Tag Archives: Album Reviews

Album Reviews: Cloud Nothings, Real Estate, St. Vincent

CoverCloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else

Release Date: 04/01/2014

Grade: A

The last time that we heard from this Cleveland based noise-rock band they gave us one of the best albums of 2012 in Attack on Memory. That album captured the attention of many critics because of it’s consistent energy from song to song while shifting between pop-punk and garage, and a lot of the followup after this release said that future sounds from the band were going to lean more towards the garage-rock sound since they felt that was more of a strength and natural noise for frontman Dylan Baldi to sing in. This is what makes the accessibility of Here and Nowhere Else a bit of a shock. You knew that the energy was going to be there, but the band has made a point of not sacrificing their hooks in the process along with a pleasantly surprising amount of vocals being present. It’s a Cloud Nothings album which you could mosh to, the probable preferred method if you were to ask the band, but it’s also a fun and energetic album which the listener can enjoy passively. I highly recommend giving Here and Nowhere Else a listen as this is the album which I’d call my favorite album of 2014 to this point.

Favorite tracks: “No Hear In”, “I’m Not Part of Me”

Atlas_12Gatefold

Real Estate- Atlas

Release Date: 03/04/2014

Grade: B+

Real Estate is one of the premiere easy listening bands that you can turn to today, but there were some reasons to be cautious about what approach the band would take with it’s third studio album. As the band becomes more established they will continue to find themselves in situations where they could understandably flirt with the idea of changing their style for a more vocalized approach, but there hasn’t been much of an indication that this is something which the band is looking for. On the surface that seems disappointing because nobody wants to hear a band release the same album under a different name, but Atlas is better described as being an album with the same sound in new ways.

Real Estate stuck to their strengths here by making a soft-pop album which makes the room feel like a suburban escape, and they try out some new approaches to the sub-genre in the process to show that the band is still further exploring the style which they fit into so naturally. “Talking Backwards” is a surprisingly upbeat and pretty tune to prepare you for the upcoming spring, while “Crime” has an interesting duality to it with progression existing alongside passivity. “How Might I Live” is the most unique track on the album featuring guest vocalist Dean Wareham and sounding similar to one of the softer tracks by Noah and the Whale.

Track Picks: “Talking Backwards”, “April’s Song”

St VIncent

St. Vincent- St. Vincent

Release Date: 02/24/2014

Grade: B-

Annie Clark’s released a difficult product to review for her self-titled fourth album, as it can be a frustrating experience where the music is focused more upon variation of noise sources rather than creativity in rhythm. The music could improve in that aspect substantially, but there’s also a lot of techniques here which St. Vincent does impressively which deserve to be praised. For starters, Annie Clark has a terrific sense how to sing pop with her pitch and phrasing fitting seamlessly into her tracks, and she deserves a large amount of credit for releasing an album which is very detailed in how it’s layered and well-produced (An important accomplishment since a wide array of instruments and a full background choir are added to the final product cleanly). Annie Clark is a very confident musician who’s had the incredible fortune of being able to work with talented artists such as David Byrne and Sufjan Stevens among others up to this point in her career and she has taken advantage of these circumstances to become a well articulated songwriter in the process. St. Vincent isn’t a showing of the genius which her music seems to hint she has the potential of reaching though, instead it’s another tease to place some terrific musical qualities into an album which is good but never great.

Track Picks: “Prince Johnny”, “Regret”

Album Reviews: Bombay Bicycle Club, The Dum Dum Girls, & Modern Baseball

So long, See You Tomorrow

Bombay Bicycle Club- So Long, See You Tomorrow

Grade: B+

Release Date: February 3, 2014

Bombay Bicycle Club’s become pretty gigantic recently as this album’s already hit number one on the UK albums chart, and it’s difficult to have an issue with that when their last release A Different Kind of Fix was as impressive as it was. What the band does is an experimental and electronic style of music where they attempt to complicate the pop elements being displayed by adding more instruments, studio effects, and vocal layering to the final product. This is something which they are extremely good at managing, as I’m not a believer that Bombay Bicycle Club is one of the premiere artists in music but they are one of the best out there at enhancing their music with the modern technology that’s available to them. It doesn’t become over-complicated or lose it’s pop roots, and because of that everything remains immediate and direct so it’s a naturally appealing sound which has plenty of unique qualities to it. This is what has provided them with such a large fan base in all likelihood, and as long as they continue to release albums which are as well thought out and well produced as So Long, See You Tomorrow then they are deserving of it.

Top Tracks: “Whenever, Wherever”, “It’s Alright Now”

Dum Dum Girls Too TrueDum Dum Girls- Too True

Grade: B-

Release Date: January 22, 2014

The Dum Dum Girls’ latest release before this came back in 2012, when their EP End of Daze was actually one of the better releases of that year. That release demanded your attention with it’s beautiful production, surprising song variation, and a terrific finale in “Season in Hell”, but the mentality of those tracks doesn’t seem to have been carried on to the group’s third studio album. The sound has gravitated more towards what former Dum Dum Girls member Frankie Rose has been doing in her solo work, which could still work beautifully as Franke Rose proved with Interstellar, but it doesn’t seem to have quite worked out in this instance. The product is good and the production is excellent once again, but the songs lack the necessary qualities which allow them to be identifiable, and this hurts the product in two ways; It’s difficult to find the peaks on this album which you search for as a listener, and the product tends to bleed from track to track so that you’re susceptible to mindless listening. Too True is a fine album, but it’s starting to make more sense why their most easily enjoyed release was an EP.

Top Tracks: “Evil Blooms”, “Too True To Be Good”

You're Gonna Miss It All

Modern Baseball- You’re Gonna Miss It All

Grade: B+
Release Date: 2/11/2014

There’s a lot of things which can be easily held against You’re Gonna Miss It All. It’s a very in-the-moment album filled with with an Instagram reference, conversational lyrics, and similar song structure from track to track. These qualities mean that the sound probably won’t be relevant for years to come, but this is a  release where that might not matter so much anyway. Some of the reasons for why that may be is how they fit perfectly into today’s pop-punk scene, and how they bring so much energy to the table while singing about potentially relatable self-defeating stories. There’s also a good amount of wit present in the lyrics as well, like the well-stated attack in “The Old Gospel Choir” which states “Sharp as a tack, but in the sense that you’re not smart, just a prick”. It’s difficult to say how long people will be interested in listening to this latest Modern Baseball release, but in the moment it’s a breath of fresh air which provides an easily enjoyable listen.

Top Tracks: “Your Graduation”, “The Old Gospel Choir”

Album Reviews: Destroyer, The Head & the Heart, Shearwater

Five Spanish Songs

Destroyer- Five Spanish Songs EP

Grade: B+
Release Date: 11/29/2013

Five Spanish Songs doesn’t contain any new Destroyer songs, rather it’s entirely composed of covers of a spanish artist named Sr. Chinarro. The purpose of the EP is to be a gesture of respect and market Sr. Chinarro’s music to an audience who otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to them in likelihood, and it proves to indeed be very fun and melodic. The opener “Maria de las Nieves” is a soft and paced track which showcases extremely calm, narrative vocals by Dan Bejar (a member of the New Pornographers, it often gets forgotten in the U.S. how successful these musicians are outside of the supergroup). “El Rito” is the most fun and danceable one on the EP and a personal favorite, and the closer “Bye Bye” is a slower, soft and thoughtful track. Of course all of this is solely based off of the sound of the music and the manner in which the lyrics are stated because by all accounts the spanish courses I attended during schooling were unsuccessful in creating a fluent speaker out of me, and the title of this EP isn’t just an homage to what was translated. That’s probably for the better as some songs can lose their beauty in the process of translation (and some can become hysterical, like “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand“), but it’s still frustrating to listen to a line and only be able to recognize the words “Franz Kafka”. Still, this is a very good listen that I recommend listening to even if you don’t understand the lyrics, because good music can be universal.

Track Pick: “El Rito”

Let's Be Still

The Head and the Heart- Let’s Be Still

Grade: C+

Release Date: 10/15/2013

The main word that come to mind is generic. Folk rock seems like a plague in the modern music scene with artists like Mumford & Sons (now on hiatus) and Of Monsters & Men actually rising to national attention with it. I don’t intend to point to those two as examples of poor artists, but I’m a believer that they are artists who got over glorified for an enjoyable but unspectacular sound. The Head and the Heart struggle on this album struggle to bring up interesting topics and consistently seem to end up writing about clichés over basic rhythms. Simplicity can be beautiful in music when used correctly, but we’re at the point where it’s the last thing which there’s a need for within the genre, and it would be sad to see folk rock become redefined in the same unfortunate way that country music has grown to be.

Track Pick: “Homecoming Heroes”

Fellow Travelers
Shearwater- Fellow Travelers

Grade: B-
Release Date: 10/08/2013

The second release in this batch of reviews which is composed of covers, with Fellow Travelers it’s difficult to even tell though. The band set their eyes on songs by Xiu Xiu, Coldplay, St. Vincent and Wye Oak among others, but they don’t really bring the band to a place where they’re easy to relate to at any point. There’s a level of respect from me for the band’s continued attempt to be meaningful and write sadder, softer songs, but the songs have to differ more than they do. This seemed like a prime opportunity to do that with the range of artists they covered, but they all still ultimately blend into each other within the same Shearwater sound that’s been frustrating myself and other listeners on their recent releases. You can sense the talent of people in the project, but I would say they’d be better off separated from each other so that they could try to find other artists to work with, ones who would do a better job of highlighting their strengths and hiding their weaknesses.

Track Pick: “Tomorrow”

Album Reviews: Robert Pollard, Cass McCombs, and We Are Scientists

Blazing Gentlemen

Robert Pollard- Blazing Gentlemen

Grade: B

Release Date: 12/09/2013

Robert Pollard has always put forth an incredible amount of effort to contribute to the music scene. He’s most well-known as being the singer-songwriter for Guided By Voices, but Pollard has also branched out to have that same role in numerous side projects (Circus Devils, Mars Classroom and The Lifeguards to name just three) and he’s released an impressive twelve solo albums since 2008. One of the really nice things about Pollard is that even though he releases his music at such a frantic rate the quality of his music never seems to suffer because of it. We’re past the era where we’ll hear Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes-esque tracks from the man, but some of the classic qualities of Guided By Voices’ sound live on today thanks to Pollard’s efforts. There’s still incredibly urgent songs (16 songs take up a total of 33 minutes here) and the choruses still come early and often, and he rarely stops the music to re-set itself. That has to be appreciated as a fan when there are so many artists taking the misguided approach of stopping to introduce each song individually, destroying any hopes of a coherent set. If you like Pollard/Guided By Voices then you should check out Blazing Gentlemen, but if you’re unfamiliar with him than there are probably better starting points for you than this.

Track Pick: “Extra Fool’s Day”, “Tonight’s The Rodeo”

Cass McCombs
Cass McCombs- Big Wheel And Others

Grade: C+

Release Date: 10/15/2013

Cass McCombs shares a quality with Brendan Benson on this album, where both are talented artists who sing about easily enjoyable topics but aren’t overly interesting when they do it. Everything that is present on Big Wheel and Others tends to blend into itself as time progresses,  and it’s a bit perplexing why McCombs chose to keep so many of the songs present to release it as a double album rather than trying to be more selective. Big Wheel and Others contains some genuinely good tracks like “There Can Be Only One”, “Brighter! (Featuring Karen Black)”, and the title track “Big Wheel”, but these seem to get overtaken by the plethora of songs which aren’t noteworthy. There are many instances on this album where points get stated in a disappointingly usual way, and the spoken samples featuring four-year-old Sean are an uncomfortable listen. Sean is a four year old kid whose youth was covered in a 1970 documentary named after him, and McCombs sampled segments of it where Sean tells stories about drug use, lack of belief in god, and how he would attack a policeman. It leaves me unsure about whether an awful person gave this kid a script to exploit him or if his parents really were messing with their kid’s life as much as it seems, but I’m not convinced that it was a necessary addition to the album as none of the songs seemed to run parallel to Sean’s storyline.

Track Pick: “Brighter! (Featuring Karen Black)”

We Are Scientists
We Are Scientists- Business Casual

Grade: B-
Release Date: 10/15/2013

We Are Scientists is a very fun pop group, and if you ever get a chance to see them play live I’d highly suggest seeing them for the banter between Chris Cain and Keith Murray. Whether on stage or in interviews these two prove to be very fun personalities with great senses of humor, but it’s tough to view We Are Scientists as a legitimate artist when their best quality is making jokes. There are good, high-energy pop songs which can get stuck in your head scattered around their discography (and even surprisingly genuine tracks like “Courage” on this newest release) but it’s tough to envision them releasing an album which would say something new and not be limited to it’s time period. They’re the band who makes you laugh because of the obviously incorrect subtitles they inserted into the music video for “Nice Guys”, and they’re the band that decided to end this EP with a cover of “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, but I don’t think they’re the band to turn to for recorded music.

Track Pick: “Courage”

Album Reviews: Los Campesinos!, Ducktails, and Peace

No Blues

Los Campesinos!- NO BLUES

Grade: B+

Release Date: 10/29/2013

A new album by one of the premiere alternative pop groups, Los Campesinos! This is a group which can produce upbeat danceable singles like the one which gained them fame in a Budweiser commercial in “You! Me! Dancing!”,while also surprising you with their consistently genuine tales. Recurring song topics for the group are references to their regretted residence in Wales, stories of late drunken nights, and painful past relationships. There are some things that you could complain about within their music for sure, as Los Campesinos! tends to get stuck writing tunes about Gareth’s exes and have occasionally built a song up to  a lyric which swung and missed, but the sound throughout their career has remained extremely fun despite these slight annoyances.  No Blues is a good album to listen to, but don’t expect songs with the kick of “Straight In at 101″ or “Ways to Make It Through the Wall” because those aren’t really present here, as the more calm version of the band seems to be present.

Track Picks: “A Portrait of The Trequartista As A Young Man” and “Let It Spill”

ducktails4
Ducktails- Wish Hotel EP

Grade: B-

Release Date: 10/21/2013

Ducktails is the solo project by Matt Mondanile, the current guitarist for the band Real Estate. This is something which gets mentioned in nearly every review of the band that I’ve ever read, and will probably remain true for all future releases as well. This is probably true because although the music in Ducktails can be a pleasant listen, it is a textbook example of a side project which wouldn’t have received attention if not for the success of a band where the artist plays a less integral role in. This music doesn’t feature anything overly significant, a comment that some people would argue also holds true for Real Estate as well, but Mondanile’s solo project gets a decent amount of exposure due to his role in Real Estate. Still you can’t bash the release to much because most people would agree that the soft pop sound produced is consistently enjoyable and there are situations where it would be a good play. In reference to their other work, Wish Hotel is a bit less enjoyable for me than the album released earlier this year in The Flower Lane (which actually contained a great track in album closer “Academy Avenue”).
Track Pick: “Wish Hotel”

peace-in-love-album-leak

Peace- In Love

Grade: B
Release Date: 10/01/2013

Late grade on this one as it was released originally on March 25 in the UK and just got it’s American release featuring extra tracks on it on October first.  It’s getting reviewed here because I listened to an EP of theirs last year named Peace, and I enjoyed it despite not being able to find a ‘true single’ on it. This had me intrigued for the album because not having a true single on an EP seems like a lot bigger of a deal than not having a true single on an album, and there was a lot of potential for for this band to create an enjoyable sustained vibe over a full album. In Love does a good job of taking the qualities which created a good EP and expanding them into an album, and while I still don’t see a true stand-out track they do seem to have made progress with tracks like “Lovesick” and “Toxic”. This music can either be fun or relaxing, and they’ve shown themselves capable of writing good lyrics early on in their career. One complaint that I do have is that they’re in a bit of an odd genre area within the alternative scene, even if it is early in their career to define them. They’re not really an alternative pop group, but there are enough pop elements present to make their fit into alternative feel a bit awkward. Maybe they’ll find themselves more comfortably in one of those groupings as they continue to release music, but for now In Love can be viewed as a pretty good debut for a promising group.

Track Pick: “California Daze”.

Album Reviews: Arcade Fire, Cults, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Grade: A-

Release Date: 10/28/2013

Staying fair with this album is difficult. On one side, the Arcade Fire and Reflektors buildup was gigantic and the live show I attended(and covered in another post) was the best live event that I’ve ever seen. This seemed to set the table for this to be an almost unfathomable ‘next-step’ for a band which was already one of the premiere names within the alternative music scene, and a band who was already following up on an album which won album of the year in 2011. In my opinion, that next step didn’t happen on Reflektor, but you can’t hold the fact that an album didn’t turn out to be a classic against it when grading. Reflektor is a very good album which contributes to the dream of reviving disco in 2013, and it’s awesome to hear that when Arcade Fire collaborates with James Murphy the product can legitimately be played and danced to at random venues. There’s also a few new Arcade Fire gems like “Normal Person”, “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) “and my personal favorite “Here Comes The Night Time”(which I personally believe will become as hypnotic and repetitively played as “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” was for Tame Impala in 2012). Reflektor is much better than the average record that you’d hear, which is why it deserves an A-, but it’s hard to mark it higher when it’s likely the third or fourth best Arcade Fire album out of their four releases(Neon Bible being it’s competition). The final viewpoint for me is that it’s really cool to hear Arcade Fire do disco, but I don’t think that this product is as good as what they’ve done before, so I hope it’s not a permanent sound shift.


Cults- Static

Grade: B-

Release Date: 10/14/2013

Cults had an outstanding  self-titled debut album back in 2011 which showed a lot of promise for the indie pop duo, but there was a bit of an odd development in between that release and their sophomore effort Static. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion decided to split and end their relationship, but maintain the band and continue releasing music together, a snippet which makes tracks like “Always Forever” a bit of an awkward listen. Static is a step back for the band in terms of the energy and catchy pop choruses which were present on their debut, but this album is still a fun listen even if it is an unspectacular release.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.- The Speed of Things

Grade: B+
Release Date: 10/08/2013

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Cults actually have a lot in common, both indie pop duos released terrific debuts in 2011 (Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s being It’s A Corporate World) and  released their second albums within a week of each other. It’s a tough band to judge because Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is exceptionally good at making music with pop gimmicks in it, which begs the question of if an album should be judged based upon how enjoyable it is or how likely it is to last the test of time. The Speed of Things is not an album which is going to inspire people to make new music or make people marvel at their sources of inspiration, but the album is a tremendously fun listen with moments that are surprisingly beautiful. Hopefully increased exposure for the band inspires them to take more risks in future projects about song topics because they have a great pop sensibility, and it would be fun to hear what a more ambitious project by them would sound like.