Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 

THE ANTLERS - Familiars (ANTI-)

It’s no secret that I admire bands that still make albums. I’m not talking about the album as a collection of songs, or the album as a handful of singles cushioned by some B-level material. As opposed to an album wherein each song exists in isolation and speaks for itself, I admire an album wherein a bunch of songs work together to make a singular statement.

With the release of Hospice in 2009, it became clear that Brooklyn’s The Antlers were masters of album-as-statement. Hospice—an indie rock game changer very nearly on par with Arcade Fire’s Funeral or The National’s Alligator—is a dark, harrowing work of bedroom pop. Songs blend into one another as melodic and lyrical themes recur. Its narrative arc unfurls through flashback. Frontman and songsmith Peter Silberman blends romantic despair, exhaustion and illness using a fine, novelistic touch. To risk stating the obvious, however, Hospice is not an album for every occasion. Experiencing its many aches and anxieties is hugely demanding on the listener. One comes out the other end emotionally wrung-out, purged of demons, exhausted and cleansed after what must be the auditory equivalent of hot yoga.

After Hospice came 2011’s Burst Apart, an excellent album with a lighter tone and greater dynamic range. Next came the "Undersea" EP, which forewent the groovy buoyancy of Burst Apart in favor of a beautifully sleepy, liquid vibe.

Familiars, released in late June on ANTI-, finds The Antlers doing all of the things they do best. Familiars returns to the conceptual and sonic coherence of Hospice, but also retains the melodic levity of Burst Apart and the delicious murkiness of "Undersea."

Our first taste of Familiars was the opening track and first single, “Palace.” It is a beautifully haunting number, building slowly with layered, muted trumpets and tentatively swelling drums over its 5-and-a-half minutes. Contenders for second single include the slinky “Hotel” and the late-album stand-out “Parade.” The latter of those two boasts one of Silberman’s finest vocal performances to date, and the album as a whole finds him singing with a newfound confidence, favoring a full-bodied head voice over the doubled, whispered falsetto he employed on much of Hospice. Another personal favorite of mine is “Director,” in which an extremely simple guitar lead provides a really satisfying melodic payoff.

All that being said, Familiars is best enjoyed in one bite. Each song bleeds into the next, and each song—there are nine of them in total, each with a one-word title—is characterized by warm synth beds, delicate drums, and careful horn arrangements. Songs—like “Revisited,” where layered guitars interplay as the song reaches its peak—often give way to gorgeous oceans of instrumentation unlike anything this band has previously achieved. The album as a whole is an unabashedly dense work, lacking completely anything resembling an uptempo number, but its innumerable nuances reveal themselves gradually over the course of several listens. It is an album that manages to feel slow but never dirge-like, relaxed but never lethargic, melancholy but never depressing. Familiars is an album of incredible depth, but a listener who takes it on might very well find himself with a new obsession.

MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA - Cope (Loma Vista/Republic)

Critics of Cope, the new one from Atlanta, GA’s Manchester Orchestra, have been quick to express disappointment in the album’s apparent lack of sonic range. When I first read frontman Andy Hull’s widely-published claim that with Cope, the band wanted to produce something that was “brutal…just pounding you over the head with every track,” I was thrilled. Manchester Orchestra had been on my radar for a while, but I never paid them the attention they deserved until Hull joined forces with Kevin Devine and churned out two phenomenal records as Bad Books. At that point, I revisited my copies of Like a Virgin Losing a Child, Mean Everything to Nothing and Simple Math. Those albums, particularly the latter two, have a number of truly incredible songs, but I kept coming to the same conclusion about the band: they were always trying to do too much. It is one thing for an album to have an impressive dynamic range, but another for an album to be so all over the map that no listener can have a cohesive, satisfying listening experience. It is no surprise, perhaps, that I ultimately became much more enamored with Hull’s solo acoustic side project, Right Away Great Captain!, in particular the chilling The Church of the Good Thief, which brings the RAGC! trilogy to an incredible close. That record exists in a deliberately limited sonic range, employing minimal instrumentation and stark production, but it does not lack in emotional impact.

Cope shares The Good Thief’s commitment to one dynamic, but exists on the opposite end of that spectrum, boasting eleven songs that are entirely true to Hull’s promise of a brutal rock record. It is a grave mistake to equate a lack of dynamic range with a lack of emotional range, and Cope’s impact is no less than that of any other Manchester Orchestra record. Gone are the theatrics of past albums; you will find no synths, no strings, and no children’s choir on this record. What is left is a truly huge rock album, dominated by thick, double-tracked guitars and a clenched-fist confidence that modern rock albums rarely display.

Monstrous opening track and first single “Top Notch” is a fair indicator of what is to come. In addition to shrieking guitars and thunderous drums, the song also boasts one of Hull’s best vocal deliveries to date. This vocal strength remains for the duration of the record. Hull’s voice has never sounded better, and his melodies have never been more memorable. “Choose You” and mid-album showstopper “All That I Really Wanted” are both fine examples, showcasing some of the most compelling song structure Hull has yet worked with. The band, also, does not relent. The title track, which closes the collection, is a contender for the heaviest ever song on a Manchester Orchestra record, whereas second single “Every Stone” is awash with ringing guitars and triumphant hooks. The latter might very well be the best song on here, and it is certainly one of the most rewarding on first listen.

My point, ultimately, is this: just because a record is loud, it doesn’t mean it is dumb. “Choose You”’s first verse begins: “The invention of the ship was the invention of the shipwreck / I tried to find out who I was by jumping off the deck.” This is as smart and nuanced an album as Hull and co. have ever produced, it just exists within a smaller sonic spectrum. The image of a band sweating it out in the studio, losing sleep over flute overdubs, is not always the image of a good band. To make a record like Cope, the guys in Manchester Orchestra had to have total faith in their ability as musicians and songsmiths. To my ears, Cope is the right move.


LAURA STEVENSON – Wheel (Don Giovanni Records)

When you listen to Laura Stevenson’s Wheel, you know it wants to tell you something. It’s brimming with dark imagery and burning questions. It’s intimate. It’s dynamic. From the very first listen, you know it’s a special record deserving of time and attention, a beautiful riddle to be unlocked, a language you recognize but just can’t quite get a handle on. So, you keep listening, taking in the entire statement from beginning to end. After the fifth listen, you might begin to have a handle on the questions Stevenson is asking. After the tenth, you’ll start to realize that there are no answers.

Wheel is, without question, Stevenson’s most rewarding work to date. A Long Island native with a musical bloodline and a unique voice, she churned out two excellent prior LPs under the moniker Laura Stevenson and the Cans. With Wheel, Laura loses the “and the Cans,” inherently emphasizing the personal aspect of what already feels to be a deeply personal record.

Though it is credited only to Laura, it would be unfair (and nearly impossible) to discuss Wheel without touching on the instrumentation. One of the first things you notice about Wheel is its muscle. Probably due in no small part to Kevin McMahon’s production, its dynamics are astonishing. The drums and guitars are huge when the song calls for it, and early-album highlights like “Triangle” and “Runner” flat out rock. Wheel effortlessly reaches the heights that some of Stevenson’s best-loved Sit/Resist songs aimed for. Wheel takes songs like best-pop-tune-of-2011 “Master of Art” or the soaring “The Wait” and uses them as a starting point, sonically expanding them in every direction. The album oozes confidence; it’s the sound of musicians whose chops have been refined by countless shows in nameless college towns, innumerable hours spent in a van on America’s highways. Stevenson and her band deliver tear-stained Americana (the stunning opener “Renee,” the understated “Journey to the Center of the Earth”) and anthemic indie rock (“Runner,” “Telluride”) with incredible ease. Wheel is likely the only album you’ll hear this year that will amass as many comparisons to Patsy Cline as it will to “In Utero.”

The component that binds together Wheel’s sonic range together is, of course, Stevenson’s songwriting. Her lyrical vocabulary is exceptional, matched only by her uniquely memorable melodic vocabulary. Lines from Wheel will swim around in your head for days on end; “the hardest part is getting older;” “we turn over like a wheel;” “you are a speck in a pile of dust / and everything you love will turn into crumbs / so stop worrying;” “and I’ll wait for my mother, supposing she’d bother, to hold me and keep me a while;” “this summer hurts.” The entirely acoustic “The Move” feels direct and intimate, whereas her emotional delivery on “L-DOPA” turns an already great song into an absolute knock-out. She intonates with a tender lilt, her voice softening the blow of each successively devastating line.

Wheel is, rather uniquely, an album without a discernible setting. It does not get bogged down in geography or linear narratives. Instead, it is rewarding and relatable for a different reason on nearly every listen. Naming a record Wheel invites the use of cyclical metaphors when discussing it, but I will only use one: this record is best enjoyed on an endless loop.

CHRISTOPHER OWENS – Lysandre (Fat Possum )

When the Internet originally began buzzing about the disbandment of Girls, nobody seemed particularly concerned about whether or not Christopher Owens would continue to make music. Girls’s second and genuinely great LP, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, seemed to cement the portrait of Owens as a confident and gifted songwriter, and the possibility of him running out of ideas at that point seemed unlikely. The big concern, instead, was how Owens’s tunes would sound without J.R. White (the only other constant member of Girls) producing (or at least co-producing) them.

The release of Owens’s first solo record, Lysandre, should alleviate those concerns. The production is crisp and clean, and the instrumentation is thoroughly well-arranged and well-executed. It also closely resembles, sonically, a lot of the softer shades of Father, Son, Holy Ghost. However, coming on the heels of such a monstrous album, the sub-thirty-minute Lysandre is still a bit of a puzzle for listeners for entirely different reasons.

In interviews, Owens has been very open about the fact that Lysandre is a concept album, chronicling Girls’s first big tour behind their debut Album, and a romantic tryst that began (and ended) in correspondence with that tour. The phrase “concept album” carries quite a bit of weight. We are moved to imagine a sprawling, cathartically epic musical journey in the vein of The Decemberists’s Hazards of Love or Titus Andronicus’s The Monitor, and there isn’t much doubt that Owens could easily stitch together such an album if the mood struck him. Instead, Lysandre is extremely compact, almost a mini-LP, and as such it underwhelms nearly as often as it impresses.

The record opens with “Lysandre’s Theme,” a 40-second flute melody that will (spoiler alert!) appear at the end of nearly every song on the album. The theme itself is lovely, but often the songs that resolve in it (like the bounding “New York City”) feel truncated, as if Owens’s adherence to a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-theme-reprisal form is preventing the song from reaching its potential. Also disruptive is the side two opener and instrumental “Riviera Rock,” which takes the same theme and makes it unfortunately funky—truthfully, the track sounds like a lazy underscore from a cheesy musical.

Like the record as a whole, Owens’s lyrical approach on Lysandre is extremely direct. Sometimes, the result is a bit cringe-inducing (“What if I am just a bad songwriter and everything I say has been said before? / Well everything to say has been said before and that’s not what makes or breaks a song”), but other times it completely hits home (“Walking back down through the city, we stopped everywhere you knew / You said you felt so in love, I said that I felt it too”). Lysandre is at its best when Owens fully embraces the ‘70s singer/songwriter vibe that he danced with occasionally on Father, Son, Holy Ghost. “Here We Go,” the album’s first proper song, is a truly wonderful showcase of all of Owens’s best qualities, especially his voice and some excellent guitar work. The tasteful addition of flute and hushed female vocals also sound great, the latter being perhaps the most welcome new texture on this record. The closing track, “Part of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)” is another of the album’s finest moments; Owens’s frank vocals spread over an almost-twangy musical backdrop to recall Townes Van Zandt at his most bittersweet.

In the end, Lysandre is certainly good, but maybe not great; it doesn’t feel rounded out in all the right places. It is a perplexing record because it commits wholeheartedly to a concept and a feel, yet does not feel musically or thematically complete. It is a promising solo debut, and “promising” would be entirely a positive were we not talking about Christopher Owens.

 


 

Bad Books – Bad Books II (Triple Crown Records)

It seems like there's been a lot of talk of supergroups lately.

It's difficult to begin a review of a collaboration between multiple artists - a (ugh) "supergroup" - without first assessing its success as a collaboration. Do they try so hard to avoid stepping on each other's toes that we hear something that sounds more like an extended split 7-inch than an entirely new band? Will we get Monsters of Folk, where it's painfully obvious that all of the band's members are saving their best songs for their solo projects? Or Middle Brother, where all the songwriters bring their A-game and the end result is a sparkling, cohesive work? It seems to me that the highest praise that a collaboration between two already established artists can get is praise that has most recently been garnered by St. Vincent and David Byrne: you can hear both of them in it, but Love This Giant is no more a direct follow-up to Strange Mercy than it is to Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. It is a true collaboration, and entirely its own entity.

Bad Books II, the (aptly-titled) follow-up to Bad Books' immensely wonderful self-titled debut, finds Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull and singer-songwriter Kevin Devine pulling off something that many "supergroups" never do: A second album. Many collaborations of this nature, regardless of their success, seem destined to only happen once. Bad Books II also passes the "supergroup test" with flying colors: Although it feels like the contemplative younger brother to the towering older siblings of Kevin Devine's melancholy pop opus Between the Concrete & the Clouds and Manchester Orchestra's epically dark Simple Math, it is completely its own album. Despite comprising several members of Manchester Orchestra aside from Hull, as well as drummer Ben Homola (who, if I'm not mistaken, shines just as much on Between the Concrete & the Clouds as he does here), Bad Books really sounds like its own band.

All talk of supergroups aside, II is a wonderful album. It is so good, and so self-sufficient, that it could easily be recommended to someone who is not familiar with the back-catalogues of either Andy Hull or Kevin Devine. The two of them have successfully provided the gateway drug to this album, this band, and all their other bands with the unstoppable lead single "Forest Whitaker." Distorted electronic drums, muted guitars and twisted synths provide the brilliantly understated backdrop to some of the most memorable, direct and darkly funny lyrics on the album ("You found a guy that is clearly the opposite me with a black motorbike / I dicked around but it's just like a movie thats picture is off with the sound"). Devine follows this tune with the effortlessly anthemic "It Never Stops," a song that a lesser band might build their entire career around, before stepping aside and letting Hull take the lead on the sparse, brooding "Pyotr." Sequenced dead center, "Pyotr" serves as the album's emotional core, but the real payoff, as far as I'm concerned, comes much later. Clocking in at less than two-and-a-half minutes and opening with the line "When you're with another man inside another home, do you adopt to the walls?” Hull's fingerpicked "42" takes aim right where it hurts. By the time Devine lends harmonies to a final verse in which "a man loves a drink more than blood," even the most casual listener will find himself completely and utterly emotionally leveled. "42" also kicks off the unbelievable trilogy of songs that closes the record; they gradually bring the band back in for "Lost Creek," a gorgeous meditation on family and childhood, and then Devine takes center stage, bringing us home with the aching waltz of "Ambivalent Peaks."

II works on every level. It sounds like a bunch of guys who know their own strengths as well as the strengths of their bandmates, and they know when to keep it simple and when to amp up the instrumentation. At the end of the day, the term "supergroup" implies a level of showboating that these guys wouldn't dream of; one gets the sense that they're too busy enjoying playing together to even consider it.


 

Jukebox The Ghost – Safe Travels (Yep Roc)

Several years ago, my high school band was on a bill at a local place called Toquet Hall, opening for a few hard-working touring bands. One of the bands was called Jukebox The Ghost. "What's that band? I haven't heard of them," we said, and, going against the gig etiquette I have since adopted, we packed up our gear and went and got some pizza with our four fans.

A year or two later, I went to see Ben Folds with some friends. We came in just as the opening act started their first song. I was impressed with them right away. They lacked a bassist, which is usually a red flag, but they had a remarkably full sound. The drummer was incredible, and the huge-ness of his bass drum and toms more than made up for the hole in their low end. The guitarist and pianist traded off singing lead on songs, each displaying some really ridiculous technical chops on their instruments, all the while smirking and mugging like the Hard Day's Night-era Beatles. Their tunes were stellar. Their harmonies were note-perfect. "What band is this?" I asked aloud. One half of the couple in front of me answered, enthusiastically, "this is Jukebox The Ghost!"

It was then that I realized my horrible mistake.

So, I became a fan. I got their first record, Live and Let Ghosts, immediately, and also got its follow-up, Everything Under the Sun, as soon as it was released. Both albums are wonderful, but both have a rather unique flaw. They feel as if they are trying to be concept albums, but they don't fully succeed as concept albums. The reason for this is the band's two songwriters, Ben Thornewill and Tommy Siegel. Don't get me wrong, both of them are excellent songwriters, and extremely accomplished musicians. When they write, however, they appear to have very different concerns. Ben's songs are almost all about romance: Ex-lovers and lust. Tommy's songs are almost all about the end of the world. Jukebox the Ghost albums, as a result, have two rather disparate conceptual threads that the listener has to follow. Both writers approach their respective subject matters with an appropriately frenzied, youthful vigor, but the listening experience feels distinctly incomplete. Thematically, it sounds as if the two songwriters were so cautious about stepping on each other's toes that the albums are completely and evenly split down the middle.

What sets their new album, Safe Travels, apart, is their departure from these conceptual constraints. It is a collaborative, mature and thoughtful record, fully realized as a concept album, and fully realized as a work of art.

On Safe Travels, Ben Thornewill takes a look at relationships and zooms out. Tommy Siegel, on the other hand, chooses a scope more narrow than the fiery end of days. They meet somewhere melancholy and triumph, both reckoning with loss, love and death in a broad, relatable and utterly danceable way. Conceptually, the album's themes all fit comfortably within the category outlined by the title of the album's sixth track: "Adulthood." Like he did on their previous albums, Ben occasionally addresses an ex-lover, but this time with a distanced sense of calm, as on the album's penultimate barnstormer "Everybody Knows:" "You were never a soldier / You were never a prize / You were never a soul in my eyes / Yeah, you are childhood / Twisted and disguised." Like he has in the past, Tommy tinges his songs with looming death, but now reigns it in and makes it personal: "We all at minimum / Deserve a unique exit from this world /So if you're there God / See to it God / See to it." His concern now is not with the demise of the human race, but with the fate of every single one of its members. On Safe Travels, Jukebox the Ghost has grown up, confidently shaking the synonyms for "charming" and "quirky" that plagued reviews of their earlier work.

I speak hyperbolically about music embarrassingly often, but I assure you that I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best pop album you will hear this year. Comprising a whopping 13 songs, this album is a monster. Only a cursory listen, however, will reveal that not a single song is superfluous. The album opens with four serious contenders for "lead single," each song as wonderful as the next. My personal favorite is "At Last," which combines a killer groove with some awesomely cheesy '70s disco strings and comes out the other end sounding like Dr. John's Gumbo by way of Paul McCartney at his hokiest. Then, by the time we've hit the pre-chorus of the emotional firecracker "Don't Let Me Fall Behind," something becomes clear: this is not a typical Jukebox The Ghost album. This album has an emotional core that far surpasses that of any of their previous works, and also that of the vast majority of the music of their contemporaries.

The band's members still get their moments to shine individually. Ben shows off his powerful voice and mesmerizing piano chops on "Devils On Our Side" before bringing in the band for the equally striking "All for Love." Rather than match Ben's dynamic double-shot, Tommy chooses the quieter side of the coin, contributing "Man in the Moon," a wistfully finger-picked little number that, despite clocking in at just under two minutes, is one of the album's many, many highlights. However, the songwriters also play off one another more now than they ever have before. "Ghosts In Empty Houses," though a Tommy composition, is elevated by Ben's soaring string arrangements. Tommy's "Say When" and "Oh, Emily" can and do easily contend with any of the pop singles that Ben has ever written, due largely in part to Ben's synth parts. Album opener "Somebody," does not sound so much like a Ben Thornewill composition as it does a Jukebox The Ghost song. These guys sound like a band, and their sound as a band is truly remarkable.

It would be a colossal mistake not to mention Jesse at this point in the game. Drummer Jesse Kristin is a powerhouse. On every song you can hear him working tirelessly to prevent the band from ever sounding thin, even for a second. You can hear him inventing parts that make songs at similar tempos sound worlds apart. On the new record, he plays with unparalleled precision. Every kick drum hit is a punch in the gut, every snare hit a crisp and calculated moment of brilliance. The fills during the instrumental portion of "Say When," for example, elevate the song from Huey-Lewis-ripoff to amazing-Huey-Lewis-ripoff. The way he switches the groove around during the first several bars of "Everybody Knows" makes the mid-tempo song feel anything but midtempo. This band and especially this record would not be at all possible without him and his playing.

Also worth mentioning, appropriately, is "The Spiritual," the album's final track. Delivered with a beautiful gospel tinge and featuring a truly heart-wrenching vocal from Thornewill (plus some absolutely perfect harmonies from Tommy), the song resembles nothing if not Jackson Browne or Warren Zevon at his artistic peak. Jukebox The Ghost, despite being a power-pop band through and through, has managed to write the song that artists like Dawes, Blitzen Trapper and Pete Yorn have been trying to write ever since they first heard "I Shall Be Released." "The Spiritual" is wise and aching regret. It is a peaceful reckoning with fate. It is a requiem. Appropriately, for the album that precedes it, it is the best thing this band has yet produced.

I saw Jukebox The Ghost recently, for the first time since that fateful Ben Folds concert, on the very first stop of the Safe Travels Tour. These three guys were totally overwhelmed by the crowd's enthusiasm, and especially amazed that we were already so familiar (and in love with) the material from the new album. The show, like the album, was an exercise in vindication. This album is truly great, and hundreds of screaming, singing and dancing fans served as living proof of exactly that. Jukebox The Ghost has produced a masterpiece of an album, and they know it.

Future of What – Moonstruck (futureofwhat.bandcamp.com)

Moonstruck, the new EP from New York's Future of What, opens with the lyric "I know what this is and I've seen this before." And, at first, that's what many listeners may be thinking. Though "Moonstruck" does fit comfortably into the mellower side of today's indie pop spectrum, the sound that Future of What achieves on this EP has a freshness to it that I haven't heard in a while. Their online bio explains their sound as follows: "[Moonstruck was recorded] without using any electric guitars or cymbals. The songs are keyboard-driven but the record isn’t electropop or anything goofy like that—these are songs with a capital S." For my money, this description is spot on. Though the songs are technically driven by synths, this band carefully avoids many of the traps that the modern moody synth band might fall into. At no point on Moonstruck do the synths create a hazy, muddy wash, and more importantly, at no point on Moonstruck is any instrument, especially the vocals, drenched by lyric-obscuring reverb. Future of What lets their songs breathe, and it works out pretty wonderfully. The end result sounds like Stars (or the mellower side of Metric), with singer Blair's wistful vocals cutting through the mix and lightly tugging at your heartstrings. Though the first two songs are slightly more uptempo and slightly hookier, the band, and Blair in particular, really shine on the latter two songs. Blair (she only goes by her first name), who already generated some buzz with her 2010 album "Die Young," stretches out vocally on the beautiful little ballad "White Light." What follows may very well be the EP's strongest moment, the tired-eyed closing track "Party in Heaven." Propelled by some tastefully syncopated percussion, this song is the sound of a long, hot summer night finally coming to a close. Moonstruck is a lovely little EP, and it’s available for free download on Future of What’s bandcamp page, so there really isn’t any reason not to check it out.

The Marble Vanity – The Marble Vanity (Slow Fizz)

The Marble Vanity's self-titled debut claims to be an homage to "baroque pop" bands of the 1960s, such as the Zombies and The Left Banke. Right from the beginning, this album wears its influences on its sleeve. The opening "Prelude" is laden with vocal harmonies, reverbed guitars, bongos and horns. It gives way to the first song proper, "Autumn Woods," in which the sound of birds chirping and a retro fuzzbox guitar take us to a chorus riddled with handclaps. Later, "I Don't Know Where I End" begins with a fuzzed-out bass that wouldn't be out of place on the Nuggets compilation. Outside of its sonic landscape, however, this album isn't particularly effective. '60s psych-pop is so well-loved because the songs beneath all the interesting soundscapes are catchy and wonderful, but on this record it feels like The Marble Vanity devoted a lot of time to the instrumentation and very little time to the songwriting itself. The forgettable instrumental double-shot of "What Could Go Wrong" and "The Hole is Filling In," for example, might accurately appropriate some off-the-cuff 13th Floor Elevators jam session, but there is very little, melodically, for the listener to hold on to. The Marble Vanity is an extremely listenable album, but it is not particularly memorable. Even when paying homage, any kind of pop album is equal parts arrangement and songwriting; on this record, lackluster songwriting detracts from what are in truth some very cool arrangements.

The Young – Dub Egg (Matador)

The story behind Austin, TX quartet The Young’s Dub Egg is nothing we haven’t heard before: After some extensive touring, the band took its newly-honed sound to a literal cabin in the woods and recorded their sophomore LP in a week’s time. Dub Egg also has a sound that will be familiar to most listeners, fusing the grungier side of Neil Young’s ‘70s output with a sound that most closely resembles Kurt Vile. The album itself, however, sounds entirely fresh. Throughout its course, The Young are careful never to rely too heavily on any one sound. Album opener “Livin’ Free” settles into a groove and simmers there, before giving way to the brief and hooky “Don’t Hustle for Love,” which showcases the band’s musicianship as they experiment with time signatures, throw some killer fuzz on that bass, and tastefully double a few melodies with glockenspiel. The expansive “Dance with the Ramblers” follows, chugging along like The Dream Syndicate before a false ending gives way to an explosive coda. Every aesthetic decision the band makes feels deliberate and measured, and their ability to work with sounds that the listener has heard without ever sounding like they’re retreading old territory is what makes this album compelling. It is varied without being disjointed, and the familiar (like the great fuzzy guitar solo on “Plunging Rollers,” or the “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown”-esque chug of album closer “Talking to Rose”) is complimented by the unfamiliar (the reverb-laden vocals on “Poisoned Hell,” or the intricate instrumentation on “Don’t Hustle for Love”). Dub Egg may allow us to hazard a guess as to what bands the guys in The Young grew up with, but from song to song we really can’t tell what’s going to happen next. The album drips with confidence, and crisp production lets the band shine as accomplished musicians, forging an entirely new sound out of the old.

Boy Things – Equations EP (boythings.bandcamp.com)

In the final seconds of “Sit, Stay, Rollover,” the second track on Boy Things’ new EP "Equations," we find the band shouting, “THERE’S NO HOPE IN JERSEY/I’M A LOSER, SO KILL ME!” The literal shout-chorus is so obviously reminiscent of Boy Things’ fellow Jersey band Titus Andronicus that I’m moved to wonder if it is a sincere homage or rather a carefully aimed jab at the band. The best indie pop, however, is peppered with such ambiguities, be it between tribute and mockery, or, more frequently, between heartbreak and celebration. The title track from "Equations," the new EP from the Hackenstatt band, is indie pop at its finest. Enthusiastically strummed acoustic guitar doubles with a clean electric, layered over spacious, muscular drums and combined with subtle synth to an end that might remind one of the first Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album. A slightly strained but not too strained vocal makes its way through an infectious melody (just see if you won’t be humming “Keep the pace and I don’t want to talk about it/You’re headstrong, you’re headstrong” to yourself after a few listens). These elements combine to toe that exact line that only excellent indie pop bands can toe, landing the track somewhere squarely in between endearing and devastating. The ache continues on “Sit, Stay, Rollover,” in which a male-female back-and-forth and some truly wonderful lyrics (“You’re indifferent or insane/I never thought of you that way/I never thought of you at all”) are hit home by a fantastically simple keyboard hook. The third track is busier and more complicated, musically, but by the end it hits just as hard. At just three songs, "Equations" is extremely concise, but Boy Things use pop music and all its ambiguities to say more about youth in 11 minutes than some bands could say in an hour.

The Spinto Band – The Shy Pursuit (Park the Van)

Though their debut album, Nice and Nicely Done, did not receive a proper release until 2006, Delaware natives The Spinto Band have actually been functioning in some capacity since 1996. This will come as no surprise as anybody who listens to their new album (and third full-length LP as The Spinto Band), The Shy Pursuit. This album shows all the marks of a band that has totally perfected its craft. The lead single “Take It,” may very well be one of the best songs of the year. It is a perfectly crafted pop song at absolutely every level. The drums are impeccably recorded, the bass line is buoyant and hooky, the guitar solo is as memorable as the song itself, and the only thing catchier than the vocal melody during the verses is the vocal melody during the chorus. Harmonically, the song is deceivingly complex; the changes during the verses are far from conventional. What makes the song all the more impressive, however, is just how damn easy the guys in The Spinto Band make it sound. Anyone who has attempted to write a pop song—or, more likely, encountered a particularly bad pop song—knows that it is far from easy. The Shy Pursuit, however, feels totally effortless, a quality that characterizes the recordings of only the most skilled pop songsmiths. No melody feels anything close to forced, yet every song is totally successful. Album opener “Cookie Falls” is perhaps comparable to Belle & Sebastian at their best, while the infectious bop of “Muesli” and the sparse instrumentation of “Leave Yourself Alone” will appeal to even the most casual fan of Vampire Weekend. Another highlight is “Jackhammer,” which sounds something like Chutes Too Narrow-era Shins and features some truly soaring guitar work. Honestly, lovers of indie pop will find very little not to love in this album. From its first note to its last, The Shy Pursuit is the sound of a band on the top of its game.


 

 


JerseyBeat.com is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.


 
 
Loading
Jersey Beat Podcast
 
 


Home | Contact Jersey Beat | Sitemap

©2010 Jersey Beat & Not a Mongo Multimedia

Music Fanzine - Jersey Beat