It’s June and high time I let you know what awesome albums I’ve been listening to so far this year. There’s a soundcloud thingy featuring some of these artists streaming after jump.
Akron/Family – Sub Verses (Dead Oceans – DOC078)
These guys continue to grow and put out compelling records. If you caught them on tour this spring you heard much looser versions of this tightly arranged record that still manages to sound like it could fly apart at the seams on some of the wilder cuts. This is a dynamic trio that is constantly pulling in three directions. That tension and diversity makes for a fascinating tug-of-war that makes for a compelling listen.
Alex Bleeker and the Freaks (Woodsist – 068)
Jangly pop hooks blended with folk, psych, long gone indie sounds, and earnest lyrics make this one of my favorites for the year (so far.) Bleeker has stepped away from Real Estate to deliver an album that sounds nothing like his day job.
White Fence – Cyclops Reap (Castle Face – CF-019)
More White Fence! Tim Presley seems to be on a mission to release as many albums as is humanly possible (Pretty sure Ty Segall is going to take that title.) Here we have another collection of self-recorded garage psych-pop songs that fit neatly in the Barrett/Kinks/Nuggets crossroads. If you like bent guitars, tape warble, unpredictable but undeniable hooks, you need this record. Continue reading →
Spring has sprung and that’s as good a reason as any to offer to my readers & friends a mix of some of the music that I’ve been jamming lately.
Woods – Skull – 2011 Summer Tour Split 7″ (Woodsist 2011) The Cosmic Dead – The Spaceman – Psychonaut (self-released 2011) David Bromberg – Diamond Lil – Demon In Disguise (Columbia 1972) Matt Valentine – Hit The Trails – What I Became (Woodsist 2011) Megafaun – These Words – Megafaun (Hometapes 2011) Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence – Little Hands – Oar (Columbia 1969) John Hartford – Back In The Goodle Days – Aereo-plain (Warner Brothers 1971) Flaming Lips with Neon Indian – Is David Bowie Dying? – s/t (EP) (Warner Brothers/Lovely Sorts Of Death 2011) Woodsman – Inside Outside – Rare Forms (Lefse/Firetalk 2011) Brian Eno – St. Elmo’s Fire – Another Green World (Island 1975) Akron/Family – Sun Will Shine – Set Em Wild Set Em Free (Dead Oceans 2009)
It’s been a while, but I guess it’s time I got off my ass and de-mothballed this site and started posting again. What can I say? My blogging-self likes to hibernate. Actually, that’s a bunch of bullshit. I’m just a lazy writer. I’m not, however a lazy listener. I have been rocking a ton of great new (or new-to-me) music in the past couple months and I thought I’d kick off 2011 (little late!) with some quick and dirty reviews of some of the highlights of 2011 so far.
The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
With a splash of harmonica, The Decemberists open their latest effort, The King is Dead, and leave behind the prog tinged epics of recent years. I was worried about this group. After their explorations of heavy prog and album-spanning epic tales it seemed possible that they had painted themselves into a corner. Where does a group go from there? Do they dare to write an even better concept album? Expectations can be the ruination of a band.
Not to be daunted, The Decemberists took their time and, this time out, they’ve delivered American folk-rock at its finest. The King Is Dead is a collection of four-minute songs that tell of our lives and the world around with jangling guitars, infectious beats and, yes, Colin Meloy’s penchant for English-Major vocabulary words. While there is no single story or evident concept holding these songs together, they cohere beautifully in what make for a delightful listen. Songs of love, songs of war, and even songs about gardening (sounds lame when I say it that way but it’s cool), weave together with steel guitar, harmony vocals, and just enough rock and roll to make me want to leap from my seat.
If you’ve ever liked The Decemberists, seek out this record.
Akron/Family – ST II: The Cosmic Birth And Journey of Shinju TNT
When I saw these guys last year, it was clear that they were well past the “freak-folk” genre that I and others had saddled them with back in the Love Is Simple days. Extended explorations of noise ripped through the room and demolished preconceptions. Yes, they can do quiet meditations (and still do) but this band had a direction that it felt compelled to follow. After that tour, the group set to recording what would become Shinju TNT and struck a balance between noise and melody. Like a wrangler breaking a wild mustang, they have tempered the wild abandon, corralled it, and given it purpose and direction.
Each of these songs detail movement and/or destination with lyrics evoking the both metaphysical and the concrete taking the listener along on an amazing journey that spans four sides of vinyl. And so, we find ourselves moving from the dreamscapes of “Island” to the raw, rock riffs of “So It Goes” (a nod to Vonnegut) to the rapid fire, noisy, guitar licks of “Another Sky” to the soaring beauty of “Canopy”. The heavily layered progression of “Light Emerges” reminds me a bit of Animal Collective in a sort of intangible way but it’s followed by the pastoral harmonies of “Cast A Net” that could only be Akron/Family. It’s this many-headed-beast nature that defines Akron/Family as a leading voice in modern, psychedelic, music and this voice that makes Shinju TNT one of my favorite albums in some time.
“Bloom” opens the album with a synth space and off-kilter drum beat that take me right back (in my twisted mind) to where In Rainbows left off. The track builds, layering elements until Thom Yorke’s languid vocal oozes from the speakers. With that, Radiohead is back.
Out of nowhere, we got word that Radiohead would be releasing a new album. Pre-order now, get digital on the weekend and vinyl in a month or two… Sounds good to me. How could I not bite on that offer? I jumped a day later and a couple days after that we all had our digital copies and last.fm seemed to think there was only one band in the digital world for a day or two. It was nearly true. As with any Radiohead release, The King Of Limbs will probably take months to fully digest and longer to grok if such a thing is even possible but I felt compelled to include it here because I can’t stop going back to it.
Don’t mistake my opening sentence; this is no continuation of In Rainbows. It inhabits a darker, almost creepy space. When you hear the hand claps in “Lotus Flower” it’s striking to hear such an terrestrial noise within this realm. This space that they create feels familiar, though. It is undeniably Radiohead music and some will mark that down as a negative, saying that they’re not moving forward, but I find myself compelled to listen as they explore their own sound- pushing out new corners in that vast world of theirs.
Holy crap! How’d I forget to add this to last night’s update?
We got word yesterday via various sources that one of my favorite psyche/folk/rock bands has turned in their new album and it looks to be a slice of awesome. Don’t expect any sort of journalistic objectivity as I anticipate this record; after seeing them again in September I’m flat-out giddy to see this news. Here’s the press release from their label, Dead Oceans:
Finally, after over a month of unanswered emails and text messages, blown deadlines, and pleas to finish and turn in their new album, last week, a large brown cardboard box showed up at the Dead Oceans doorstep. It had “SHINJU TNT” scrawled across the bottom of the box in black magic marker, and the return address read only “AK, Detroit.”
Opening it revealed a sincere but poorly made diorama of futurist swirling spaces filled with toy astronauts and dinosaurs, four blown out song fragments on a TDK CDR in a ziplock bag, three pictures, a track list written in crayon, and a typewritten note from Akron/Family. A post-it on the bag declared that the band refused to send the full album to anyone but the vinyl pressing plant, for fear of leaking and possible lost revenues.
From the note and a short video that arrived days later, we’ve pieced together that the album was written in a cabin built into the side of Mount Meakan, an active volcano in Akan National Park, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. It was recorded in an abandoned train station in Detroit with the blackest white dude we all know, Chris Koltay (Liars, Women, Deerhunter, Holy Fuck, No Age). Chris, on tour after finishing the record, commented: “This album will transcend the Internet.”
Akron/Family spent the end of 2009 and half of 2010 exploring the future of sound through Bent Acid Punk Diamond fuzz and Underground Japanese noise cassettes, lower case micro tone poems and emotional Cagean field recordings, rebuilding electronic drums from the ’70s and playing them with sticks they carved themselves. Upon miraculous resuscitation of the original AKAK hard drive, the album layers thousands of minute imperceptible samples of their first recordings with fuzzed-out representations of their present beings to induce pleasant emotional feeling states and many momentary transcendent inspirations.
This album is titled S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT. We have no idea what that means. These are the beginnings, hell or high water you’ll find S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT in stores in the U.S. on February 8, and March 14 in the U.K.
And here are both the track listing and the aforementioned video:
01. Silly Bears
03. A AAA O A WAY
04. So It Goes
05. Another Sky
06. Light Emerges
07. Cast a Net
08. Tatsuya Neon Purple Walkby
09. Fuji I (Global Dub)
10. Say What You Want To
11. Fuji II (Single Pane)
Shortly after the release of their 2007 release, Love Is Simple, Akron/Family faced the amicable departure of a founding band member, which, for a four-piece band whose music features striking bouts of improvisation, could have been the end of the group. However, after tours that incorporated Megafaun and Greg Davis (both as openers and onstage with Akron/Family), the remaining trio slipped into the studio to record their followup release, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. In doing so, they have concocted another bold work of psychedelic freak-folk that is a treat for fans everywhere.
Opener, “Everyone Is Guilty”, picks up where the last record left off, opening with an afrobeat groove, chant-like vocals and a swirl of keys and strings, and charging guitars. I’d swear one of the breaks could be from a YES album except that YES albums never had looseness of the band. “The River” sounds very much as if it could have been on the previous album (which, if you’ve read my review, you’ll know that to be a high compliment.)
“Creatures” strikes, at first, as more of a departure, sounding a bit like a stripped down Animal Collective number but it is followed directly by the straight acoustic guitar/vocal dreamscape of “The Alps & Their Orange Evergreen”.
“Set ‘Em Free”, whose lyrics lend the album its name, is simply a gorgeous cascade of acoustic and steel guitars backing a simple vocal. This leads to the ragged horns of the intro to the album’s longest number, “Gravelly Mountains Of The Moon”. This one evokes the abandon of the group’s live shows with wild electric guitars manic drums and vocals. This might be the true test. If you put on this album and are willing to listen beyond this song, you may be a true fan.
Once you’ve passed the test, you’re set enjoy the pleasant melodies and harmonies of “Many Ghosts” and the ripping, instrumental, power-trio attack of “MBF” (complete with appropriate screams and laser chaos noises.)
From the wreckage of “MBF”, comes the slow chanting intro of “They Will Appear” which breaks into an exuberant, galloping, climax.
“Sun Will Shine” follows with a simple, repeated lyric, “Sun will shine but I won’t hide” that is carried by an almost gospel tinged positivity before lifting into more typical stratospheric terrain and finding itself in the midst of a drunken Salvation Army rendition of Auld Lang Syne. This followed by a single piano accompanying the groups vocal harmonies on the brief, slightly sad yet optimistic number, “Last Year”.
Ending an album on a “downbeat” song is, I suppose, a risk for some bands but Akron/Family clearly is not “some bands”. Both live and via LP they set out to lead you on a journey from here, to who-knows-where and back again and this record accomplishes the mission beautifully. By all means, pick it up and go see them live.