Pick of the Week
by Caitlin on Apr.08, 2012, under Pick of the Week
While performing an incomplete version of what would become “Eyeoneye,” Andrew Bird remarked to the TED audience, “Songwriters can sort of get away with murder. You can throw out crazy theories and not have to back it up with data or graphs or research.” Although Bird only occasionally touches in the theories of the absurd, he would not need an alibi to get away with his sixth studio album Break it Yourself.
In the TED speech and in music as well Bird has become a master of addressing his audience. Much of the power within Break it Yourself is based on how he speaks to the listener, and the message that he delivers is made all the more significant because he knows how to take the listener wherever he would like.
What makes Break it Yourself so powerful is the strength in making music that feels personal. This is not simply an interaction between the musician and some far off idea or some other individual; throughout the album, you feel as if you are the agent around which his songs revolve. Through making an album that feels to its very core personal, Bird can make the most relatable of human emotions more significant and engaging for the listener.
The agent of the nostalgia that Bird will reflect on in songs like “Danse Caribe” exemplifies how he can turn the metaphorical camera on the audience away from him. When singing, “You were a shameless child…” he clearly focuses on the listener as the agent, not himself. In doing this early in the album there is always this feeling of intimacy in the songs. Although he does not intend to tell the story of the listener, it is hard to come away from the song without having recalled your own childhood.
This is accompanied by the fact that Bird has become an expert at the craft of conveying emotion through instrumentals. Controlling tones, pace, and precise layers of construction, Bird is able to guide the song exactly where he always intended. This on top of his prowess as a personal yet fictional storyteller makes the message of the songs take on more meaning.
It is the realm of relationships where this craft of making songs feel personal and sincere shines the brightest. In “Eyeoneye” Bird says that when we try to get back to the realm of fixation on oneself we become the agents of our own destruction. And although this does seem a bit hokey in many respects, Bird makes it feel natural. He takes the listener through this journey that describes “you” as someone who has become intensely fixated on attempting to fix “yourself” that it took “you” way too long to eventually recognize that “you” need help. It is the most personal of relationships: the relationship we have with ourselves.
Bird moves this focus onto the relationships people have with one another, onto the “you and I” aspect. This makes you feel as if you are the agent in the song with Bird and reemphasizes the personal nature of the entire album.
In “Lazy Projector” Bird shows how this feeling can be grounded in the reality of relationships, particularly their sometimes-ugly aftermath. The theme of the song revolving around how we become the editors of our own stories, especially in hindsight of what happened. As a coping mechanism we skew the sense of what actually happened with our own story, and in frustration Bird sings, “I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all.”
“Sifters” provides one of the most powerful moments in the entire album when Bird takes this personal interaction between two individuals and speculates, “What if?” Bird sings, “What if we hadn’t been born at the same time? Would you tell me all the stories from when you were young and in your prime?” This scratches the surface of what becomes a beautiful and touching moment in the record and certainly not one to be forgotten.
The album finishes with that feeling left over. This is simply not an album that will be forgotten. Its personal and relatable nature, masterful instruments, paces, and imagery makes Break it Yourself one of the best albums of the year.
Two years after their last release, Water For Mars, Florida hip-hop group CYNE is back with another album for hip-hop heads all over. Wasteland, Vol. 1 is definitely not your typical hip-hop album. Running close to an hour long, the album is probably better classified as a beat tape, and an amazing one at that. And while Cise Star does indulge us with some great verses and storytelling, the focus is primarily on the productions of Speck and Enoch as they provide a soundtrack for the tale of Laserteeth Killmore (Akin is oddly absent from this tape, reasons for such only amounting to speculation).
The first two minutes of each track feature Cise weaving the legend of Laserteeth Killmore, beginning with a haunting introduction of the protagonist in “Enter Killmore.” He is described as a “rebel for the right price/will fight for any cause” and the product of scientific experiments and modifications, called upon to do the dirtiest of jobs. However, as much as these tracks offer a story for the listener, “An Introspection” shows that the tale Cise spits may be an analogy for the MC himself with the final verse of the song stating “Baptized in hurt/resurrected in flame/Cise Star is the soul/Laserteeth is the pain.”
Even in the second track, “Teeth,” the analogy appears with Cise spitting “Last on the list is the name Cise Star/Looked in the mirror/Saw the target then I paused/Took a deep breath/And I opened up my jaws/Teeth,” which not only refers to the fact that Killmore and Cise are one and the same but the fact that Killmore’s method of killing his targets is through his mouth, similar to how Cise’s biggest weapon is his mouth when he rhymes. Cise proves himself to still be one of the best rappers in hip-hop, weaving a tale with strong lyricism that holds a bit more than the story that is told.
The main focus of this album, however, lies in the production that continues after Cise finishes his strong displays of lyricism. Handled by in-house CYNE producers Speck and Enoch, the production on the tape paints for the listeners a dystopian society. Speck and Enoch split up the production work, with Speck operating the boards for the first part of the tape and Enoch taking over for the final three tracks to close out the album.
However, even with this shift, there is no disconnect as the beats move on. The tape runs like a soundtrack, each track seamlessly flowing from one to the next. And with most of the tracks running close to 10 minutes long, each track is always changing and evolving. Utilizing the formula they have been mastering since CYNE emerged, the two craft soundscapes through the traditional boom-bap patterns and afro-esque rhythms that many of their listeners are familiar with, combining the beats with creative sampling and loops, keeping the tape fresh and never leaving the listener bored or waiting for the next section.
Ultimately, CYNE’s latest release may not be the most profiled hip-hop album of 2011. I myself was not aware of its release until the day it was released. However, it definitely deserves to be considered one of the top albums put out this year and is definitely worth a listen. Cise Star delivers lyrically while Speck and Enoch masterfully produce a beat tape that is full of music and will leave your head nodding for days.
Bonus points for the packaging of the tape as well: not only is it a digital download, but the only other format Wasteland, Vol. 1 is available in is cassette tape. So go find your old Sony Walkman, pop in the cassette and get taken away by CYNE. “There’s Earth, there’s Space, and then there’s CYNE.”
Hip-hop fans have been waiting. Ever since the split of North Carolina hip-hop group Little Brother, many have eagerly anticipated the moment when Phonte would step back in the limelight, grab the mic and start to rhyme again. But the past few years have witnessed Phonte forging his path as a successful R&B crooner with Grammy-nominated act The Foreign Exchange, with all thoughts of rapping in the back of his mind, appearing once in a blue moon. So when it was mentioned that Phonte was set to finally release his debut solo album, anticipation hit the roof. And when it was revealed that Phonte and 9th Wonder, the producer of Little Brother fame, had reunited earlier this year, Little Brother fans rejoiced. Everything seemed ready for the debut of Phonte Coleman. The question was who would take front and center: “rapping Tay, four-and-half-mic honoree/Or singing Tay, first-time Grammy nominee”?
While each side of Phonte appears on the album, it’s the rapper that takes center stage here, tackling themes that don’t stray far from the material he has been putting out over his career. The themes of the common man are heard, stories of ourselves at our worst and best. “The Good Fight” is a song about money woes, uncertainty of keeping the job and all the frustrations of a 9-5 that the majority of Americans face, especially in the midst of an economic downturn. “Ball and Chain” weighs the pros and cons of marriage, specifically the suffocation that occurs when love dies out in the house. And of course the album has its fair share of lyrical wizardry, such as the back and forth wordplay of Phonte and Pharoahe Monch on “We Go Off” and the opening track “Dance in the Reign.”
Lyrically, Phonte is better than ever. His album combines the rawness and honesty of his Little Brother persona with the maturation he achieved with his recent work as singer of The Foreign Exchange. Having written for himself and other artists since starting his adventures with The Foreign Exchange, Phonte has clearly polished his skills as a lyricist and now, on this debut album, he brings that experience and writes verses like a “pro with the prose/what a concept.” Even with his weaker punchlines, Phonte’s wit and charisma pulls him through, making the lines seem as if he’s delivering them with a wink and a sly smirk.
The production, for the most part, is solid. Nothing stands out, however, and it serves more as backdrop for the lyrical wordsmith to pick up his mic and paint images with words. 9th Wonder provides the same repetitive drum patterns and looped samples that he has become well-known for (whether that is for better or worse). Swiff D introduces the album on “Dance in the Reign” with a church organ and takes it to the church with a synth and Phonte preaching to the congregation. S-1 and Caleb bring a modern production to the quiet-storm sound with hard-hitting drums and an atmospheric sound that allows Phonte and Carlitta Durand to get musically romantic on “Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.”
Overall, Charity Starts At Home features mature, honest, and raw songs from N.C.’s top-notch spitter and crooner Phonte Coleman. It may not feature a breakout song, hold mind-blowing production, but it holds plenty of love and humility that hip-hop seems to have lost in recent years. The last line of the song “Who Loves You More” sums up the album perfectly: “I got a room and a microphone and a family I ain’t seen in months. And I played this record a million times just hoping you would play it once.” Phonte is one of us. He works hard at his job and goes through the struggles in life and love, just like any of us, hoping that someone will take notice at least once. “Let that boy saute!”
by John on Nov.20, 2011, under Pick of the Week
Real Estate has fallen into somewhat of a song-writing algorithm. I’m assuming their music making process works something like this:
- Lead Singer, Martin Courtney puts together a few chords and some lyrics.
- Matt Monandile (who has also achieved some praise for his exploratory guitar project, Ducktails) adds a catchy and psychedelic guitar hook.
- Alex Bleeker follows the ideas with some bass, and a simple, rolling rhythm is added to finish it off.
It has been a long time since we have heard anything come from the local folk group Bombadil, which is really quite a shame. Maybe that is why I was so excited for the release of All That The Rain Promises, a new album that follows their 2009 release of Tarpits and Canyonlands. Everything that you hoped would be present on a Bombadil album is apparent in this new release: strong emotional ballads, beautiful folk and pop melodies, and upbeat songs with deeper meanings all combine to create an album that one can become emotionally attached to.
Battling illness in the band and now cross country living situations, I would say that it is quite a feat that Bombadil has been able to get together and record All That The Rain Promises. The album was recorded in a barn in Oregon in the month of January, and the band had to warm themselves by a fire in between recordings. The album was named after a book found on site. Even after being separated and having gone through a lengthy break in recording, Bryan Rahija, Stuart Robinson, Daniel Michalak, and James Phillips of Bombadil were able to create an album that sounds like the same band that played together in 2009, as if no time had passed.
All That The Rain Promises begins with the strong ballad “I Will Wait,” sung by Stuart Robinson. This piano-driven song is an emotional and bare start to the album with Robinson singing to God and asking him to guide him in the right direction. “I will wait for you to swing below and take me away,” ends the ballad. It leads into “The Pony Express,” which includes all members of the band and speaks of a relationship that has fallen apart.
The album transitions to something more upbeat and hopeful with “Laundromat.” The percussion-heavy beginning turns into a catchy song about taking some chances at a Laundromat. “The next time I am at the Laundromat/ I’m going to talk to her!” or “The next time I am at the Laundromat/ I’m going to call my dad!” Bombadil’s use of vocals, harmonies, and storytelling songwriting is one major characteristic of the band and is just right for the music they are creating. It seems that the melodies are written around the lyrics instead of the other way around. The guitar, harmonica, drum, bass, piano, ukulele, keyboard, and trumpet used throughout the album create good accompaniment for the stories that Bombadil shares.
All That The Rain Promises continues with higher-energy songs. “A Question” is, well, awkward, but in the best way possible. The ukulele and high-pitched “what is it Stewart?” add a lighter aspect to something as potentially traumatizing as asking someone if they have deeper feelings for you, which could indeed make things uncomfortable.
Bombadil has mastered the art of emphasis in their music. There are songs on All That The Rain Promises where the spotlight is on the vocals. “Leather Belt” begins with a beautiful harmony concerning a dropped acorn, and “Flour Water Sugar” consists primarily of singing and harmonies. “Avery,” on the other hand, is a very successful instrumental piece almost right in the middle of the album.
When the last song, “Unicycle,” ends, it’s hard not to turn back to the first track and listen to the album again. All That The Rain Promises contains all the makings of one of the best albums of this year through the instrumentals, melodies, harmonies, and of course, the emotional attachment that accompanies every Bombadil song. I look forward to what this band produces in the future.
M83 does one heck of a job with their latest double disc album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which was released on Oct. 18. Being their sixth studio album, and following behind such pivotal releases like Saturdays = Youth, M83 had a lot to live up to. Even though some have criticized the album for sounding different, I think it’s a beautiful new direction for the band.
Named after the Messier 83 galaxy, M83 continues delivering ambient tunes and goes back and forth between either solely instrumental or minimal lyrics with full-blown epic tracks on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. There are a ton of space and dream references, which create a feeling of being outside of this planet while the listener zones out to it.
Anthony Gonzalez, producer and main component of M83, described this two disc compilation as “brother and sister, with each track having a sibling on the other disc.” I personally can’t quite figure out if he’s referring to the six instrumental tracks, but that’s how I choose to believe the two discs are paired off. There’s also a few interesting plays with the way the tracks are arranged on the discs with titles, like tracks 10 and 11 being, “When Will You Come Home?” followed by “Soon, My Friend.”
Going back to the main theme of this album, dreaming, the listener can either feel it with the synth and shoegaze sounds, or with the spacial lyrics. Gonzalez said himself in an interview with Spin magazine that, “It’s mainly about dreams, how every one is different, how you dream differently when you’re a kid, a teenager, or an adult. I’m really proud of it. If you’re doing a very long album, all the songs need to be different and I think I’ve done that with this one.” I agree that the album progresses perfectly, and one can get a sense of maturity as it continues.
Most of the lyrics on the album either refer to time, love, or space, like in “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea,” with the lyrics “I’m slowly drifting to you/ this star is a planet,” or in “Claudia Lewis,” saying “alone, twenty millions years from my place/ a slide on the starlight./ Watch out, a new planet right on my trail!/ The space, oh, oh it’s mine!”
They also chose to use instruments that they’ve previously never experimented with, like a saxophone jam on their first single and second track, “Midnight City.” The use of the saxophone and other instruments, and the way in which M83 created this album, seems to be heavily influenced by a mixture of the synth-pop, as well as shoegaze, created in the 1980s.
Prior to this album, Gonzalez toured with Depeche Mode, who were huge throughout the ‘80s and still create music with the same darker electronic sounds. The song “OK Pal” reminds me of Tears for Fears, who were also extremely popular in the ‘80s, because of the vocals and music. You can get a sense of the shoegaze genre with the droning repeated lyrics accompanied by heavy instrumental emphasis in the songs “Another Wave from You” and “This Bright Flash.”
They’ve also included two monologues: the track “Echoes of Mine,” which is a beautiful story in French of a woman walking through a forest and reverting back to her twenty-year-old self, ending with “I loved like I’d never loved.” The second, “Raconte-Moi une Histoire,” which means “tell me a story,” is of a child telling the listener about a frog that changes its life, which sounds peculiarly like a story of a drug experience. This adds a whole other level to some of the lyrics and sounds of the album, but relating it to space is enough detail on that, and it’s interesting that they chose to do an English monologue with a French title, then the reverse.
In all, this album has to be a huge personal revelation for Gonzalez. He said in an interview with music OMH, that Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is “a reflection of my 30 years as a human being” and something he dedicated to himself. Each listener can travel to the place where he was each time they put on this album, and float out to space with the beautiful lyrics and synth sounds.
“This in no way a return to basics; it is an example of how to successfully tackle the complex.”
If there was one thing Alan Palomo would have to answer to with his second album as Neon Indian, it would be the huge amount of hype and acclaim from his 2009 debut Psychic Chasms. The Texas-based musician, coming off of rave reviews and praise, also had the distinct problem of being grouped among a handful of musicians making similar, yet compelling music. All this combined did not necessarily make it easier for Palomo and company to make a successful second album.
With labeling and comparisons easy to make in a market of music that includes a wide range of rising musicians including Toro y Moi, Washed Out, and well-established artists like Caribou, they had to make an album that was different from an ever-growing crowd of talented musicians and grounded favorites, yet true to the essence of their sound.
In the face of this diversity, Neon Indian was able to answer with one of the most compelling synthpop albums of the year in Era Extraña.
The art of mixing layers of synthesizers is one of the distinguishing factors of this album. Delicately placed and perfectly timed, the ability that Neon Indian has in execution in an area that could have easily been cluttered is one of the more admirable qualities of the record. The expertise of placement lays in the fact that Neon Indian is able to get these really poppy, intricate patterns of synthesizer without being cluttered or ruining their sound.
The best example of how this execution works so masterfully comes within the track “Polish Girl.” The track is able to build upon itself, adding diversity and spouting with moments of colorful synthesizer that shoot from the heart of the track itself. On top of this includes subtle moments that add rhythmically and effectively to the overall track.
With all this in mind it’s also necessary to point out the amount of variation that Neon Indian goes through from track to track. From glittery synth tracks like “Polish Girl” to grittier, harder sounds like “The Blindside Kiss,” Neon Indian demonstrates how they are able to change up their sound while keeping the essence of their synthpop intact.
Much of the credit of this album is in response to how Palomo’s harmonic arrangements hold this collection of wild songs together. It is his effort as a singer that has the impact of charging this coherent sound forward.
Coherence is a big part of the story of this album. Though it is able to change, the album still holds onto its original focus. This not only keeps it compelling to listen to, but it gives the listener a sense of anticipation on how Neon Indian will go about making the next track different.
This in no way a return to basics; it is an example of how to successfully tackle the complex. At its core, it’s a rewarding, fun, electro-pop record that leaves much to the imagination, and demands its listeners to hold on for what is coming up next.
At 23 years of age, Palomo is creating complex musical arrangements at a level that seem way beyond his years. Throughout Neon Indian’s sophomore release, they are able to tackle the hype of their previous success, and leave the listener wondering what the boundaries of such a young act are.
Coming off of the success of his self-released debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, Justin Vernon, lead singer of Bon Iver, had a lot to live up to. Where he could have relied solely on the success of his debut, Vernon decided to evolve out of the cold, isolated feelings of the debut, and move into a world of sound that is optimistic yet grounded in reality, and colorful in its production.
The execution of tracks is quintessentially different. While in For Emma, Forever Ago the instrumentals were consistent and to the point, Bon Iver have produced a sound that is complex and varies multiple times within any given track. “Perth,” the opener, starts with drums that drive the song forward. Then come along Vernon’s vocals that push the forward. Then both come together for what is an extremely powerful moment within the opening track.
Bon Iver’s self-titled album is muddled in its beautiful and tragic compositions—the mixture of sounds and paces transforms what could have come off as another tragic album into something that has hints of hope.
Although grounded in reality, the guitars are precise and add a level that compliments the lyrics in ways that introduce overall depth of the record overall. They are precise and the intensity of the guitars alongside the vocals helps dictate the overall feeling of the album.
It is the range within the vocals that also stands out within this work. In songs like Minnesota, WI, Vernon’s ability to go from a somewhat unexpected low sound to the normal higher pitch makes a stunning difference in the delivery, and his ability to transition between the two sounds works seamlessly within the emotion Bon Iver projects. While the deeper vocals accentuate this very blunt meaning, the higher vocals emphasize the vulnerability of the subjects in the tracks.
Timing and precision are some of this album’s greatest qualities. While in moments that feel similar to the dark and cold Bon Iver of before, Vernon and company construct these little moments that capture everything the listener needs to understand about the emotions that are being expressed, without weighing the listener down.
The perfect example of this comes in “Wash.” As the track begins with a very simple piano intro followed by Vernon’s vocals, it then picks up additional orchestral elements that fade in and out in a flash. Yet, as they seem to linger in the background, they provide for one of the most piercing moments in the album. The violins provide a brief, striking whirlwind that emotes all of the anxiety that builds up until Vernon sings with appropriate punctuation, “We finally cry.”
Even in moments that seem completely unexpected, Bon Iver is able to tap into the dreary themes that won over so many earlier. In the final track “Beth/Rest,” all the emotional sadness and intensity of any Bon Iver track are dominated by this 80s sound filled with vocal correction, saxophone and funky synth. However, they are all twisted brilliantly to work well within the arsenal of Bon Iver’s catalogue.
If there was one thing that could have potentially got in the way of Vernon and company with their sophomore release, it would have to be the immense hype and anticipation following the critically acclaimed debut. In using the tragic tones of previous works and in expanding the musical arsenal of Bon Iver, Vernon has not only met the benchmark set by his first, but also raised it to a whole new level.
Bon Iver will come to Raleigh July 29 to tour with local band The Rosebuds, at the Raleigh Amphitheater.
Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was the apogee of 2009 music. The first time I heard the album, I was filled with absolute intrigue — complex and subtle melodies evolved from thin, scaly, harsh textures in unexpectedly delightful ways. I was carried to heights I didn’t before know existed.
The music was horrifying, yet it was wondrous, much like the first time I witnessed an eclipse or experienced a roller coaster. Its mystique drew me in and captured my attention in an unusual way. I didn’t know how to approach the organized sea of harmonies, but I sat with my earbuds tightly in and listened. For the first time in years, modern music had me captivated. Today, I attribute Animal Collective with having turned my musical perception inside-out.
Noah Lennox sings vocals for Animal Collective and plays drums and guitar for the band as well. Yesterday marked the release of his fourth solo album Tomboy, much anticipated since its titular single dropped in the middle of 2010.
Previous releases by the artist who goes by the moniker of Panda Bear spanned into the deeply abstract as scarcely-changing tones droned on for minutes. However, Tomboy is an interesting change in pace as what is easily his most accessible album release yet.
Stylistically, it mirrors Animal Collective’s 2009 release in its patterned intricacies. Sound fills every track’s crevices, expanding to include percussive beats and crunches. The experience is practically religious, though in his April 4 interview with music journalism website Pitchfork, he hesitates to let it be labeled as such.
“It’s not serious in a heavy-handed way — and I really hesitate to say it has any sort of religious or sacred feeling — but it’s in that direction to me,” Lennox told the website. He continued to describe the conditions of the recording studio — dimly lit, uncomfortable, isolated and in a basement in Lisbon.
Despite its studio recording setting, this album is anything but claustrophobic.
In “Slow Motion,” depth is portrayed with every reverberating beat. This piece is the impressionism of modern music; every meticulously placed, painstakingly perfected stroke of tone is visible under the microscope and up for interpretation. The listener is likely to get lost while attempting to sift through the multitude of layers.
“Alsatian Darn” plays with vocal inflections. Lennox himself fades into his music, becoming another instrument in the mixture. “Say, can I make a bad mistake? Say what it is I want to say to you, say what…” These lyrics loop into a cyclone of emotional confusion and somehow, the line between the listener’s psych and that of the creator fades into obscurity.
Tomboy is Panda Bear’s most recent release and one of the most emotive albums that this reviewer has ever heard. It’s mastery of riveting textures is matched by the unique mood it creates. It is the perfect example of this generation’s innovations in genres, and every listen-through is guaranteed to uncover previously over-looked details.
88.1 WKNC’s Pick of the Week 4/6
Time has seen this band shift from a pure metalcore band into prog-metal masters. Every album of theirs has shown a shift and change in not only the band’s talent, but also in their songwriting skills. This EP, while it only contains three songs, holds a wealth of material contained in them.
From beginning to end, he Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues will take more twists and turns that 24 does in an entire season. What truly sets this album apart from the band’s previous endeavors, however, is the seamless blending of past and present elements.
We get a sense of what is to come from the start of the record as Thomas Giles ominously plays his keyboards, as if he were summoning the ferocious beast Godzilla from the depths of the ocean for “Specular Reflection.” Just as the piano crescendos into a climax, the guitars and drums kick in, pummeling you with frantic riffs and erratic blast beats.
All throughout this barrage, Giles’s vocals berate us with a harshness seen in many death metal bands. As he screams his heart out, the guitars take a gradual change from intense pummeling to a firm massaging, blending intricately with the harshness of the vocals, before breaking down completely into a serene progressive interlude.
Giles’s vocals adapt to this change as his vocals take on an ethereal aspect, seeming to float over the air, as guitars hold a sustain over a constant drum beat, that slowly builds up into a melody that would make Muse jealous.
Seamlessly transitioning from the first song, “Augment of Rebirth” sweep picks its way into BTBAM history as being quite possibly the heaviest song the band has ever written. Constant stop-go guitar riffs litter the song from beginning to end, as keyboards seem to sneak in ever so slightly, intertwining themselves with the riffs and gutteral vocals.
Seeming to draw inspiration from The Dillinger Escape Plan with regards to insanity, the band constantly switches between intense fast playing and heavy breakdowns that seem to beat into your very soul.
But true to BTBAM style, they refuse to stay constant as they inject a polka interlude reminiscent of the bards of old as they entertained kings, before merging into a polka metal fusion blasting its way through your speakers.
In what could be my favorite song written by the band, “Lunar Wilderness” encapsulates everything that makes BTBAM, well, BTBAM.
It starts off beautiful and chill before suddenly kicking in with harsh vocals and catchy guitar riff that sticks with you for the rest of the day. The vocals take on a dual aspect as they shift between gorgeous clean vocals and harsh yelling.
Known mostly for their intricacies in guitar work, the band spares no expense as they unleash solo after solo, sometimes undercutting the vocals and creating a vacuum of intensity. Suddenly, as if the heavens decided to part and spare us from this destruction, the song drops into a peaceful ending interlude, letting the listener down from the chaos.
Combining all these songs together into one long, conceptual piece, these North Carolinians show they can fuse the beauty with the brutal and the calm with the chaotic, forming a tornado that will sweep you off your feet before putting you back down.
88.1 WKNC’s Pick of the Week 3/30
The San Francisco indie-rock band The Dodos released its fourth album, No Color, March 15. The duo Meric Long and Logan Kroeber teamed up with ex-member Keaton Snyder and tour mate Neko Case to create what is arguably the best album released this year.
Fast-paced minimalist percussion and rhythmic vocals drive the nine-song album. Neko Case of The New Pornographers contributes backing vocals for five songs. Despite being the vocal powerhouse she is, Case adds just the right addition of harmonies as to not overpower The Dodos, but simply make a great supplement to the album.
The album’s opener, “Black Night,” begins with attention-grabbing drums and melodic guitar. A distinctive trait of The Dodos is its lack of bass drum. Instead, Kroeber swapped it out for a tambourine. This is an unconventional route to take, but it generates a unique formation of songs.
Songs like “Going Under” and “Good,” which both feature Case, are very catchy. Influences of The New Pornographers are evident, but not subduing The Dodo’s style. The drums pound in an exciting cadence, balanced by the guitar work of Long.
Four songs in, “Sleep” continues the up-beat folk-rock, utilizing repetition and harmonies. Case echoes in the background, adding depth to the song.
“Don’t Try and Hide It” is a little different, starting out with acoustic guitar and vocals only. The drums sneak up after the first minute. The rise and fall of the vocals works well in this song, especially with the notes Case can hit. She harmonizes with Long, singing “You are nowhere/you are nothing vacant.”
“When Will You Go” offers a mix of fast and slow beats, along with sections of both jam sessions and single-instrument solos.
“Hunting Season” is similar to The Dodos’ earlier work, like their big hit “Fools,” off of Visiter. The Dodos found something that worked and stuck with it in this song. The lyrics are a little wittier, such as “this is what I’ve been waiting for, and the red light/you go be a girl I’ll be leaving tonight.”
“Companion” begins by dancing around classical guitar-picking and ethereal vocals. The album’s closer, “Don’t Stop,” reverts back to the quick and choppy drum beats and steady vocals. The song finishes with a concluding crack of the drums, leaving the listener with a racing heartbeat and wanting more.
The raw and rackety drumming is the pulse of this album. The simple strumming and fastidious finger picking add spirit and bring the album to life. The chemistry between Long and Kroeber emulates that between members of a jazz band, in which each person plays off what the other is doing.
The Dodos are not afraid of experimentation, which is easy to see as the music floats between pure indie rock and folk rock with elements of psychedelic.
This album is a good follow-up to their 2009 release, Time to Die. The Dodos were on point, setting the bar high for the many new releases to come this year.
88.1 WKNC’s Pick of the Week 3/23
By John O’Neal, WKNC DJ Buck Nasty
There’s a lot of hip-hop knocking on people’s doors nowadays, from little-known artists like Yelawolf to full blown show-stoppers like Nas. But nothing draws attention like having a lyricist who can wow you with his smooth flow while also injecting heartfelt emotions that leave you wanting more.
That person is Shawn Chrystopher, who hails from Inglewood, California. His latest album, You and Only You, is available free for download on www.youandonlyyou.com and features more hits than any album you would buy.
Shawn Chrystopher starts by using his real name as his rap label, which is surprising. He also sports no label, so he has the creative authority over all his own sounds.
It’s OK if you haven’t heard of him after three mixtapes, three albums and two singles. I first heard of him after watching The Reason’s music video on YouTube, which is a dry showcase of what hip-hop should be.
What you don’t expect is for his main song to be so raw. “You and Only You,” the first song on the album, is spoken word. It reminds you that rap is only poetry over a beat, which a lot of artists forget. He talks about the material wants his girlfriend wants, and how he wants to make it big in the business for his mother.
I give a quick listen to songs on little-known rapper’s albums, not because I don’t think they don’t have anything to say, but because the first 20 seconds make or break a song to me.
“Emergency Broadcast” will have you still listening for all one minute and two seconds of it, with your head bobbing. With the ripe trumpets and the melodic voice he presents, you wonder why rappers don’t stay this fresh.
Another song that had me pressing repeat was “The Hangover.” Many movies and songs have tried to embody this feeling, but Chrystopher captures it with ease. You can visualize the scene he is painting, and the beat’s feel complements the message very well.
The image that a rapper is living well is a message that’s put out too much. I thought Shawn Chyrstopher’s “Sold Out Shows” featuring Cameron Wallace was another song like this. But his verses embody what he actually feels and how he puts so much effort behind making it.
You may not love hip-hop for whatever reason, but Shawn Chyrstopher’s self-made sound is refreshing and worth the download, especially because it’s free. He’s at the South by Southwest festival right now without any label backing promoting his music, and I wish him the best for it.
88.1 WKNC’s Pick of the Week 3/16
By Alexandra Adams, WKNC DJ Alex
In 2009, she released Basement Covers, an album featuring covers of Mumford & Sons, The Rolling Stones and three others. It was literally recorded in her basement with Winston playing every instrument, and caused record labels to start paying attention. Her latest, Sister Wife, at just over 21 minutes long, is a perfect primer in Winston’s unique style that has her poised to become an indie darling.
The 23-year-old Detroit native and classically trained opera singer wrote all of the album’s songs, in addition to playing all of the instruments on the recordings.
Most of Winston’s songs stay in her signature high-pitched, almost girlish tone. Her Joanna Newsome-esque sound may seem like it could be unappealing to some, but she does it all so well that it’s incredibly charming and highly addictive.
“Locomotive” starts off the album with a driving beat and Winston’s characteristic undeniable hook that gets in your head and stays there. It features a slight twinge of electro-pop while still avoiding an over-produced sound.
Next, the title track, “Sister Wife,” is an irresistibly catchy song and a twist from the usual “love gone wrong” theme of many songs. Her play on the term “sister wife” is easily understood by the listener and is like a cultural time capsule of America’s current fascination with the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who have a bunch of wives.
She hilariously declares with gumption, “Hey there, Sister Wife / Get the Hell out, it’s my night / You don’t know the way to his heart like I do.” The song shines as one of Winston’s best.
“Sweet James” is reminiscent of She & Him’s 60s girl group-influenced love songs. It’s a bouncy tune similar to Zooey Deschanel’s cheery, clever songwriting.
“Sweet James” is a modern cousin to the Motown-style tunes about innocent affection between girl and boy, complete with Winston’s endearing “ooh oohs” and loving declarations that this James fellow is “nice as nice can be” and “true blue.”
The one blunder of the album is “Don’t Care About Anything.” It seems to be meant as an emotional, stripped-down change of pace from the rest of the album. However, the track mostly comes off as strangely saccharine wailing until the relief of a somewhat redeeming chorus and violin solo.
“Choice Notes” is the album’s second single and is upbeat with great production that isn’t too over-the-top. Its fresh sound and happy beat has helped the track get grabbed up for some commercials in the UK, where Winston already has a dedicated following.
Sister Wife is a strong release full of charm, originality and authentic talent. From the strong songwriting and the fact that she plays every instrument on the album herself, Winston has quickly proven that she is a talent to look out for.
It is obvious that as she heads this week to perform at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Festival in the music mecca of Austin, Sister Wife is only the beginning for Alex Winston.
88.1 WKNC’s Pick of the Week 3/2
By WKNC DJ Margot
Musically, my parents and I do not agree on much. They raised me on ABBA, Moody Blues and everything 70s. By high school, I had dropped everything oldies for the indie music that is so prevalent in our generation.
But, after giving them a good listen of the Smith Westerns new album, Dye It Blonde, I had the whole family agree on a band that didn’t hit their peak in 1978. And if you haven’t been listening to indie music, the Smith Westerns provide a great starting point.
The band doesn’t throw you through the hoops of obscurity that many people feel indie music is, but reminds fans of the early rock they grew up listening to as kids.
Dye It Blonde is the second album that the band has produced and was just released in mid-January. Their 60s-inspired Beatlesque sound is both familiar and new, compelling listeners to keep listening through the end of the album.
Their lyrics are honest and simple, and complement their traditional yet somehow experimental instrumentation well. Expect strong electric guitar, pop keys and soft vocals that are oddly mesmerizing. Also expect a lot — and I mean a lot — of electric guitar solos.
The band hails from the Windy City and consists of vocalist Cullen Omori, guitarist Max Kakacek and bassist Cameron Omori. Before this album release, they toured with some of the big names in the business — MGMT, Florence and the Machine, Belle and Sebastian and Passion Pit. The band was named band of the week by Rolling Stone Magazine after their release of Dye it Blonde on Jan. 18.
For a first listen, check out the tracks “Fallen In Love” and “Only One.” These two songs are both different, but are connected by minor chords and melancholy rock that makes you want to take a road trip — just in time for Spring Break. So, grab a copy of Dye It Blonde, get in the car with some friends and book it.
If you are already a fan of the Smith Westerns or didn’t like them the first time you heard them, expect cleaner, softer sounds and clearer vocals — an overall improvement from their self-titled first album in 2009.
Dye It Blonde is the band’s graduation album, from teenage garage sound to a more polished, grown-up sound. The band leaves behind the harsh, quick vocals for slow melodic echoes.
Check out the song “Smile” for something clearer and dreamier than their original sound. The song features a chorus that is unexpected compared to the rest of the album, making the song stand out compared to the rest of the tracks.
Dye It Blonde provides a great transition, both for the band and for the 60s sound that seems to be coming back in great demand. I would recommend the album to anyone who’s been looking for a Beatles rebirth or is a fan of the Dum Dum Girls. Imagine a masculine, louder Dum Dum Girls and you have the Smith Westerns.
88.1 WKNC’s Pick of the Week 2/23
By Seth White, WKNC DJ Goof
Radiohead doesn’t release singles, and rarely mention that they have anything near completion. Then one day they say they have a new album coming out, and four days later you have it in your lap.
The King of Limbs is Radiohead’s eighth full-length album, and finds them once again polishing off the direction they have been heading in since the release of 2000′s Kid A.
In Kid A, they wiped away the guitar-driven rock band persona they developed in their first two albums for something much more abstract. They experimented with scattered percussion segments, looped vocals and ambient noises that can easily leave the listener lost at first, but rewarded in the long run.
Limbs starts out much the same way with “Bloom.” The song skips and buckles with spattered drum beats and an off-kilter bass line that slowly grows. Finally, Thom’s reverberating vocals reel you into the bigger picture.
Although “Bloom” is entertaining, it is nothing the band has not tried before on Kid A or Amnesiac, and is probably the lowlight of the album. “Morning Mr. Magpie” is the same. It’s better than the first track, but lacks the excitement expected when one hears Radiohead.
Limbs really starts to pick up speed in the third track. “Little by Little” is an energetic number that recovers from the dullness of its predecessors.
“Feral” is the most outlandish track on the album. It is an instrumental piece comprised of fast-paced, high-pitched drums, consumed by overwhelming bass and synth notes. Much like the rest of the album, it has a constrained, claustrophobic sense of urgency.
“Lotus Flower” is the album’s dominant force. It is catchy, beautiful and reminiscent of the 90s band Massive Attack. “Codex,” the following song on the album, is an elegant slow-burner that quickly diminishes this excitement. The band seems to take a page out of Bon Iver’s playbook for “Give Up The Ghost”. Thom’s vocals are at their prime here. They are haunting and calm, soothing and fearful — a brilliant dichotomy that truly makes Radiohead the world-renowned band they are.
The album ends on a high note with “Separator.” This song is much less controlled than the rest of the tracks and is riddled with perfectly-placed overlapping vocals. Unlike the restless feeling given off by most of the previous tracks, “Separator” comes across as much more optimistic.
Although Limbs starts off slow, it gains speed and makes a promising finish. As with most Radiohead albums, it needs countless listens to be fully understood. It takes time to appreciate it for what it is.