Archive for the 'artist/album reviews' Category

Monsters of Folk Release Self-Titled Album

The idea of combining indie rock darlings Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, Jim James, and M. Ward, conceived in 2004, finally came to fruition yesterday with the release of The Monsters of Folk‘s self-titled album. The fifteen track disc defeats the old adage, often applied to super-groups, of the sum being less than its parts.

Monsters of Folk

The four artists, each already having their own successes with bands Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket, and She & Him, highlight the best in each other. All four players share songwriting and vocal duties, and no one artist steals the spotlight completely; however, Oberst’s trademark sound does permeate most of the songs. His distinctive wordplay lyrics and jaunty folk-rock are predominant.

James’ past work with many different genres and influences in his band My Morning Jacket comes through on the trip-hop opening song “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.),” and the funk inspired “Losin Yo Head.” The evocative harmonies typical of Ward and Oberst are pervasive. And Mogis, originally of Oberst’s band Bright Eyes, plays a more minor role in the forefront of the album, but was major behind the scenes working as producer.

All four artists brought their best to the table, and created a disc of enjoyable, catchy folk tunes.

monsters-of-folk

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 16

{For the music I was listening to in July, click here.}

Well, once again I’m a bit tardy and we have the music I was listening to in August being posted on the first day of September. But, better late than never, and the August music, while a bit late, is pretty spectacular. The August iPod update covers 94 songs from 7 artists (yes, a lot of full album downloads this month), and stayed largely (and surprisingly) away from Hip-Hop. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m hearing lately.

As Tall As Lions, You Can’t Take it With You: Having been kicking around in various formats since 2001, ATAL has released their third album. The band, originally from New York but recording a good portion of work in Chicago, flirts with rock, Indie and folk in darker soundscapes. The sometimes low, sometimes high or falsetto voice of lead singer Dan Nigro works with lyrics often dealing with depression or anxiety over brooding tracks. Through all of these songs, a feeling of being trapped somehow persists, with snips of guitar rifts floating through deep bass lines or horns whispering in the background. But despite this, the melancholy at times reaches crescendos that speak of freedom through misery. At other points, ATAL is a runaway train of energy on a track like “In Case of Rapture,” where the drums keep a frenetic pace. Don’t Sleep On: “Sixes and Sevens,” “We’s Been Waitin,” and “Home Is Where You’re Happy”

Beats Antique, Tribal Derivations: Fusing old and new, Beats Antique uses World and specifically Eastern-inspired music while adapting it to Western downtempo, glitch and hip-hop. Indian chants, thick stand-up bass, lightly picked harps, sitars and other string instruments are thrown in the pot with tablas and hand drums, frequently to be sprinkled with drum machines and electronic effects. The result is an album with driving, lounging or club music. In some cases you can imagine the hookah smoke drifting around you as dancers move slowly to the tunes, while in others you can imagine a dark lounge. On “Derivation,” they take portion of melody from “Summertime,” and pepper it with a digeridoo and deep drums. If you’re a fan of World music, this is an album for you. Don’t Sleep On: “Derivation,” “Intertwine,” and “Discovered.”

Fruit Bats, The Ruminant Band: After working on the fringes of music, Eric D. Johnson, the frontman of the Fruit Bats, signed with Sub Pop in 2002 and have been labeled by music publications as “Zoology Rock,” “Boot-Gazer,” and “rustic pop.” The Ruminant Band is their 5th studio release and offers a sunny panoply of pastoral and easy to listen to (which is not the same as easy listening) rock tracks that feel like they could have come out of another era. Up-beat acoustic guitars back moving guitar riffs, piano dances playfully across the spectrum and Johnson’s voice, high and plaintive, is reminiscent of some of Led Zeppelin’s tracks. The tracks are on the shorter side, content to bring the listener along, get the idea across and move onto something else without brooding on one sound. An upbeat album perfect for a ride or camping trip, early mornings in the sunshine and dusty backroads. Don’t Sleep On: “Beautiful Morning Light,” “Primitive Man,” and “Singing Joy to the World.”

M.R. Shajarian, Night Silence Desert: Where Beats Antique took traditional music and mixed it with new themes, M.R. Shajarian stays strictly classic here in his World music. The tracks are light on percussion and heavy on atmosphere, with songs that feel as if they’re literally drifting away into the night of a desert. The instrumentation is skilled, an almost Middle East Béla Fleck sound permeating many of the tracks. Don’t Sleep On: “Silence of the Night (Sokout-e-Shab),” “Rain (Baroun),” and “Setar Instrumental (Torgheh)”

The Morning Benders, Talking Through Tin Cans: Berkeley natives The Morning Benders, who recently garnered “Best Of” for a local band in the yearly San Francisco round up are a pleasant mixture of rock and Indie pop without trying to be too much of either. The songs are laid back and pleasant melodically. Simple drums, guitars, a Rhodes and tambourines paint a picture of sunny California in much the same way the Beach Boys did, but with urban flare and a nod to slightly less-polished pop. Like the Shins without the depression, The Morning Benders are a group to keep an eye out for over the next few years. Don’t Sleep On: “Waiting for a War,” “Boarded Doors,” and “Wasted Time.”

Oumou Sangare, Seya: Hailing from Mali, Sangare weaves traditional African hunting songs with lyrics of social criticism attacking the position of women and marriage in the society, among others. Seya is her first album release since 2004 and it is full of sound. The rhythms and melodies of her native land meet superbly with her voice which is smooth and slightly musky. The arrangements are lively and moving, and as her voice soars over the songs, you don’t need to speak her language to hear her emotion. Don’t Sleep On: “Kounadya,” “Senkele Te Sira,” and “Wele Wele Wintou.”

Owl City, Maybe I’m Dreaming/Ocean Eyes: Adam Young is the one man behind Owl City. He started making music to combat insomnia, and the tracks carry an energized dreaminess that speaks to the line between dusk and dawn. Fans of Postal Service will recognize his electric and synth symphonies, while fans of Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service will find in Young an eerily identical voice to Ben Gibbons. Young is soothing, his melodies are light and sound pure, and his balance between sweet sentimentality and sad longing creates almost a joyous balance between joy and pain. For some, these tracks might be too syrupy, but for others, a slightly more electronic and upbeat Postal Service will be just the delivery they need. Maybe I’m Dreaming is a 2008 release and Ocean Eyes from 2009. Don’t Sleep On: “Fireflies,” (video below), “The Technicolor Phase,” and “On the Wing.”

Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors

Brooklyn-based band Dirty Projectors have been releasing albums since 2002, but until this year, have been largely seen as too conceptual and highbrow to be listenable. Frontman, Dave Longstreth, is a Yale grad with a propensity for the inventive and experimental. Past albums include ornate interpretations of Black Flag songs, theatrical orchestral pieces, and inspiration from just about every musical genre you can imagine.

dirtyprojectors-bitteorca

Their June release, Bitte Orca, does not break from their pattern of imaginative tracks, drawing inspiration from all different styles; it is, however, their first album to seem like a cohesive set, with a sound accessible to a much broader audience. The songs are still intricate enough to keep a listener’s interest, but do not lose them in overly abstract departures, as in the past.

Earlier this year, Dirty Projectors also collaborated with David Byrne on Dark Was the Night, a compilation album put out by Red Hot AIDS Benefit Series and produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the band The National. Their track, “Knotty Pine,” is lead by bright acoustic guitars and the driving harmonies of the band’s female vocalists, Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle; and the Talking Heads tinge can be clearly heard.

The band is set to release a new EP, entitled “Temecula Sunrise,” next month. Only time will tell if Dirty Projectors will continue with their approachable art-pop rock sound or head back to the unpredictable world of experimental rock.

Nathen Maxwell & The Original Bunny Gang

nathen maxwell

After thirteen years playing with Celtic-punk band Flogging Molly, bassist Nathen Maxwell has put out an album from his solo side-project, Nathen Maxwell & The Original Bunny Gang. Teaming up with his drummer father, who goes by the name maxwellvision, their 10-track disc, White Rabbit, was released last week.

nathen_and_papa_maxwell_in_recording_studio

Surprisingly enough, Maxwell’s album does not fit into a punk rock nor Celtic genre at all. Instead, it is an acoustic album with reggae and folk influences, much more delicate sounding than anything Flogging Molly has ever released. Maxwell explains that he grew up listening to reggae and was inspired to put his heartfelt lyrics to reggae’s softer sound. His lyrics range from topics of politics, in “Chief of a Nation” and “Working for the Man,” to the feelings that come along with new love, in “Love Outlaw” and “Love You Mad”; but all songs share Maxwell’s earnest singing.

Maxwell is the first to warn Flogging Molly fans not to expect what they’re used to; and conversely, tells people who are not fans of the punk band to give him a shot. And as for Flogging Molly’s status, the band is still alive and well but has decreased its touring schedule for the year, allowing Maxwell time to work on this project.

Blue Scholars to be Re-Released on Duck Down

I received an email today announcing the release of Bayani Redux. When I saw this, I was under the impression that we were going to get a release of B-sides and remixes for the sophomore album by Seattle based Blue Scholars, Bayani. For anyone who has followed Evolving Music for a length of time, you’ve seen the concert reviews and album reviews for the duo of Sabzi and Geologic (aka Prometheus Brown.) And yet, I still find trouble reconciling myself with how talented they are and how little mass exposure they have. Granted, some of the best music falls through the cracks and gets chewed up by the massive grinder of the music industry, but I hold out hope that the word of mouth on some of the best underground artists will reach surface and flip the industry on its head.

I feel like the music industry is caught in a bad dream. That dream where you keep running, turning corners, opening doors, all to get away from something, and yet you can’t. Every time I turn on the television or flip through the radio dial, it’s like I’m opening a door in the dream and finding myself in the same place, listening to recycled music from the past twenty years, sometimes infused with a new trick like auto-tune, sometimes not. But people keep buying, and therefore, labels will keep re-packaging. This is an old rant of mine, but one that came back to the surface after reading the release details for the second coming of Bayani.

When Rawkus Records released Bayani on June 12th, 2007, it was the second album from the duo and one that promised an enormous amount of future material based solely on the progression of the artists between it and their eponymous debut. However, in reading the re-release article, I come to find that only 20,000 copies of it have sold. That’s 10,000 per year in the two since its release, which averages out to about 28 albums per day. That’s not too bad, until you think about the fact that Flo-Rida probably averaged 28 single downloads per minute for his crap and the current iTunes chart topper is Miley Cyrus.

What do you need to do to expose people to good, quality music these days? 2007’s Bayani is a far stronger album than Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, yet that went Platinum with 1,000,000 sold in just three months and we’re talking two years later at 20,000 for a better hip-hop CD. Is it the lyrics? Are lyrics with depth and intelligence, as pushed out by Geologic and the majority of his underground counterparts, too much for radio listeners? Is it that any variety making a beat sound like something you haven’t heard in every Top 10 song for the past 5 years is frightening? Personally, I’m not sure. But what I can tell you is that while Kanye West walks around making an ass out of himself with all of the money the pop-hypnotized public gives to him, quality artists like the Blue Scholars are trying to figure out where the inspiration for and money to produce their next album will come from.

So do yourself a favor. Turn off the radio, stop watching MTV, and do something other than Shazam the latest club track you heard last night while you were drunk off your ass. Check out Indiefeed, your local independent record store or any vast number of music blogs and resources online and find something new, something different, and in many cases, something more artistic.

Bayani Redux comes out with three previously unreleased tracks on September 1st.

Release of Jim James’ “Tribute To” EP

Last Tuesday, Jim James, front man of My Morning Jacket, released his new EP, “Tribute To.” Under the quirky pseudonym Yim Yames, James pays tribute to George Harrison with a collection of six covers of songs from both Harrison’s Beatles days and his solo career. Although James does very little tailoring of the songs to make them his own, his beautiful vocals compliment the slow moving, simple tunes. His voice sounds particularly sweet and haunting on “My Sweet Lord,” a song inspired by Harrison’s practice of Eastern-based religion.

James has had a very busy year thus far, as he is also preparing for the release of a full-length album and an international tour with his collaborative group The Monsters of Folk, made up of himself, M. Ward (successful solo artist, and also the “him” of She & Him with Zooey Deschanel), Conor Oberst (ringleader of Bright Eyes, and more recently, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band), and Mike Mogis (musician/producer of Saddle Creek Records fame). The self-titled album is due out at the end of September, but three tracks are already up on iTunes for purchase.

In other fun Beatles-related news, last week was also the forty-third anniversary of the release of Revolver. To celebrate, enjoy a free track from “Tribute To,” “Behind That Locked Door,” available on James’ (or Yames’…) website.

Don’t Start With Eminem

Well, if it wasn’t already established fact that Mariah Carey isn’t the brightest crayon in the box, we now have proof. While there has been a consistent and ongoing string of Mariah mentions in Eminem’s music stemming from their brief dating history years ago, it was never anything too over the top. I mean, mentioning her ass, or saying you’re obsessed with her, these things come off as just more jokes in the comedy arsenal of an already aggressive rapper. But in Rap, unlike in Mariah’s domain of Pop music, the diss track is an ongoing war of escalation and attrition. I think she might have forgotten that when she decided to take a shot at Eminem in the music video for her new song.

A few words of advice: if you want to pick someone to have a battle with, I highly recommend you stay away from Eminem. He’s shown himself to be a brilliant lyricist, a scathing social commentator, and absolutely unafraid of putting out every negative thing about himself as long as he still gets his shot in at the intended target. When someone has such a complete lack of disregard for his own reputation, you can only imagine the lengths he’s willing to go to to take someone else down. But, apparently, the lighthearted mentions of Mariah and Jessica Simpson, the feuds with other rappers and the absolute lambasting of Insane Clown Posse that Eminem has indulged in in the past wasn’t enough to convince Mariah to leave the situation alone and be happy he wasn’t doing worse. No, she had to go and mock him.

If you haven’t heard, Mariah’s new single is called, “Obsessed,” and while it could be viewed as a general assessment of any over the top fan, the video instead makes a fake Eminem the target of the label, showing him groping at her album covers, following her through town and in other ways being generally creepy. And on listening to the lyrics, there’s no mistake that she’s directing it at Eminem, mentioning how lame he is, how he’s lying about having sex with her and he’s chilling in L.A. while she’s in the A. with Jermaine. Wrong move. It didn’t take more than a week for Eminem to write, mix and release his answer to her video, and it absolutely slams. Eminem is at his best when he’s making fun of himself while also taking shots at others. Here, he gets to do that in one take based on a former relationship, and he does so with typical rhyming flare. He doesn’t just go after Mariah, he spends over 3 minutes going after everything from her house to their sex life (or what sex life there was), and throwing Carey’s boy-toy, Nick Cannon, into the mix for good measure. Now, this song is so scathing and so aggressive, that my only hope is that Mariah doesn’t try to escalate this further, because, really, she’s already lost, and if you think Eminem doesn’t have more to say, you just don’t know Eminem.

So here is Mariah’s video, and Eminem’s answer. Nothing like an ex-lover’s quarrel spilling out into the mainstream music waves to brighten a day.


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