Many were introduced to Animal Collective through a couple of features on NPR radio this past winter, and the buzz that has built up around their latest album Merriweather Post Pavillion has been great to experience. Some are calling it the album of the century or at the very least, album of the year. What’s all the fuss about? On a basic level, the band makes music that is just strikingly unusual. Uncompromising. Hearing them, you get the strong impression that they inhabit a musical world entirely their own, and nobody is ever going to tell them what to do. You could get all philosophical and say they’re doing with music what directors like Tarantino, Lynch, Nolan and Gilliam do on film, but perhaps it’s more fun just to open up your ears to AC’s sonic carnival. Taking stage names Avey Tare, The Geologist, Panda Bear and Deakin, Animal Collective packed in more ideas, styles and directions over the course of eight albums than most bands ever manage in their lifetimes. Merriweather Post Pavillion is their ninth and it is far more electronic than its predecessors. Loops and samples abound, punctuated by beats from an enormous palate of percussive sounds, often with odd or unfamiliar timing. Keyboards sparkle and reverberate, pushing you up to breathtaking heights, especially on the two openers, “In The Flowers” and “My Girls”. The jaunty “Summertime Clothes” recalls a romantic and joyful humid summer evening, fun and inviting even with the shirt permanently stuck to your back. “Brother Sport” with its frenetic energy may leave you tapping you toes and grinning wildly to a lively mariachi-inspired rhythm and melody. The density of styles and sounds on this album may leave you overwhelmed. But in a good way. A very good way. Once you’ve assimilated it you can work your way back chronologically, starting with the equally amazing Strawberry Jam. 5/5
Archive for May, 2009
Iron and Wine’s Creek Drank The Cradle (2002) is one of those albums that you go back to time and time again on a rainy day. Iron and Wine is basically comprised of one person, Sam Beam. Beam’s songs are personal and sincere with lyrics well thought out and developed. Much like Elliot Smith’s solo acoustic work, Beam’s songs are lonely, gentle, and times very meloncholy. Beam does an excellent job of creating a unique sound that brings a nice fresh feel to the alternative-folk genre and his popularity has grown as a result. This particular album is nothing short of genius and there are no songs that are weaker than others. Highlights that I suggest on this album are “Bird Stealing Bread”, “Upward Over the Mountain”, and “Weary Memory”. I’m sure a few listens and you will discover your favorites in no time. Iron and Wine has released several albums after The Creek Drank the Cradle and you will hear some new directions that Beam pursued, however, I feel that you will drawn back to this album time after time. If you like this album you should check out Our Endless Numbered Days and Woman King since both albums compliment each other in numerous ways.
The Creek Drank the Cradle gets a 5 out of 5.
Imagine a little girl in a technicolor field having a grand old time flying a kite in a purple sky. On closer inspection, however, you realize it’s not a kite, but a TV set. Hmmm, what on earth does this mean? Is the CD artwork an ironic statement on today’s video game obsessed youth, or is it merely an observation that the electronic age has brought us loads and loads of fun, including, in the present case of Shallow, some truly rambunctious and festive music? Well, I seem to have provided the answer there as to what this album is all about, so let’s go run barefoot through this field. First there’s the voice. Julie Shields is from the school of Allison Shaw (Cranes) and Virginia Astley-like little girl vocals. I mean, Julie could be 10 years old for all I know, if it weren’t for the press photos, and I know it rubs some people the wrong way. But if you know me, you know I can’t get enough of Ms. Astley and her sweet, lilting style, so Shallow is a welcome addition. After receiving their previous releases with merely lukewarm enthusiasm, I was delighted to see such growth on this album. A number of tracks are just plain classic: “Missle Command” frolics like there is no tomorrow, and “Straight Away” sing-songs its way into the pleasure center of your brain in a very kid-like manner. Lots of frills and an unusual repetitive rumble keeping time in the background provide some of the more charming and quirky elements infusing the album. The periodic explosions of heavy jamming in “Light Saber and the Video Game God” are delightfully brisk and unexpected. Saving the best for last, though, they give us “King of the Wide Eyed Girls” which is full of little noise fills and eerily laced with guitar/keyboard sirens, sort of a marriage of The Swirlies’ “Sunn” and Disco Inferno’s “Footprints In Snow.” Shallow really developed into something here on their third release. They did one more, the hard to find Jumping Away From Something Exploding, before calling it a day. 4 – waterviola
Sean O’Hagan and company bounce back with an album which, while not the equal of Hawaii, is very pleasing, pleasant and of the same groove as past efforts. In some ways, not much has changed. The same easy listening, lounge sound of laying back to catch some rays with a cold drink in your hands, sharp melodies that say “hey you, take a load off, you’ve had a long hard day, and you deserve some rest.” There is one big difference, though: a thorough infusion with all manner of chirpy, burbling, mumbling and staccato electronic noises. They’re so pervasive that they never, ever go away completely. I think some of the string orchestration from Hawaii was lost in favor of more artificial sounds, and while this might be off-putting at first, the electronica eventually comes to be realized as the album’s concept and the element that holds it together. Bouncy, perhaps. Bubbling is more like it, as in the frothy “Jazzed Carpenter” which does for electronic samples what drum-n-bass did for percussion, as in turn up the beats-per-minute knob as far as it can possibly go. “Show Stop Hip Hop” can’t make up its mind what it wants to be: a reggae number, a children’s nursery rhyme sing-along, or a disco dance tune! Actually come to think of it, the strongly pointed melodies, “singing-ness”, and all the quirky sounds in the background could make this a great kids’ album. But grown-ups love it too. See this grin on my face? 4 – waterviola
You have nothing to do. You’re not really bored, you just have that pleasant feeling of all the chores being done, the apartment’s clean, the laundry’s hanging to dry, the plants are watered and the air conditioner is nicely cooling down the room on the year’s hottest day. You have nothing you have to do. Hawaii comes on and wants to play. It too has nothing to do and the two of you are fast becoming best friends. Where have you been all my life? No matter, let’s have a grand old romp. With all the taglines of a true masterpiece, The High Llamas’ third album writes the owner’s manual on glistening, classy and sophisticated music. The listening is easy and oh so soothing with incredible moments of instrumentation taking in strings, horns, electric xylophone and keyboards. With stunning attention to composition, chord and key changes, Sean O’Hagan became a truly gifted songwriter and composer with this album. And how refreshing it is! With grunge having long ago run its course, how fantastic it is to hear something that, dare I say, has some melody? Lilts a little bit? Isn’t afraid to be dismissed as retro cheeseball, feelgood shite? Of course the roots of this kind of thing sprouted up with the the indie kids’ lounge music revival a while back, taking their cues from Esquivel and more modern acts such as The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group and Stereolab, who now and then turn out a pop gem when they’re not trying to bug the heck out of you with their repetitive riff-droning. Are there bound to be other High Llamas following in the footsteps of Brian Wilson and the Beatles who mine more from the good feelings of the 60’s-70’s and classical music than the drugged, abrasive, grooves of acid rock, Hendrix and the Stones? I sure hope so! To focus on particular tracks doesn’t work since this album is a cohesive whole from start to finish, with many an instrumental interlude leading from song to song, which blend into each other. Enjoy the bright sun, have some ice-cold lemonade in a tall, frosty glass, take your shoes off, dangle your toes in the grass and settle in for a long afternoon of having nothing to do. Go ahead and sit out there well into twilight. Come on! It’s a long album. Nice isn’t it? 5 – waterviola
I found this to be a decent free web radio station direct from London. The y tend to play more indie based bands and actually do take requests…and play them to the best of their abilities. Oh yeah…and it’s commercial free which is very nice indeed. Check them out, click the link and give us some feedback on what you think.
Elliott Smith’s album “XO” (1998) is a continuation of a string of prior albums that really reflected how talented this artist was and how versitile his songwriting could actually be; he would release two more albums “Figure 8” (2000) and a posthumous release “Basement on The Hill” (2004). Elliot Smith committed suicide in late 2003, it was a shock to the indie music world. “XO” offers at times a Dylanesque quality of soft melodies that feel more like a personal conversation rather than an overly produced, multi layered studio project. Unbeknownst to many, Elliott often played every instrument on his albums and hired musicians for his tours.
However, “XO” does offer moments of crisp and clean produced songs that allow this album to evolve from some of his prior work such as “Either/Or” (1997), self-titled “Elliott Smith” (1995) and “Roman Candle” (1994). These prior albums, with perhaps exception to “Either/Or”, are more basic in their sound and the songwriting, although significant in their own right and worth a listen for sure. What “XO ” provides is the transition and framework for his later releases that carry songs that are more structured and refined. What makes Elliott Smith albums so interesting is that even though he used the same formula for his sound, each album is progressive and experimental, never a dull moment. Also, Elliott Smith was in an indie rock band for years called “Heatmiser” that was relatively successful for a few years, his solo work sharply contrasts with his past efforts.
It’s sad that we do not have Elliott with us any longer, many of us are so curious about what other directions he could have taken his music. Luckily he did leave us with some wonderful music and a plethora of unreleased music now hitting the market.
“XO” is a must for any music lover and this album gets a 5 out of 5.