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.

New Tunes Reviews, September 10: The Pixies, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, and more

If you were not lucky enough to secure a copy of Pixies EP1 last Tuesday when ordering was announced, you can listen to it now on Spotify. These 4 songs are the first in a series of EPs to be released in the next 15 months (via article in NYTimes).  “Andro Queen” sounds like a dreamy Flaming Lips-inspired song, while the other three tracks follow the typical Pixies’ quiet-loud-quiet formula. “Another Toe in the Ocean” does seem like a refined version of that equation. “Indie Cindy” and “What Goes Boom” are a great throwbacks, complete with Black Francis’s talk-singing. 

For fans of Sonic Youth and noise-rock, Body/Head‘s Coming Apart came out this week. The new project of Kim Gordon and Bill Nace is definitely for those like guitar noise albums.

UK garage-rock band Arctic Monkeys released a new album called AM this week.   With more harmonies and a crisper sound, this album does have some good songs. “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” seems like the next logical step after 2007’s “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor.” But again, it sounds mature and toned down.  The club/barroom sentiment is still there.  As Franz Ferdinand’s latest album went more 80s-new-wave, this album continues with a more refined garage sound.  If you are a fan of bands like The Strokes, this album may be up your alley. 
Baltimore-based indie rock band Arboretum released Coming Out of the Fog. I saw them open for Band of Horses at Carnegie Hall in 2009 and was very impressed. Their new album feels very much like roots rock. It is worth a listen if you enjoy that genre and are looking for modern bands that do retro things.   
Another album for those who are in the mood for a more retro release, listen to Trombone Shorty‘s Say That To Say This.  Brass instruments are front and center on this great new album from New Orleans-based musician Troy Andrews and his band, Orleans Avenue.
Arcade Fire posted a song called “Reflektor,” from their forthcoming album. Based on this song it seems like the album, produced by James Murphy, will be more electronica-dancey than previous releases. Thoughts?  I like it especially the mix of French and English lyrics.WNYC posted a round-up of bloggers’ “knee-jerk” thoughts of the song, as well as links to the interactive and music video. 

Appreciation! La Blogothèque

In a hallway, in front of elaborate iron-worked windows and two green trash bins, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon leads his band in an acapella version of “For Emma,” off his debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago,” clapping rhythm like a human metronome. Vernon tries and fails to open the door for building residents, vocalist/pianist Sean Carey then buzzes them in, bassist Mike Noyce smirks at Vernon’s ineptitude, Carey stoops to pet a friendly dog that runs over; throughout all of which the band never pauses in their acapella serenade. The long hallway, lit by a soft pink glow that seems to radiate off every surface, fills with beautiful three-part harmony. As the song winds down the camera pans to the other end of the entrance-way where a crowd has gathered to listen, and the same dog jumps playfully, looking to be pet.

No. 93 in an ongoing series of Les Concerts A Emporter or ‘Take Away Shows,’ this Bon Iver performance is one of my favorites. Produced by La Blogothèque, brainchild of Chryde and French indie filmmaker Vincent Moon, the artistically filmed live performances take music out of the concert halls and into the streets, literally. Bands play acoustic and/or acapella sets walking down the street, in parks, bars, apartments and even elevators!

The groups, with guitars strapped to their backs, portable percussion (maraca’s, a single drum) and vertically carried keyboards travel through quaint city backdrops and everyday soundscapes (birds, rushing traffic, surprised screaming fans a la The Kooks video) like bands of roving troubadours. In an I’m From Barcelona video, lead singer Emanuel Lundgren leads an unprompted ever-growing pedestrian chorus that follows behind him, like a pied piper of indie rock.

On Parisian boulevards lined with trees and in the interiors of architecturally aesthetic buildings an honest, clean sound is captured in continuous, single-takes, through a lens that makes the images appear to have been sepia-toned and then filled in with water colors. The minimalistic performances paired with facial close-ups, lends an authentic experience to online viewers, granting intimate access to your favorite bands. The only audience is the omniscient camera, or occasionally impromptu crowds of curious locals drawn in (as are we), by the music.

Started in Paris in April 2006, the project has now spread globally and involves other directors in addition to Moon, who shoot bands in locations around the world such as Jerusalem, Montreal and Austin, TX. Lykke Li, The National, Cold War Kids, Fleet Foxes, Bloc Party, Beirut, Margot and The Nuclear So & So’s, The Shins, Andrew Bird and many others have performed for the web outfit. For a full listing of bands and videos go here.

“Our goal is to try and capture instants, film the music just like it happens, without preparation, without tricks. Spontaneity is the key word.”

Other Favorite Performances (in no particular order):

Squeezed into an elevator, the 8-piece outfit still manages to churn out a heartfelt rendition of “Neon Bible,” off their album of the same title. The jigsaw puzzle of guitars, violins, brass instruments and bodies are fitted together in a claustrophobically tight space, making for an intimate performance venue. Band members bang on the ceiling and rip magazines, while bowing violins swell in a tide of emotion, producing a sound that the small space cannot contain. Or if that doesn’t do it for you, the sheer fact that the whole band with instruments fit in that elevator is a feat in itself!

The camera encircles the foursome in a gated courtyard/parking lot as they play acoustic guitars, a keyboard laid down on the concrete, and use dumpsters as a drum set. Surrounded on two-sides by the windows of high-walled apartment buildings, Ezra Koenig’s squeaky voice echoes and amplifies around the courtyard. Something about the open space and stripped down rendition of “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance” with big drum sounds and a simple guitar riff just works. Then almost like an afterthought the video cuts to the band walking single file down the street playing a minimalistic guitars/vocals/maracas version of “Oxford Comma.” The band’s sparse song stylings echo Moon’s single takes and shaky panning shots, the marriage of which is a match made in heaven . . . or maybe Cape Cod by way of Paris.

You don’t need to do much to make Fleet Foxes look and sound good. With their beautiful, ethereal harmonies and signature Pacific Northwestern flannel outfitting, the group was one of the best to break out 2008. What makes this video great is that Moon in fact doesn’t do much, using subtle filming techniques such as an enhanced dark/light color contrast, and strategically picked locations to compliment the band’s sound and image. A slowed, acapella version of the “Sun Giant” on a park lawn brings to the foreground the naturalistic imagery abundant in the lyrics, and the epic “Blue Ridge Mountains” is performed in a deserted, high-ceilinged area of the Grand Palais, an old palace that fills and echoes with their brazen saccharine voices.

Top 5: Songs for a Snow Day

The snow is a beautiful thing, especially when it lets you stay home from work and/or school. It is like a mini-vacation from life where you can sleep late and stay in PJs all day long.  Even though it only lasts a day, it is a wonderful time to take a moment away from the daily grind and lay back.  Here is a list of 5 songs perfectly suited for that type of wintery day:

1.  The Arcade Fire “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” mp3

“And if the snow buries my neighborhood/ and if my parents are crying/ then I’ll dig a tunnel from my window to yours.” 

Arcade Fire are originally from Montreal and have some pretty wintery songs.  Win Bulter’s roaring vocals along with the violins set up this song that conveys that “snowed in feeling” of childhood (or adult-hood).  It is that feeling where all you want to do is meet up with friends at a local hill and sled down over and over again. With wind in your hair and frost on your face, it is a time to make everlasting memories.
2.  Interpol “Obstacle 2” mp3

“I’m gonna hold your face and toast the snow that fell/ because friends don’t waste wine when there’s words to sell.” 

Typically Interpol is one of those “rainy” bands and not in the “snowy” bands category.  But this song reminds me of that type of snow that happens in college: classes are canceled and friends gather to take advantage of the mid-week snow day by, often, enjoying a few cocktails.  Paul Banks seems to be no stranger to those wine-filled days. And his voice is a perfect match for the mood of the song which is mysterious and devoid of all responsibility.
3.  Honorary Titled “Snow Day” mp3

“Please let the snow swallow the streets whole./ Keep the bus from coming./ Let us stay home/ so we can avoid the daily drudgery.” 

The night before the possible snow day is often the hardest. In sleep, you hope that the snow will be enough to cancel whatever plans you have for the next day. Hopefully you will be able to stay in bed all day and drink hot chocolate as you watch the snow slowly falling outside your window.  This song holds on to that hopeful feeling.
4.  Stars “Heart” mp3

“You disembark the latest flight from paradise./ You almost turn your ankle in the snow./ You fall back into where you started/ make up words to song you used to know.”

Stars is another Canadian band that has so many songs about love and winter, but this is one of the strongest.    The dual vocals are just like two hopeful lovers meeting on a snowy evening, engaging in conversation that in the past never seemed to match up.  But suddenly they get it and realize they really are “still in love” with each other.  All it took was one snow-flaky evening.
5.  Jimmy Eat World “Crush” mp3

“Faintest snow keep falling, falling/ Yeah/ Hands around your waist./ Nameless, standing cold, standing cold…My lungs are so numb from holding back.”

Jimmy Eat World really knows how to write and execute songs that hold on to a specific feeling. It was never done better than on 1999’s album “Clarity.” This song has always been one of my favorites. It outlines the evening where the slow snow is the main characteristic of an evening. It always makes things more magical.  As the cold air seeps into the lungs, words are harder to come back and every sentence must be chosen carefully as not to waste one breath on pointless words.