Posts Tagged 'Death Cab for Cutie'

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.”

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 10

For last month’s new music update, click here.

February brought some very excellent music my way. An update of 84 songs spanning most genres included some new music as well as some hidden gems from the years past. Enjoy!

Franz Ferdinand, Tonight: In their first studio album since 2005’s You Could Have it So Much Better, the Scottish blokes return with another round of rollicking, high energy rock music. The staples of their previous musical endeavors are all here, from the steady lock-step drums to the grinding and rapid guitars, all accentuated with Alex Kapranos’s distinct vocals that he ranges from soft caress to forceful leader to out and out yell. While the album doesn’t provide much in the way of evolution from previous work, that’s not to say it’s not solid. In fact, in an era where numerous bands change their face and sound from one release to another, a little continuity isn’t a bad thing. They slow it down nicely with “Dream Again,” showing a more melodic touch to their sound, and on “Bite Hard” they show their ability to start slow to build to a frenetic and recognizable chorus structure. Don’t Sleep On: “Can’t Stop Feeling,” “Twilight Omens,” and “Bite Hard”

Glass Candy, Deep Gems and B/E/A/T/B/O/X: This is a group I just heard about out of Portland, OR. They’re currently on the Italians Do It Better label, with B/E/A/T/B/O/X coming out in 2007 and the Deep Gems album of unreleased tracks released in ’08. With an eerie female lead vocalist in Ida No, this group specializes in a delicious mixture of 80s pop music fused with dark/deep disco sounds. The grimy bass grooves, melodic keys and moving beats create a vision of dark streets on a rainy night or a dimly lit club for slow dancing hipsters, but would also feel right at home on the Scarface and Grand Theft Auto 2 soundtracks. Imagine a collaboration between Tangerine Dream and Nine Inch Nails with Kelli Dayton, formerly of the Sneaker Pimps, on vocals. If you like 80s, or disco, or just some dark music you can listen to in your cruise to an unmentionable location, Glass Candy will keep your head nodding. Don’t Sleep On: “Feeling Without Touching,” “Etheric Device,” and “Touching the Morning Mist.”

Lake, Oh, The Places We’ll Go: This relatively new (at least in terms of mass release appeal, just signed to K Records) lo-fi indie pop/rock group out of Olympia, WA caught me by surprise. Taking liberally from multiple genres and mixing it up with lyrics from both a male and female vocalist, the album doesn’t fit any one mold. There are hints of Say Hi to Your Mom, Death Cab for Cutie and Peter Bjorn and John here, but also moments of quiet melody that hearken to Feist or Sia. Some of the more uptempo indie moments on the album bring to mind Throw Me the Statue. Pianos, guitars, handclaps and horns find their moments at various points throughout the album, leading to a well-rounded and easily enjoyable album that is effortless as a listen. Don’t Sleep On: “Minor Trip,” “Dead Beat,” and Bad Dream.”

Telefon Tel Aviv, Immolate Yourself: While I’ve been listening to Telefon Tel Aviv since their sophomore release Map of What is Effortless, it wasn’t until I heard about their newest release that I learned about the death of one half of the laptop duo, Charles Cooper. Unfortunately, not much is known about the circumstances surrounding his death, other than he was missing for about a week before he was found, but given the dense emotional contexts of the group’s music, it isn’t hard to see where some levels of despair may have existed for Cooper. While Map brought their electronic sounds to a simple and accessible short format, Immolate Yourself is a densely layered piece that screams of despair behind towering walls of sound, melancholy synth work and distorted and echoed lyrics. At times beautiful for the music and others simply horrendous because of the distress the music belies, Immolate Yourself is a perfect study of what happens when depression meets a talented musician who simply can’t get it all out on paper. No word yet on what Joshua Eustis plans to do, but having been a long time friend of Cooper, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a bit difficult to go back to the studio without him. Don’t Sleep On: “Your Mouth,” “Helen of Troy,” and “M.”

Zion I, The Take Over: Having already written a review of this album (that you can find here), I won’t say much other than to mention that the songs grow on me a bit more each listen. Don’t Sleep On: “The Take Over,” “Antenna,” and “Coastin'” featuring K.Flay.

The Singles Artists: These artists didn’t get full albums on the music update, but they definitely had a hit or two that got thrown in. For hip-hop fans, check out Kool G Rap (“On the Rise Again,” “What’s More Realer Than That”.) If you like old time classic rock and roll but have grown weary of listening to your Led Zeppelin albums over and over again, check out the new throwback work of the Golden Animals (“Queen Mary,” “My My My”) If you’re an indie rock listener, give Ruby Isle a try (“How It Hurts,” “One Trip.”)

MixMatchMusic Tra.kz releases: For those of you who haven’t been following, MixMatchMusic recently launched Tra.kz , a URL shortener for all things music. As part of that release, a number of bands released new music using the site, to tremendous results. The Expendables, Giant Panda Guerrila Dub Squad, Trifonic, and Pepper all released some new tracks. From Trifonic, we got “Gutter Box,” as well as a smoking remix of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” Pepper brought a soundboard recording from a live concert with “Too Much.” For those with more interest in Pepper, we’ve got an interview coming up, as well as a remix contest, so stay on the lookout for that.

Another great month for new music… can’t wait to see what March has in store. Keep listening.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 6

For a taste of what I was hearing last month, click here.

September’s iPod update featured some fantastic new music from the month, including a number of debut albums from upcoming artists. R&B, Soul, Hip-Hop, Rock, Electronica and Pop music all make their appearances over 91 new tracks ushering us into Fall.

eLZhi, The Preface: Most rappers who have been recording material since 1997 have a large body of work to show for it. While this is the case for eLZhi, the majority of this work is unreleased or in featuring format on other artists’ work over the past 7 years or so. 2008 marks the debut full length album from this Detroit native, and while quite a few hip-hop fans may not have heard of eLZhi yet, the strength of this album should help make his second effort eagerly awaited. With production from fellow up and comer Black Milk, eLZhi uses a mixture of darker beats and old-school sounding fresh production to leave himself with a diverse group of songs which he raps over with ease. Whether he’s rapping about love, poverty and socioeconomic divisions or his experiences growing up in the streets, elZHi’s lyrics are complex yet effortless, coming out the polished product of a rapper with an extreme amount of comfort in his delivery. With a fantastic string and vocal sample and his laidback flow, “Transitional Joint” is the kind of song that’s an instant classic on the first listen. Don’t Sleep On: “The Science,” “Transitional Joint,” and “Save Ya.”

Lykke Li, Youth Novels: I covered Lykke Li’s US EP release here back in June. The full album finally made its way stateside, and the result of Li’s command over an entire album is impressive. While most songs retain the soft-spoken and delicate feeling of the EP, Li uses the full album to spread her wings into esoteric melody pieces (“This Trumpet In My Head”) as well as emotionally semi-detached pieces with simple backings (“Hanging High”). However, what is more enjoyable is when the album delves further into the dance and pop ideals that her voice and musical judgments help to raise above the standard radio fare. Even while being forceful, Li’s voice manages to be light and airy without disappearing against the background of the heavier songs. With guest remixes by The Black Kids (WIH,V.5) CSS and DiskJokke, a few of the EP songs get a new feeling. The range of tracks on this album speaks of a promising and diverse future body of work from this young singer out of Sweden. Don’t Sleep On: “Breaking It Up,” “Complaint Department,” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone (Black Kids Remix)”

Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It: When I picked up this album, I had to make sure that the published date of it was correct. Saadiq, formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!, has reinvented his music on this album that feels at times like it could have and should have been released in various portions of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Soul, R&B, Funk and sounds of Doo-Wop all permeate this album, and some of the production makes you think you’re listening to an old classic that you’ve never heard before…It feels like a vintage Sunday afternoon. The musicianship behind him allows Saadiq’s voice to soar through tracks both melancholy and joyful. Fans of The Four Tops, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder (who makes an appearance on the album), Dusty Springfield and their contemporaries will all find reason to smile here. “Just One Kiss” features Joss Stone, and the remix of another album song “Oh Girl” features Jay-Z. Don’t Sleep On: “Love That Girl,” “Big Easy (feat. The Infamous Young Spodie & The Rebirth Brass Band)” and “Kelly Ray.

Rumble Strips, Girls and Weather: In case you weren’t aware, the perforations on the freeway shoulders that rattle you if you stray too far outside the lines are called rumble strips. I certainly didn’t know that before sitting down to review the band I’ve been listening to for two weeks. While most bands hopping the pond are taking up the power punk and alt-rock sounds of Bloc Party and the Young Knives (WIH, V.3), the Rumble Strips infuse it with at times Bosstones-like frenetic horns and ska sensibilities on their debut album, without losing a strong rock value. The arrangements are tight and Charlie Waller on lead vocals, while sometimes a bit reckless in his reach, provides the emotion necessary to keep up with the pace and energy of the sound. While they made their breakthrough with the rollicking and enormously fun “Motorcycle,” there are a variety of enjoyable sounds to be found on Girls and Weather. Don’t Sleep On: “Cowboy,” “Time,” and my personal favorite, “Girls and Boys in Love.”

Stacy Epps, The Awakening: Multi-faceted (I’ve been told she attended law school at USC) Stacy Epps brings her life experiences and spiritual vision to the table in an album that exudes passion that is sometimes overwhelming and unreachable in its scope. Using trip-hop beats and spacey melodies with jazz influences Epps at various times flows, speaks, sings and fades away on an album that exhibits a vocal talent sometimes lost in the more convoluted soundscapes. If there’s a drawback to this album, it’s that a few too many songs have “The Awakening, 2008, Stacy Epps” or some combination of these in the background, almost in an attempt to subconsciously advertise in the aural space of the listener. It gets frustrating at times, like endless self-promotion polluting the music. Fans of Bjork and Alice Coltrane will have a field-day here, but it might be too dense for casual listeners. Don’t Sleep On: “Floatin’,” “Heaven” feat. Bilal Salaam, and “Who Knows.”

Throw Me the Statue, Purpleface EP: One of the most promising signs of a relatively young band is the sign of continual tinkering with the sound and style, and a refusal to be tied too tightly to any one genre, while making music that all sounds somehow, on a fundamental level, right for them. This four track EP that fell in my hands last week courtesy of Gavroche exhibits this growth while retaining the emotional ambiguity and lyrical earnestness necessary to make them work. One of the original Moonbeams tracks, “Written in Heart Signs, Faintly” gets a studio makeover of its concert alter-ego here. “Honeybee” is a simple and direct piano backed and reverb laced track with glimpses of clarinet. “That’s How You Win” uses plaintive guitars and a kick and run drum roll to back Reitherman’s echo-like and airy vocals. “Ship,” however, is the standout track of this set both musically and lyrically. The drums combine with a drum machine to back a building piano that crashes into the main melody of the song, an incredibly beautiful piece of music that contentedly fades out at the end, free to repeat in the space between your ears. Don’t Sleep On: It’s a 4 track EP people, what’s to sleep on?

Tough Alliance, The New School: Taking pop and electronic music and blending it is the outcome of this album from the duo of Henning Fürst and Eric Berglund. At times repetitive and even slightly annoying, at its best, The New School offers video game blip electronic music that is mindlessly catchy. Not my normal cup of tea in its entirety, but Don’t Sleep On: “Take No Heroes,” “Tough II,” and “Koka-Kola Veins.”

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 2

Alright, it’s time for the May update and the second installment of What I’m Hearing. For those that missed last month, this will be a monthly post centered around the new music I’ve put on my iPod. The May update, for those interested in numbers and stats, contains 135 new songs, and they are excellent! Here’s what I’m hearing now…

Atmosphere, When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold: After two releases viewed largely as disappointing in musical content, Atmosphere has returned with an excellent set of hip-hop that finds the duo of Ant and Slug returning to the stylistic methods that created their success originally. The beats on this album are tight, with many melancholy tracks for Slug’s introspective and multi-tiered delivery to lilt over. Ant produces an album that ranges from sad slow hip-hop to upbeat party movers, with songs based in undulating bass rhythms as well as melodic piano rifts. Slug, rapping about various people’s personal perspective on life, finds new inspiration for his rhymes by rapping from both a first person and omniscient angle and creating rhymes that could be interpreted multiple ways. Don’t Sleep On: “Yesterday,” “Me,” and “Your Glass House.”

Blue Scholars, The Long March EP: While I have been talking consistently about their self-titled debut and sophomore release Bayani, I just discovered this EP full of previously unreleased tracks. They continue the smooth music and laid back lyricism of the two studio albums and deliver a number of excellent tracks. This may be an EP, but it listens like a full effort album. Don’t Sleep On: “Sagaba (Remix),” “La Botella,” and “27” (technically off the Butter and Gun$ release)

Chicha Libre, Sonido Amazonico: When you pick up this album for the first time, your initial thought is that you’re listening to some 70s music out of South America. The style hails from Peru and in its heyday was an amalgamation of pop, reggae and Latin music. Here, this North American band has picked up the style, dusted it off and infused it with a natural and unforced feeling that also includes some surf music vibes among others. The instrumentation is exquisite, with hand drums and an organ being used to great effect throughout the album. This music is perfect for summer weather and boat trips. Dig it. Don’t Sleep On: “La Cumbia del Zapatero,” “Sonido Amazonico,” and “Popcorn Andino.” Here’s a quote from the group’s website…”CHICHA is the name of a corn-based liquor favored by the Incas in pre-colombian days. Chicha is also the name of a South American music craze which started out in the late 70’s in the Peruvian Amazon. Cumbias amazonicas, as they were first called, were loosely inspired by Colombian accordion-driven cumbias but soon incorporated the distinctive sounds of Andean melodies, some Cuban son, and the psychedelic sounds of surf guitars, farfisa organs and moog synthesizers. The group draws its personnel from barbes regulars Bebe Eiffel, One Ring Zero and Las Rubias del norte.”

Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs: The indie scene has been good to Death Cab, and the release of their new album, written in California, exemplifies the standard sounds we’ve come to expect from the group while also integrating a few new ones. Light piano and guitar, easy melodies and Gibbard’s heartfelt and sometimes falsetto voice form the basis of the album, but the band branches out here with a few more intense segments, heavy drums and wall of sound concepts. Death Cab remains their strongest on the shorter melancholy songs and the ones where the music is just enough to keep Gibbard from sounding miserable, but their radio single of this one, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” is a bit self-indulgent in its 8 minute running time and the long intro seems to go almost nowhere for minutes. “Your New Twin Sized Bed” demonstrates the group’s ability to turn a very sad song into an enjoyable tune. All in all though, another solid installment from the group. Don’t Sleep On: “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” “Your New Twin Sized Bed,” and “Grapevine Fires.”

Immortal Technique, The 3rd World: I can’t say much more about the 3 full tracks and 4 clips I’ve heard in from this album other than what I said late last week in this post. What I will say is that these three tracks (“Reverse Pimpology,” “The 3rd World,” and “The Payback) are all stellar, showcasing familiar Tech topics over a very different set of beats that forces him to find diversity in his delivery. He succeeds and makes June 24th’s release date seem just too far off.

Nine Inch Nails, The Slip: Reznor’s come a long way since Pretty Hate Machine, and the journey has allowed us to watch an angst-ridden young artist develop a genre, spawn numerous imitators, become an incredible global success and then use that success to work independently against the record industry that gave him his start. While Reznor’s success has changed the way the music is approached and distributed, it hasn’t changed what is an obvious hunger within to continue to create. The Slip is the album follow up to the esoteric and instrumental Ghosts I-IV released a few weeks ago, and finds Reznor returning to songs with lyrics and savage musical intensity that were missing on the largely landscape tracks of Ghosts. While I personally feel that the honesty, intensity and pure force of will in albums like Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral will no longer be matched, Reznor doesn’t try to duplicate the formula or make apologies here. The songs are a logical progression of his growth as a musician, and still deliver some satisfying NIN. Distortion, a combination of live and machine drums and heavy guitar saturate this album. Don’t Sleep On: “Lights in the Sky,” “Echoplex,” and “Demon Seed”

Portishead, Third: Following over a decade without a new studio album, Portishead’s Third was widely anticipated, and it was largely feared that they may have remained in limbo for those 11 years, coming back with a 90’s-esque trip-hop sound that would be dated and sedated. So it came as a surprise when the new album came out and, while retaining the haunting vocals of Beth Gibbons, sounded almost nothing like its predecessors. And that’s a very good thing. Here, the trio explores new ground, venturing into the electronic and glitch landscapes that were just starting to exist at the beginning of their hibernation. Don’t Sleep On: “Silence,” “Machine Gun,” and “The Rip”

Seu Jorge, Carolina and The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions: Singer? Sure. Soundtrack writer? Absolutely. Movie star? You bet. Brazilian Seu Jorge does it all, and he does it with flair. You can’t get more MixMatch than that! He appeared as crew member Pelé in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, as well as playing Knockout Ned in the amazing slum epic City of God. Not only acting in Life Aquatic, Jorge also provided a bulk of the soundtrack when he tackled David Bowie covers in Portugese on his guitar. Here we have two very different albums from the man. The first is a rollicking expression of Brazilian samba pop music that occasionally infuses hints of reggae and soul, and the second is a studio version of songs that were originally packaged directly from the film (and most often in outdoor spaces). While the tracks from the movie are spectacular because they really make you feel like Jorge is on a boat next to you playing them, the sound quality could be better. Here, they get the full studio treatment and come out sounding polished. Jorge’s music is fun, light-hearted and extremely listenable. Don’t Sleep On: “Starman,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Hagua”

Various Singles: These songs didn’t get their full albums downloaded, but they’re sweet singles. Check out “Mathematics,” and “Letters From the Ambulance” by The Fashion, “In a Cave” and “Your English Is Good” by Tokyo Police Club, and the studio version of “Business Time” off of Flight of the Conchords‘ freshman release.


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