe that this is a second album—Adam Granduciel is about as comfortable as they come. It’s like the futuristic version of all the classic rock and roll you’ve ever loved.

-Micah Ling

Hysterical, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

In Album on December 2, 2011 at 8:42 am

If you visit this band’s website (, you can watch several live performances of the songs on Hysterical; these songs are experiences: they beg to soundtrack your experiences. And maybe that’s what music is becoming: what it should become. We can have music everywhere now—it dictates our commute, our constant background, and in a way that makes life better. But this is true for the musicians, too. That seems to be what this band wants to share. These beats, these melodies, the noises that come together in perfect ways: this is what drives people. This album seems very intimate, even if you’re not watching the live sessions: it seems like sitting in on someone’s life—one that reminds you quite a bit of your own. A life that’s fun and with room to relax—to take note of setting. The band’s name continues to be so fitting. Get comfortable in the scene, or swirl around: this album forces you to take part, to be present. American-Pop-Folk, perhaps, but if it’s any testament that this is just good music—easy to listen to—David Bowie and David Byrne were among the early, dedicated fans. Let this be love.

-Micah Ling

Check out the latest Beat Jab Podcast via iTunes

SuperHeavy, SuperHeavy

In Album on November 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm

SuperHeavy is aptly named. In an age of collaboration and reinventing art—in an age of Banksy and Lady Gaga, well, it takes something pretty super to even turn heads. And this just might strain your neck. Mick Jagger got his swagger back. And in the official video for “Miracle Worker,” he’s wearing the hell out of a hot pink suit: It’s like Tom Waits met Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But the group is more than Jagger; it’s also Joss Stone, Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics), Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman. So, rocking-reggae-Indian mishmash. Yeah, it’ll make you want to dance…and maybe move down to Jamaica, and drink cocktails and find that pink suit and leave all the rest behind. Maybe it’s weird, but it’s fresh, for sure: super edgy. And at the end of the week, when you know for sure that we’re all working ourselves to death, you need rejuvenation—some kind of momentary vacation. This collection of eclectic people and sounds—steeped in a whole history of music—comes together in a way that you might not expect to love. But you do. Put this fusion in your bag of tricks; use it as often as necessary.

-Micah Ling

Live at Landlocked, Damien Jurado

In Album on November 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm

It’s easy to imagine that great musicians all come from big cities: important music landmarks like Austin and Nashville and Chicago. Or, that they at least end up there: spend all of their time in big recording studios. And maybe that’s true, to a point; or, a goal. But sometimes, great musicians came from the same place that you came from. Sometimes they seek out smaller labels and unique places to record. Damien Jurado got his start in Seattle, but he’s got a trademark folk sound that makes him seem from just about anywhere. And his songs note places—where he’s been and what he’s seen. “Arkansas,” “Kansas City,” “Denton, Texas.” You get the feeling that he’s been out in the cold rain a few times—that he’s played in some dingy places and has met you there. Landlocked, in Bloomington, Indiana, isn’t dingy: it’s a lovely little record store, but it’s a place that forces a guitar and a voice to do a hell of a lot of work to sound amazing. Or else, it’s just natural. And he does sound amazing. He sounds alone on a stage with spotlight. Return to these songs, live, from a little store in Indiana.

-Micah Ling

Check out the latest Beat Jab Podcast via iTunes

Secretly Canadian


Smile Sessions, The Beach Boys

In Album, podcast on November 4, 2011 at 9:13 am

They say the human voice is the most remarkable of the instruments. Primal, guttural, angelic, soaring. Voices can bring a tear to my eye sooner than any trumpet, guitar, or cello. The unparalleled voices of the Beach Boys pushed serious boundaries by career’s end. That pushing – captured here in great detail – eventually crushed them. We’ve seen Smile before in various forms:  the abbreviated Smiley Smile and Brian Wilson’s recreation in 2004. But here we have it as it was intended:  from the mouths of the Beach Boys themselves. Toss aside surf music clichés and you’re left with bizarrely arresting pop music. Forsaking instrumentation the Boys create a-capella soundscapes unlike anything they’d ever committed to tape. Brian Wilson’s tragic genius is in full effect, as well as his crisp, clear and commanding voice (recently tested in the high registers). A masterpiece of vocal composition and instrumental orchestration, Smile is the history of America seen from its shores. Byzantine, it flits between banjo-plucked Americana, lounge swing, chain-gang chanting, and church choir hymns. Like waves crashing on a shore, songs come and go. But linger awhile and you’ll find yourself catching the big one and riding it to shore.

-Jay Cullis

Check out the latest Beat Jab podcast via iTunes

The Great Escape Artist, Jane’s Addiction

In Album on October 28, 2011 at 10:35 am

Just a few chords into this album, and you’ve got the same sound that still has you chiming in every time you hear “Jane Says.” That’s kind of remarkable, really, with all the changes that this band has gone through since “Nothing’s Shocking;” they’ve maintained a kind of trademark. This has always been the band that everyone really wanted to keep alive: they’ve gotten help from their friends (namely, NIN, Flea, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses, and Dave Sitek, of TV on the Radio), and have certainly evolved. Even though this is only their fifth studio album in over twenty years, they’ve always been in the background, making solid moves for the alternative/Lollapalooza scene. It’s almost as though they’ve made their own genre: they used to fit in between categories, and now they are a category. Their albums always seem to have one song that especially breaks away from the rest–as though they’re willing to remind us that they’re more versatile than we can imagine. Here, it’s “Broken People.” A rocking song, but a harsh-slap-of-reality narrative. And this is why we keep loving this band. They’re smart: they’ve aged and evolved and they’re redefining what an album can do.

-Micah Ling

Check us out over at NUVO

Check out the latest Beat Jab podcast via iTunes

Ashes & Fire, Ryan Adams

In Album, podcast on October 14, 2011 at 10:37 am

Is this Ryan Adams’ best work? Not by a long shot. But those who would complain that Adams has gotten stagnant – that his songwriting is suffering from a lack of drama and his musicality suffers from a lack of Cardinals – are missing out. This is perfect autumn music. The songs are fire-lit and warm, the palette gray and brown and drab. These are not the story songs we’re used to. These are sketches – leaves falling from branches. They tend toward sentimentality. There’s a soft-rock Nora Jones aspect here, which is fitting considering she guests on a couple tracks. But his songs tend to grow like storms brewing on the horizon. Right now they’re just dark clouds, but give them time. Whatever comes, a weary Adams seems peculiarly prepared to weather it out. When the pace picks up it’s a welcome relief from some of the more somber walks. And there are certainly somber walks here. Adams said the album is about sitting in one place, decaying and being reborn at the same time. It’s about looking backwards and forwards simultaneously. He said (back in 2009) that he’d never record another record. Here’s to more looking forward.

-Jay Cullis

Check out our latest podcast via iTunes!

Torches, Foster the People

In Album, Concert, podcast on October 7, 2011 at 9:09 am

Don’t dismiss this as techno: it’s not. This is as interesting as The Temper Tramp and Neon Trees and Band of Horses. They’re poppy but they’re also throw-back. You’ll get glimpses of the 70’s disco ball here. Sure, you can dance to this stuff—workout and whatever—but it’s more than just a strong beat. It’s falsetto and electronic and rock, but somehow easy to listen to. The kind of thing you play at a party and have everyone noticeably happy. “Pumped up Kicks” is one of the more popular tracks, but rightfully so: it makes you wait almost too long to get in. And then it gives that narrative that isn’t as cheerful as the beat suggests. Mark Foster is doing things—subtly. It’s no surprise that these guys are almost artificially attractive: synthesized good looks. Of course they fell into fame—they’re the cool kids at school, but, the ones you can’t help liking, can’t help having a crush on. “Miss You,” one of the lesser- played songs on the album, lends itself to a memorable echo-beat that almost loses itself, but then ends starkly for a perfect transition into the final track, “Warrant.” Keep an eye on these guys: how can you not?

-Micah Ling

Check out our review of the Foster the People concert in Indianapolis via NUVO.

Video from the Indianapolis concert.

And of course, the latest podcast via iTunes! 

Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls

In Album on September 30, 2011 at 10:21 am

If Marty McFly had been a strung out street kid – instead of a suburban dweeb playing “Johnny B. Goode” at his mom’s senior prom – he might have made the music Girls make. Stressed out and fiending for a fix, Girls are a band fit for a black-eyeshadow “Under the Sea” dance. These co-eds smoke and drink. They’re ambiguous – socially, sexually, meaningfully. Clever turns of phrase abound, but you get the idea whoever this guy’s talking to – they aren’t listening. He rambles and raves, pounding his chest for emphasis. There are some serious jams here. Songs last near ten minutes – way beyond the 2:50 allowed at Sun Records. For those of us who are listening, though, this album is an overwhelming ode to never-found love. The musicality is stunning. Hints of Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Queen, and – yes – The Grateful Dead – are peppered among lyrics pining for, well, just about everything. Mostly girls. Boys too. “Deep, down, real down, crying, how I love that girl.” It teenage, but it’s too knowing to be made by teenagers. “If you would only stay – don’t you know I want you?” We want it, we just don’t know it yet.

-Jay Cullis

Check out the new Beat Jab Podcast, via iTunes

Also, our review of this album in addition to Jens Lekman’s new EP can be found this week at NUVO

The Rip Tide, Beirut

In Album on September 23, 2011 at 8:30 am

It’s rare that a band puts out an album that is both its most accessible, and also its best.  That probably says something about my listening tastes. But three albums in Zach Condon’s Beirut project has put out a something that preserves the impossibly catchy melodies while also anteing up on the timeless diversity. Condon’s robust voice is not for everyone but his songwriting ability ought to be. Tubas, coronets, harmoniums:  these are the tricks of Beirut’s trade. The secret is that the pop ability shines past the marching band tendencies. It’s a warm album, fueled by the comfort home. “Santa Fe” is a song penned by a man who knows that city’s outdoor cafes, antique warehouses and barrios. “Whatever comes through the door – see it face to face,” Condon’s multi-tracked voice sings. “Your days in one… all day at once.” The melody is an earworm par excellence. “East Harlem” is a slow-motion El Camino ride through the borough. “Goshen” is a piano-backed lament of a musician on the road. You can hear Condon pressing the old pedals, sustaining the sound in a big room – an empty room. And we’re all listening. Or at least we should be.

-Jay Cullis

Check us out over at NUVO, where, this week, we also review the new SuperHeavy.

 Check out the latest Beat Jab podcast, via iTunes!