52 Albums: Week 16
Eternal Summers — The Dawn of Eternal Summers
Eternal Summers describe their music as “Dream Punk” and it’s an appropriate label in that their music combines dream pop with lo-fi indie punk influences.
The Dawn of Eternal Summers is apparently a release of early recordings in anticipation of their second full length album due out in June. Be that as it may, it’s a full length collection that I’ve been listening to all week so, for the purposes of this blog, I’m considering it a new release album.
As a rule, Dream Pop rarely captures my attention for very long but it’s perfect as background music while working. Fans of the genre, however, will find a lot to love on this album which is solid throughout. I would also recommend the track “Able To” to pretty much anyone as it’s one of the better songs I’ve heard all year:
I give the album three and a half stars based on my personal taste but it deserves more so be sure to check it out if you like the track above. I’m looking forward to checking out their new album in June.
Listen to The Dawn of Eternal Summers on Spotify.
52 Albums: Week 15
Spiritualized — Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Sweet Heart Light Heart is a sweeping album, successfully blending Shoegaze, Britpop, Rock-Gospel, Blues and large scale orchestral arrangements into a grand, cohesive whole. Spiritualized has been around since the early 90’s and while Sweet Heart Light Heart draws on some of the groups earlier sounds, the efforts are focused by singer/guitarist Jason Pierce’s near death experiences and medical treatment while writing and mixing the album.
The album’s highlights are among the best songs I’ve heard all year. Take the track ‘Mary’ for example:
The song starts out in a Slowcore, Dreampop vein reminiscent of Low but, over the course of six minutes, it builds into something entirely epic featuring strings, noisy, angular guitars and horns. This ambition and richness of sound is present throughout Sweet Heart Sweet Light. The album’s best song is “Sweet Jane” and, if you have ten minutes to spare, I highly recommend director AG Rojas’ excellent, long-form video. (Elements of the video are NSFW.)
Good as this album is, ambient, shoe-gazy music sometimes tries my patience and the album sags a little bit from time to time. I give Sweet Heart Sweet Light four stars out of five. It will be interesting to see if it sticks around in my rotation long enough to make my year-end top ten albums or if those duller songs turn me off enough over time to drive me away from the album.
Listen to Sweet Heart Sweet Light on Spotify.
52 Albums: Week 14
Jack White -- Blunderbuss
Jack White’s first full-length solo-album, Blunderbuss, is mostly deserving of the considerable buzz it is generating.
Freed from the expectations of The White Stripes, Blunderbuss gives Jack White the leeway to further explore his particular brand of bluesy punk in. White takes full advantage of this freedom — Blunderbuss is bursting at the seams with creativity and masterfully pulls together sounds that have only been hinted at in his previous work. The whole thing is pulled off with a confidence and control that ties everything together into a coherent whole.
The songs on the album that work are great on a visceral level and I want to love Blunderbuss but, unfortunately, the filler on this album leaves me mostly cold. This is, of course, a matter of personal taste — None of these songs are bad but some of them just aren’t my bag. Nevertheless, the legitimately great songs on this album keep me coming back for more and, in a year that’s been fraught with musical disappointments, Blunderbuss is currently sitting in my top five.
In looking for a song to highlight for this review I am tempted to go with the album’s first single, “Love Interruption.” It’s a phenomenal song and utterly original but it’s gotten a fair amount of exposure so instead I will go with the album’s closer, “Take Me with You when You Go,” a song which really captures the range of sounds White manages to blend on this album:
Shades of The Sweet or Electric Six towards the end there. (Which gives me a good idea for this week’s Album Recommendation.)
Blunderbuss deserves four stars out of five but I’m going to give it three and a half stars, based entirely on my personal tastes. I love half of the songs but the other half does nothing for me and that holds me back from enthusiastically endorsing the album as a whole.
Listen to Blunderbuss on Spotify.
52 Albums: Week 13
The Carolina Chocolate Drops -- Leaving Eden
The Carolina Chocolate Drops is a four-person string band playing a combination of original songs and traditional folk and bluegrass music from the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina. The live, improvisational nature of this sort of music lends itself well to updating for modern audiences and the individual band members are all highly skilled musicians, equal to the task.
I was actually turned onto the Carolina Chocolate Drops by The Hunger Games soundtrack which features an excellent original song by them. Their new album Leaving Eden, features both original songs and fantastic, energetic updates of traditional songs.
I actually want to feature two songs in this week’s review to give a sense of the breadth of their talent. First up is a cover of Cousin Emmy’s “Ruby Are You Mad At Your Man?”
This fantastic, foot-stomping energy is all over the album which would be good enough in it’s own right but The Carolina Chocolate Drops are also capable of shifting gears and dropping original gems of pastoral beauty like the title track, “Leaving Eden”:
Leaving Eden blends these diverse sounds seamlessly and the result is a well-balanced album with a real sense of place that is at once true to its traditional roots and relevant to contemporary audiences. If you enjoyed the tracks above I can highly recommend the album as a whole. Four stars out of five.
Listen to Leaving Eden on Spotify.
52 Albums: Week 12
Of Monsters and Men -- My Head Is an Animal
One of my favorite albums of 2011 just had it’s US release so I get to count it toward my 52 Albums effort!
My Head Is an Animal is the debut album from Icelandic indie-folk band Of Monsters and Men. If that sentence makes you want to slit your wrists, things are about to get worse as I tell you that Of Monsters and Men are kind of like a twee version of Mumford and Sons. I’m going to let Hipster Dog field this one:
It’s true though — I ordered Sign No More as an import. And, while my revulsion for all things twee made me initially resistant to the charms of My Head Is An Animal, the album quickly wore down my resistance. If all of this makes me a hipster, I will take my hipster lumps with pleasure.
My Head Is an Animal is not quite as good as Mumford and Son’s Sigh No More — few albums are — but it does have a similar energy and hooks galore. Check out the first single from the album, “Little Talks:”
The US release of My Head Is an Animal switches up the order of songs from the original release and adds two new tracks. Of the two, “Mountain Sound” is a great addition while “Slow and Steady” feels more like filler, which is a shame as the original release had no filler. “Slow and Steady” aside, this album is solid from the first track to the last and I have no problem giving it four and a half stars out of five.
Listen to My Head Is an Animal on Spotify.
52 Albums: Week 11
The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12
The Hunger Games soundtrack is a pleasant surprise for fans of Indie-folk and Country music.
Say, have you checked out this sound track from The Hunger Games? The lineup is bananas, featuring songs from The Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, Neko Case, The Low Anthem, Taylor Swift, The Civil Wars and others. The artists are well chosen — District 12 is coal country and the songs are steeped in Americana.
Given the subject matter, it is inevitable that the album is somewhat over-burdened by mournful laments but more up tempo tracks from Kid Cudi, The Decemberists and Glen Hansard keep it from becoming too much of a slog. As with any compilation of this sort, there are a couple of duds, (Maroon 5, I’m looking at you), but the majority of the tracks range from good to great. Particularly strong are the contributions from Neko Case, Taylor Swift and The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Here’s Taylor Swift, collaborating with The Civil Wars:
If you are a fan of the featured artists, or Americana, or The Hunger Games (“The Daughter’s Lament” should be bundled with future editions of the book), this soundtrack is highly recommended. I give it four stars out of five.
Listen to The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 on Spotify.
52 Albums: Week 10
White Rabbits -- Milk Famous
White Rabbits continue to put their own spin on Spoon’s sound.
White Rabbits is a curious band for me. All of their albums are good but none of them ever make it into my rotation. This is particularly surprising as they sound a hell of a lot like one of my favorite bands, Spoon.
The similarity in sound is neither coincidence nor deliberate imitation. White Rabbits described their first album, Fort Nightly, as “honky tonk calypso” which was, on some levels, selling the album’s diverse influences short. It was a mad, hodgepodge of an album. Among the band’s many influences was Houston based indie rockers Spoon. White Rabbits’ second album, It’s Frightening, was actually produced by Spoon’s Britt Daniels and some felt he was perhaps too successful in reining in the debut album’s excesses. The result was an sound that could uncharitably be referred to as Spoon-lite.
Milk Famous also has a Spoon connection. This time, the album is produced by long-time Spoon producer Mike McCarthy. McCarthy has helped the band reclaim some of their own sound but the Spoon influence is still unmistakable. Distorted guitars and driving percussion abound as does the use of space and silence to shape the songs. The album’s opening track, Heavy Metal, might best illustrate this but I’m going with my favorite track off the album here, Danny Come Inside:
On paper, this album should be an instant favorite for me but, as with past White Rabbits albums, the hooks aren’t quite hooking me yet. Don’t get me wrong — This is a good album. I’m just not sure yet if it’s good enough to work its way into my rotation. For now I’m giving this one three and half stars out of five but this is another one I can see growing on me so I’ll be sure to revisit it at a later date.
Listen to Milk Famous on Spotify.