Wolf Parade’s debut album, Apologies To The Queen Mary, generated massive amounts of well deserved buzz when it was released in 2005, so I am always surprised by the lack attention their two, equally excellent, followup albums received. I count all three albums among my favorites but, as this is an album recommendation, not a band recommendation I’m going to go with their most recent album, Expo ’86.
All three albums feature Wolf Parades distinctive sound — Ubiquitous keyboards, distorted guitar, cerebral composition and lyrics, and hooks galore. 2010’s Expo ’86 found the band returning to a more immediate, heavier aesthetic after their somewhat more measured sophomore album, At Mount Zoomer. Check out my favorite track off the album, “Pobody’s Nerfect:”
If you’re a fan of indie-rock, this album deserves a place in your collection and, if you loved the first Wolf Parade album but never bothered to check out their subsequent releases, now if the time to correct that oversight.
Listen to Expo ’86 on Spotify.
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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.
Given that this has been a disappointing year for music so far, and given that I’m almost caught up on my backlog of book reviews, I figured I would make album recommendations a regular feature of the blog. These recommendations will represent albums released prior to 2012 that are excellent from the first track to the last.
First up is Dinosaur Jr.’s 2009 album, Farm. When Dinosaur Jr. reunited in 2007, after a decade apart, they released Beyond, their best album since 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me. Two years later, they released Farm, an even better album.
While J Mascis’s solo career between 1997 and 2007 was often marked by self-indulgence and pointless noodling, the Dinosaur Jr reunion seemed to focus his efforts. While Farm has its share of ear-shredding licks and mad guitar solos, they are in the service of well-crafted, hook-laden songs. The fourth track on the album, ‘Plans,’ illustrates this balance nicely:
Listen to Farm on Spotify.
Posted in music
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.
52 Albums: Week 9
Delta Spirit -- Delta Spirit
The new album by Delta Spirit represents a continued evolution for the band and the resulting sound is good on a visceral level.
Despite the eponymous title, this is Delta Spirit’s third full length album. In the past, Delta Spirit has been, perhaps unfairly, identified primarily as roots rock or alt-folk, this despite that fact that co–founders Jon Jameson and Brandon Young have their roots in post-punk. Delta Spirit’s second album, History From Below, sought to further merge those diverse influencess and, with their latest album, I think the evolution is finally complete. This self-titled album is the sound that Delta Spirit has been seeking all along and it is fantastic.
Listen to Money Saves, for example:
Matt Vasquez’s vocals have that folksy twang reminiscent of an M Ward or Jay Farrar but the new wave/post punk influence is unmistakable. The angular guitars and primitive drums tie it all together and bring it home. Delta Spirit has had soul all along but on this, their third album, they have found energy as well.
This is one of my favorite albums released so far this year, ranking only slightly behind Andrew Bird’s Break It Yourself. I give it four and a half stars, though it is growing in my esteem daily so I won’t be surprised if this ends the year as a five star album.
Listen to Delta Spirit on Spotify.
52 Albums: Week 8
fun. -- Some Nights
Some Nights, the sophomore album by fun. lives up to the band’s name but does not hold up to repeated listens.
Last week I discussed how the latest albums by Lambchop and Shearwater flirt with ambitious disaster and how there is a fine line between brilliance and crap. At first blush, Some Nights seems to successfully walk that line but it’s a terrifying high-wire act. “This should not work,” you think to yourself. Some Nights is an over-produced mess of an album, rife with stolen melodies, trite lyrics and an awful abundance of auto-tune. And yet, the sheer energy of the proceedings are enough to overcome all of these flaws, at least initially.
The guilty pleasure wears thin quickly however. The more one listens to Some Nights, the more the flaws start to grate. Once the novelty wears off you realize that none of it works after all.
I had to think a little bit about which song to include as part of this review. We Are Young is the song that sucked me into this mess and it’s got an excellent video featuring Janelle Monae. One Foot is one of the better songs on the album but, several of the flaws I’ve discussed are evident, cornball lyrics most particularly. In the end, however, I have to go with the title track, a song that illustrates all that is great and all that is terrible about the album:
Here are the swelling vocals and anthemic harmonies that are so reminiscent of Queen. Here’s a fantastic beat with snarling guitars sneaking in just long enough to make us think that maybe we’re listening to rock. (We’re not.) But here too are spoken lyrics so embarrassingly corny they make you wince. And here is auto-tune run a muck.
I’m a big defender of Pop Music. My iPod is chock full of artists like Janelle Monae, Taylor Swift, P!nk and Rhiana. And if Dr Luke wrote it, I’m there. A great pop song taps into something universal and captures an energy that is hard to resist. At first blush, Some Nights is a great work of pop art. But great pop music stands the test of time and, in this regard, Some Nights is all glitz with no substance. I give the album three and a half stars — It’s a guilty pleasure that quickly wears thin.
Listen to Some Nights on Spotify.