The progression that occurred between this Californian bands first installment and 2008's All We Could Do Was Sing hinted at a road that could take them to the momentous heights of Arcade Fire. Sounding like a raggedy relative of the Canadians they shone with effortless grandeur and lifted their sound way beyond their acoustic starting point to one that rivaled the crashing waves they often sung about. But as art often takes its cue from life, singer Cambria Goodwin's brother tragically died during the recording of Threadbare and the result is a more sombre and reflective followup but one that gleams with quiet beauty.
Goodwin gets more of the singing duties than last time and her distant vocals on opener High Without The Hope set the tone of the record early on with a delicate and achingly vulnerable delivery. As it fades from earshot the opening bars of My Will Is Good creep in to replace it and with it comes the husky vocals of Van Pierszalowski. His writing on All We Could Do Was Sing became slightly repetitive in its complaint of the sea fairing life that had been chosen for him, but here there is a darker feel and a more mature one. On this and Tree Bones - which recalls Nirvana's unplugged Plateau - the somber mood gains muscle and brings with it an interesting darkness. But instead of being weighty, this prevailing mood gives the album structure and the many punctuations that lift you high from the doom are well placed and essential. Songs like Sour Milk / Salt Water and Leap Year race along with uncharacteristic pace and with it Pierszalowski's vocals strain with raw energy.
It may not be the record we expected, but it's solid and more developed than before. Life's harsh twists and turns have brought out some truly thoughtful and searching music in this band and there are delights along the way that line this record with more than a glimmer of hopeRead more 3 star reviews
Broken Hymns, Limbs And Skin
Having developed quite a reputation for their furious live performances this New York quintet have repeatedly fallen short of this unbridled excitement when it comes to their recordings. Enlisting the help of producer Alex Newport for this, their followup to 2007's Head Home, Broken Hymns, Limbs And Skin maintains their bloodthirsty edge but injects a twisted celebratory fervor that brings it in line with the stage experience but also makes it tough listening.
O'Death ooze nineteenth-century americana with all its tragedy and folk lore and with weeping fiddle, jaunty banjo and homemade drum kits they create an image of blue-grass country music being mutilated in the hungry jaws of a feral, gypsy-punk panic. The album is relentless in it's pace and fury and displays an underlying sense of longing and the inevitability of death. But there is also a feeling of jubilation that, rather than coming from a place of hope, displays an acceptance of the inevitable and a reveling in this resolution. It's an orgy of self-mutilating rapture that lurches from one change of pace to another with total abandon and those without the same resolution will find an unsettling sense of doom and viciousness.
Much of the tension can rest at the door of front man Greg Jamie - who's voice has the manic wail of a man insane. From the opening whirlwind of Low Tide to the closing gallop of Lean-To Jamie's urgent delivery sounds like a gap-toothed hillbilly yelling words of condemnation to accusers as he stands at the gallows, head in noose. On Home Jamie's vocals ease off on the grit and drip with Neil Young sweetness but as he starts to shriek "find a sacred resting place where the pecking hens wont harm the eyes," the latter half of the song descends into blood dripping fury. His growl is contorted like a Tom Waits narrative on the ramshackle On An Aching Sea while Grey Sun moans and creaks with pent up melancholy as Jamie's doom-filled words of wisdom spread darkness to all in earshot.
O'Death make no attempt to hide any influences that might have contributed to their sound, bands like Violent Femmes and the murder ballads of The Handsome Family can all be heard here, but the unrelenting sense of doom and the glee in which the band revel in it seems to swallow up any point of reference as soon as it emerges. The result is a truly unique creation albeit hard to swallow. Songs like Angeline, with its uncharacteristic sweetness and softness, are few and far between and offer much needed respite from the storm and I can't help feeling that had there been more moments like this Broken Limbs would be a more well balanced record and much easier to get on with. I'm well aware that to make art more palatable for the audience at the expense of the concept is a mortal sin but while I can certainly appreciate the quality and single-mindedness of this record I can't see it getting much air time on my stereo.Read more 3 star reviews
The task of reviewing a new Lambchop album is a tricky one indeed. Firstly this band tend to make albums so subtle and complex that to form an opinion in only a few listens seems futile as from past experience a Lambchop album will have its delights set on slow release. Secondly, and similarly due to the great wealth of subtleties, the changes and progressions that occur between albums seem minimal or certainly not obvious. Only the more ardent fans will notice any great shifts in style or theme from record to record but to everyone else they all sound pretty similar.
There are however some pretty seismic (in Lambchop terms) changes on Oh (Ohio) and that is namely its accessibility. Kurt Wagner has always crafted songs that ooze romance but the sheer weirdness that has always lurked underneath these lounge acts has always hinted at a tongue being in cheek. The result of this has always put a slight chill in the smokey air and has set our quirky narrator at a distance from his subjects. But from this distance he has always been able to view life in all its detail and pass comment with a unique profundity. On Oh (Ohio) the profundity remains but the distance seems to have lessened and a new warmth has crept into these songs.
Please Rise illustrates this new shift perfectly. Wagner's lethargic vocals stand alone as this song emerges, then slowly it is joined by a delicate and quite distant piano. With cavernous guitars this song gently rises and rises until Wagner's closing line of "stand over me" is enveloped in glistening music that has formed such a protecting layer of warmth that a song that opened with such vulnerability ends with a great sense of peace. This closeness is also evoked by a pleasing increase in pace dotted perfectly throughout the shuffling. Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr. is the best example of this. As it skips along on a rolling bassline and jangly guitars, its continuous momentum dipping and peaking forming a fantastic mirror to the monotone vocals that never over exert themselves along the way. On Popeye these two elements are kept separate as the first half drifts by on bristling melodies and thick, dripping vocals only to be rudely interrupted by a thrilling instrumental second half that kicks off hot on the heals of the dying notes that preceded it.
Earlier in the album on the beautiful Slipped Dissolved And Loosed, Wagner is joined by a soft female vocal accompaniment that shadows his chorus like a cool breeze and provides companionship to his often lonely delivery. The opening line to this song "I am not familiar with the typography of your mind," is brought to mind as we near the end of the record with I Believe In You. It's a strikingly intimate way to end a record and reflects the love song we heard earlier and indeed serves as an insight into "the typography" of Wagner's mind. With this song Wagner emerges from the world he creates in his music and puts us and him very much in the now, commenting on everything from God to organic food. It's an apt way to end a record that, with many of his eccentric kinks ironed out, is more palatable, easier to get on with and more safe. His alarmingly high falsetto vocal levels never get an airing here but in those deep tones that trickle throughout Oh (Ohio) there is plenty to listen to.Read more 3 star reviews
Carried To Dust
Pressing play on the new Calexico record is akin to gently parting the curtains after a restless, fever plagued night to find the new day outside well into it's swing, the world still spinning and the sun still beating down mercilessly. As the light streams in you're weary figure is bathed in its healing warmth and your woes of the night before are banished to a distant memory. And the more this album casts this light on all other offerings from this band, 2006's Garden Ruin is illuminated as something of a blip, a brief moment of bad form, and even though it was by no means a poor album it has become glaringly obvious that Carried To Dust is what this band do best. But that is not to suggest that this is merely Calexico by numbers.
Having opted for the bold yet polite statement of Garden Ruin, Joey Burns turns the haze up once again and he and his blissful music retreat into the shadows. And its from here that the familiar dusty sounds of Calexico emerge gently, feeling no need to hurry or impress, choosing the subtle, time honored approach and allowing their sweeping cinematic panoramas to gradually seep into your being. It's a roaming album that makes its way through sprawling, sun-baked terrain, its eyes set on the ocean ahead as a symbol for new shores. Along the way it picks up many characters from murdered political poets to refugees displaced from their homeland.
Musically, Carried To Dust is a masterclass. Every note played and every word breathed serves the grand purpose. The dry landscape of Two Silver Trees is pricked by the crispest of notes that twinkle like timid sprouting shoots. Burns' whispered vocals step into the light cautiously then as the music swells the song expands to magnificent sweeping vistas. The same can be said for The News About William that follows. The addition of the string section provides the grandeur here with Burns' voice rising from its hushed tones to match the soaring horns and violins.
Calexico can evoke scenes of endless landscapes bathed in light and warmth but in an instant can fill these visions with seething tension. Fractured Air both in title and sound illustrates this perfectly with its clipped guitar and clenched reservation. The apocalyptic Man Made Lake simmers all the way through, the beat and tinkling piano suggesting a twilight where all is not at rest. This tension is brought to a magnificent and unusual head as screeching guitars bring this song to an uneasy but expert close. Then by contrast, songs like Slowness with its sweet female accompaniment and slide guitar and the album closer Contention City drift along on a warm breeze with lazy, idyllic lethargy.
House Of Valparaiso could be one of the most perfect Calexico songs to date. It has all you want from this band from Burns' hushed tones setting the scene then the heat being turned up ever so slightly with the inclusion of gentle mariachi trumpets. These are then layered by the rising vocals soaring effortlessly over head of the pitter-patter rhythm like a thermal riding bird of prey. Carried To Dust consolidates all that this band has learnt from its long history. It doesn't just rehash the many successful elements of 2003's Feast Of Wire but builds on these via the lessons learnt from Garden Ruin. Calexico have always been a band that dare to experiment with the tradition in which they are firmly planted but their need for experimentation never overtakes the music. It is always employed solely to serve the song and this album shows that it's this reserved flair that is the ultimate triumph for these songs.Read more 4 star reviews
All We Could Do Was Sing
Van Pierszalowski, the front man for this Californian band, spends 3 months of the year on a salmon trawler on Kodiak Island, Alaska which goes some way to explain the great seafaring influence that dominates their sound - and like the sonic waves that wash over every moment of this record, Port O'Brien find themselves on distant and far richer shores than were explored on their debut.
2007's The Wind And The Swell was less of a debut and more of a compilation of the best of their self-released efforts, but it was very much a stripped down folk affair comprising of mainly guitar and vocals and tinny lo-fi drumming. It's very much a different story here with All We Could Do Was Sing, which curiously kicks off the same way their previous album did - with the frenzied group sing-along of I Woke Up Today. It's given a major overhaul this year but does slightly mislead the listener as to the general direction of this record. Stuck On A Boat is way more representative with its deep guitars and hollow vocals. It's a simple song vividly placing Pierszalowski on his Dad's trawler, it takes its time with the basic rhythmic structure but its glorious swathes of pastoral strings instantly hail the arrival of a whole new band. Fisherman's Son sees our protagonist leave his coastal roots and up and move to the city. Great waves of drums pick this song up and launch it into a vibrant gallop accompanied again by the string section.
Port O'Brien have developed many strings to their bow and this record is full of ideas that span more tempos than their debut hinted at. Songs like Pigeonhold show the band baring its teeth with crashing cymbals and truncated guitar solos that squeal and wine, until the strained vocals bring the whole thing to a calamitous close. This electric injection raises this band from the alt-folk wilderness that they threatened to reside in. The penultimate Close The Lid sees them perfect this element of their sound with a textbook indie jangle that lets rip into a joyous ramshackle of drums and raw vocals. Then as a total antithesis comes the frail closing sound of Valdez. More in line with the earlier songs this finishes the album with melancholic fragility and is the sonic opposite of how the record began. These polar bookends that contain this record illustrate perfectly the rich tapestry that Port O'Brien has woven. They may not be reinventing anything here, but as an example of a rock group that strives to evolve their sound, Port O'Brien's journey from lo-fi folk to indie rock confidence has resulted in a full bodied and endlessly listenable album.Read more 3.5 star reviews
Friend And Foe
Friend And Foe is the debut UK release for avant-garde US trio Menomena and it could just be the most interesting indie rock record since TV On The Radio's Return To Cookie Mountain. This is actually their third album and it presents itself as an amalgamation of various musical experiments. It is clear that there is no real leader in this band and that as a whole the group is packed full of ideas each wanting a shot at the title. Vocal duties are shared from one song to the next and musically it's all over the place. But what makes this record so rare is that instead of being the groups undoing, all this fragmentation serves to enrich the sound and actually becomes the uniting force running through everything.
Multiple vocalists is normally a recipe for disaster in my opinion. The listener will undoubtedly warm towards one sound and then reject the rest. Not the case here and the result is a musical spectrum that spans the afore mentioned TV On The Radio as in the opening track Muscle'n Flo, The Flaming Lips (Wet And Rusting) and even a touch of Folk Implosion (Air Aid). But though these comparisons may present themselves they are by no means the lasting talking point about this record. It is thrilling to hear an album that offers you so much choice from the minimal and rhythmical Weird to the astral bliss of My My not to mention the chaos of The Pelican, a whiskey soaked bar room brawl of a song that pounds its heart out until finally collapsing into a heap of crashing cymbals and screeching guitars.
Musically there is so much to sink your teeth into here but once you've found out a thing or two about this band you'll see that they stand alone in their complete vision of creating a record. The wall-of-sound music is painstakingly crafted using a complicated series of improvised loops that are recorded and arranged using a computer program developed by one of the band members Brent Knopf called Deeler. Though this computer manipulation is hardly recognizable in the finished product the bands meticulous attention to detail is glaringly obvious, shown also in the cover art designed by Craig Thompson, acclaimed creator of the graphic novel Blankets. This features a tangled mesh of drawings that change and evolve throughout the multiple permutations available depending on whether the CD is in the case or in the player.
Though fascinating, all this only serves as a bonus to the music itself. This is a band dedicated to their craft and it shows in every second of the record. Friend And Foe is the crowning achievement in the bands history and will take some skill to top but I am in no hurry to see what they do next as I feel I've only scratched the surface of this wonderful creation.
More enjoyable laptop psychedelia from reindeer-lover Dan Snaith. All works pretty well, with opener Melody Day launching things in a melancholy style (great Four Tet remix on the single as well, for once a reworking that takes things down rather than up). Feels a bit more live than previous outings, keeping the samples more in the background. The song to jam ratio is improved this time too; feels like a band rather than a solo project. If you're into the whole acoustic guitars being sampled thing, you'll be happy taking a trip to Andorra. We're still holding his Montague Arms freakout against him at Chimp Towers, but that shouldn't put you off.Read more 3.5 star reviews
What do you get if you cross a wailing voice, a banjo and a fiddle? This isn't a joke. Country music right? Well normally yes but in a parallel, and slightly perverse, universe the outcome is O'Death.
Listening to O'Death I'm reminded of the scene from the Blues Brothers where the band reform and secure a gig at Bob's Country Bunker. 'What kind of music do you usually have here?' asks Elwood and the response is "we have both kinds; country and western" whereupon the band are forced to launch into Stand by your Man and the theme from Rawhide before a riot ensues. To me this has always summed up country music. As an outsider it has always seemed to be something of a closed shop existing in a vacuum that fails to acknowledge or incorporate any other form of music. Those on the inside appear to know the ropes and stick to the formula - it's either plaintive songs of heartbreak of the 'stand by your man' ilk or sing-along hoe downs from the Rawhide vein.
O'Death are the outsiders who don't play by the rules, they've left the country bunker and discovered a whole other world out there. Now there is another suffix to add after country; it's not just 'and western' because to the musical lexicon O'Death have introduced 'country and gothic punk'. Based in New York, these are rural boys embracing the attitude of the big city. Theirs' is a sound not so much for barn dances on Walton mountain but mosh pits with the characters from Deliverance on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre farm. This is the riot at Bob's Country Bunker in musical form.
It is an edgy and at moments slightly disturbing journey but O'Death is a travelling carnival of infectious energy. Their relentless refusal to charm is charming in itself and if you get it then it rocks! Melody is certainly not sacrificed. Most tunes being of the foot stomping variety rest on beats that recall Iggy and the Stooges. These songs could've been penned by Tom Waits imagining them being delivered by a voice that at times could belong to either Frank Black, Jack White or Neil Young. At the end of this barn dance you can imagine that someone has spilt volatile moonshine over a hay bale. A stray cigarette thrown away by the fiddler has caused a fire and the band have to make a sharp exit on the back of a pick up truck. The locals elders are up in arms bemoaning the trail of destruction but the kids have had their eyes opened and will never be the same again.