New Tunes Review, Nov 5: Frank Turner, Midlake, and a “Retro Release”

These past weeks have been a little thin on exciting new releases. But I spotlight the latest Frank Turner collaboration, Midlake’s new album, and briefly talk about the last week’s Arcade Fire release.

Also, I will be adding a new feature to each week’s music reviews called “Retro Release.” This is where I spotlight an old album. It may be an album having an anniversary, a release I just discovered, or an old favorite.

Here we go…

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It is no secret that I love Frank Turner. This week brought an interesting EP recorded 3 years ago called Buddies. Released on 12 inch vinyl for the UK only, it paired Turner with  Jon Snodgrass, an American alt-country singer-songwriter.

The 10 tracks stem out of the friendship between Snodgrass and Turner. They reminisce about that one trip to New Orleans during the Super Bowl. They talk about their mutual love of reading local news. Banter is the bridge between songs. It just a fun jam session in two friends.

“Buddies,” the opening track, is like a song about friendship that could appear in a Pixar movie (probably played over a emotional animated montage depicting a development friendship from childhood until death like this one). In “The Ballad of Steve,” they create an on-the-spot ode to Steve Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who went off at passengers (Remember that??!). Of course there some refined songs, like “Old Fast Songs” and “Big Rock in Little Rock.”

The two of them are enjoying themselves.  And who doesn’t like hearing two lads, participating in some good musical fun?  My only regret is that I can’t join them.

Midlake released Antiphon this week. For those unfamiliar with Midlake, they are a low-fi band from Texas with excellent musicianship. The members are graduates of North Texas School of Music and it shows. With each of their albums, they create an atmospheric vibe. It is complicated yet accessible. Overall, it is a very good album.

In music news, Arcade Fire‘s Reflektor reached #1 this week. As with each Arcade Fire album, Reflektor has some songs are great and some filler songs. Some songs are just too conceptual and try to be “tongue in cheek.” The band does some very interesting things with creating a lush sound and changing tempos, like in “Joan of Arc.” At first I liked “Normal Person,” but the “Hey! Do you like rock ‘n roll music?” intro by Win Bulter gets old after a while. I haven’t formulated a full opinion yet. But the album is worth listening to. And the cover art is pretty spectacular. And nothing will ever be as good as Funeral.

And for your Retro Release of theWeek, Explosions in the Sky The Earth is Not A Cold Place came out 10 years ago. This Austin band continues to be one of the preeminent instrumental indie-rock bands out there. Many people may think that a band without vocals is boring. Explosions in the Sky is anything but boring.

Every minute of the album is moody and fantastical. It is a vocal-free masterpiece, devoid of tedium. Just put this album on in the background and let creative juices flow. It puts the listener into a contemplative state of mind as anxiety floats away. Each song builds up towards a climax and then back down again. Unlike with a vocals-based band, this time the listener decides what that climax actually means and where to go from here.

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List: Best Concerts of the Year, Part 1

2012 was filled with a lot of great concerts.  From reunions to straight up rocking performances, this is a list of some of the most memorable ones this year (in no particular order):

Archers of Loaf  (April 26, Bowery Ballroom)
These North Carolina-based indie rockers first broke up in 1998, which means they were around before  I listened to good music.  Having recently discovered them, I was very unsure how I, as a causal fan, would blend in with their hardcore fans. I found that their live set was accessible. They had so much energy and really focused on a lot of the better known (to me) songs.

Governor’s Ball 2012 (June 24, Randall’s Island)
This year, organizers decided to split up the genres into two separate days.  On Saturday, all of the electronica acts performed. Sunday was full of the more indie-rock bands.

One of the highlights of Day 2 was Explosions in the Sky, an all-instrumental group who famously provided the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights. Fiona Apple was back in action with her unique brand of angst-female rock. Modest Mouse played a variety of songs from their many, many albums. Beck played through the rain and closed out the night will an energetic set that spanned his entire career.

Overall, the festival was a great experience.  It was extremely well organized and the location had many shaded areas to take a break from the heat.  Because the genres were split into two days, the crowd was friendly and meshed well with each other.  I am hoping they draw great bands next year so I can attend for the 2nd year in a row.

Japandriods (June 27, Bowery Ballroom)
This two-person Canadian band packed a lot of punch and energy into their set.  The opener was Cadence Weapon, a Canadian rapper, who really pumped the crowd up for the headliner. Check out their album, “Celebration Rock.”  It is one of the best albums of the year.

Dinosaur Jr. (December 1, Terminal 5)
With less-than-perfect sound and a large number of obstructed views, I was not looking forward to this concert. But opener Kurt Vile’s brand of freak-rock laid the groundwork for an excellent show at one of the most hated venues in NYC.    
To start off Dinosaur Jr’s set, they played “You’re Living All Over Me” in its entirety.  This truly great album actually sounded great in this former warehouse/dance club.  For the second part of their set, they played a variety of songs from their entire career.  They also brought special guests on stage like Frank Black, who played Pixies’ classic “Tame” as well as a Dinosaur Jr song.  Johnny Marr (of the Smiths) came up for a few tracks.  The band played “A Boy With A Thorn in His Side,” to which the entire crowd sang along.  Kim Gordon closed out the set with a incredible version of “Don’t.” Tommy Stinson (of The Replacements) and Fred Armisen came out for the encore and did a few songs.