Franz Ferdinand: Blood (Domino)

Originally released in the U.K. with the special-edition of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, Blood is being released in the US. as an album of dub remixes by producer Dan Carey.

“Die on the Floor,” the remix of “Can’t Stop Feeling,” opens with vocals under a heavy dose of reverb and hollow percussion, which infuses a new sense of rhythm. Carey creates a greater sense of space with an extended coda, which seems on the verge of overloading into acid house. “Feel the Envy” draws out the reggae influence already present in its original counterpart, “Send Him Away.” “If I can’t Have You Then Nobody Can” (aka “Turn It On”) is the most unrecognizable as virtually every element from the original is processed or transferred altogether.

For the most part, Carey’s remixes extract the reggae and dub influences that went into Tonight in ways that are simultaneously revelatory and inevitable. At certain points, however, it seems as though he doesn’t go far enough. By the end of “Be Afraid” (“Dream Again”) it feels more like a demo version than a remix. “The Vaguest of Feeling” offers little added excitement to the already danceable “Live Alone.” And that’s perhaps the biggest challenge in remixing an album as kinetically charged as Tonight: swapping out one dance-driven approach for another while maintaining and creating interest. Still, the album only falls short here and there.

Source: Under the Radar Magazine, Issue 27

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stellastarr*: Civilized (Bloated Wife)

NYC-based stellastarr*’s third effort, Civilized, is an intricate fashioning of middle-of-the-road melodic layerings and affected vocals. This is not to say, of course, that the album is terrible, but rather that it seems to consistently find itself suck in motion instead of development. The instruments are all ambitious—vocals included—but never quite break out of fairly predictable patterns.

One of the most distinct and steady attributes of stellastarr* is Amanda Tannen’s thumping basslines. Reminiscent of Pixies’ Kim Deal, Tannen’s focused and present bass takes equal time with melodic tendencies and harmonic grounding. Although it’s hard to find good melodic bass, here it only serves to add to the confusion.

The band is consistently tripping itself up by trying to fill up too much space. All of the instruments seem to be competing with one another rather than working toward unity. This is certainly an aesthetic choice for the band, but in this incarnation, it distracts more than it drives.

Tannen’s bass tends to have most energy in the mid-range, and, since the guitars are heavily melodic as well, the mid-range throughout the album is a bit overblown. Shawn Christensen’s vocals have playful potential, but that eventually wears itself thin. At times, channeling Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino (“Robot”), David Bowie (“Prom Zombie”), with hints of Frank Black scattered here and there, the vocals seem to carry a wide range of ambitions and influences.

The alt-rock and Britpop plays itself out early, and by the middle of the album, there’s a noticeable lull in energy. And that’s precisely because the songs are hesitant to stray from similar patterns of growth and dynamic. It’s not energy loss, it’s the abundance of consistency.

The album as a whole alludes to a lot of possible—and even interesting—directions, but never carries one to fruition. Overall, Civilized occupies a comfortable middle ground too often.

Source: Under the Radar Magazine, Issue 27

Portgual. The Man: The Satanic Satanist (Approaching AIRBalloons)

While being fairly homogenized in terms of song lengths, the track-to-track motion in The Satanic Satanist is fairly diverse on the whole. It avoid the treacherous wandering so many overly ambitious artists become mired in. In the process of the album’s creation, the members spent their time with rare soul and funk, and this exposure shines through the band’s instrumentation. Singer/guitarist John Baldwin Gourley maintains a register on equal footing with Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willett but without the bombast—no offense intended. The smooth vocals evoke a more soulful delivery. Bassist Zachary Scott Carothers produces a strong bass line with melodic aims, but never forsakes the instrument’s inherent rhythmic abilities. Gourley admits that he even worked on tightening the song structures to better capture the Motown/soul sound the band had been chasing conceptually throughout their recordings. The effort to tighten the songs lessens the overindulgence they often seem to border. The band experimented with a mix of tweaked live recordings, samples, and loops, and the result is a (surprisingly) coherent and effective soul- and funk-inspired album that doesn’t try to overstep itself.

Source: Under the Radar Magazine, Issue 27

Mark Mallman: Invicible Criminal (Badman)

According to Invincible Criminal‘s accompanying press releases, this is Mark Mallman’s most lyric-driven album to date. His decision to change his typically self-deprecating and nihilistic lyrics resulted in a record that Mallman considers “alive, powerful, moving.”

The music itself is reminiscent of Foreigner’s brand of early ’80s rock, replete with optimism and triumphant buildups. Mallman’s own description of his album is accurate here, and while the effort seems genuine throughout, the album somehow falls flat too often—partly due to the overt exuberance of the music, partly due to what seems like strained and affected lyrics. One could be simply expecting something less derivative where innovation is not the aim, and to be fair, the album has its catchy moments. “White Leather Days” is a fun, driving and easily danceable tune. A patina of enjoyment thickens upon repeated listens, but sometimes first impressions are hard to overcome.

Source: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/reviews/invincible_criminal/

Miike Snow: Miike Snow (Downtown)

Two-thirds of Miike Snow (a band not a solo artist) have already proven themselves valuable assets to the world of pop. Having co-written and produced Britney Spears’ hit “Toxic” in 2004, Pontus Winnberg and Kristian Carlsson joined forces with Andrew Wyatt to bring you the new self-titled Miike Snow album.

The band’s familiarity with the punk, electro, new rave, and the DJ scene comes through here as a comfortable blend of all of the above. Strong and driving dance beats combine with vocals that recall the effect of Phil Collins and the synthesized effects so popular in the electro sound. “A Song For No One”—possibly the catchiest tune—has the bounce and color of Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks.” Miike Snow certainly delivers on the act’s pop potential. 

Source: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/reviews/miike_snow/

Grizzly Bear: Live at the Wiltern Theatre (June 19, 2009)

After spending an indeterminate amount of time—minutes? hours?—reading text messages from the audience scrolling across the screen above the stage, the house lights at the Wiltern came down. Brooklyn-based quartet Grizzly Bear strolled out and took to an unusual formation onstage: Chris Taylor (bass, clarinet, flute, sax, etc.) to the far left, Ed Droste (vocals, guitar, autoharp) to his right, Daniel Rossen (vocals, guitar, keys) next over, and Christopher Bear (vocals, drums) to the far right. With the band in full array, each member markedly contributed to the intricate unfoldings that fashion the Grizzly Bear repertoire. Chris Taylor’s rotation through his small arsenal of instruments was nearly exhausting to watch as the songs played out, making him—in a lot of ways—the showpiece of the stage. Even his position on the far left couldn’t mask it.

Across the entire stage, of course, the band shared vocal duties. Taylor and Bear’s higher voices on either side of the stage and Droste and Rossen’s midranges to the middle added a visual complement to the aural balance they delivered throughout the show. All four voices sweet and strong, unaffected but evocative, managed a fragile and angelic blend.

“Fine For Now” was among the most engaging moments of the entire performance, with its lilting, slightly off-kilter rhythms and brief glimpses into chromatic inflection. The song worked its way in and out of dreamy reflection and lofty ambition, brimming with elegiac vocals, never unjustly blowing its top.

“Deep Blue Sea,” on the other hand, brought the house down to a whisper. The crowd had been chanting for it between songs and, once it began, became absorbed in the sparse, folk-inspired tune as the guitar rolled out over the audience. It seemed a nostalgic piece even for those not patently familiar.

In between moments of intense control of the crowd, the band was friendly and warm. Daniel Rossen, who shares writing responsibilities with Droste and is an L.A. native, extended an enthusiastic welcome to his mother who was in attendance at the sold-out Wiltern show. The band devoted more energy to the performance itself, however, and so interaction was kept to a minimum.

With the stage super-saturated in colored light, each level of the venue densely carpeted with attentive bodies, Grizzly Bear consummately evinced the finesse they’ve already demonstrated in studio and, rather appropriately, devoured the Wiltern.

Source: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/reviews/grizzly_bear_at_the_wiltern_theatre_in_los_angeles_ca_june_19_2009/

Patrick Watson: Wooden Arms (Secret City)

Musical mastermind Patrick Watson—a recipient of Canada’s Polaris Prize in 2007—has returned in 2009 to offer up Wooden Arms. A dreamy collection of lush and inspired arrangements, Wooden Arms recalls Andrew Bird’s warm, delicate vocal range and intricate instrumentation. The title track’s haunting waltz opens up from a nostalgic piano into the ominous droning of pitched percussion, reminiscent of Tom Waits’s “Clap Hands”—all rimmed with melancholic plucked strings. “Hommage,” a two-minute instrumental track, renders a meditative orchestral interlude. “Machinery of the Heavens,” the album closer, nears seven-and-a-half minutes and works its way from sinister, Crumb-inspired strings into a warped but sentimental piano.

As concerned as he seems to be with the songs themselves, Watson appears just as concerned with the sounds that extend beyond the basic tunes and changes. Straightforward moments, like the “Hommage” interlude or the opening track, “Fireweed,”are just as abundant as the sounds that are somehow manipulated or somehow less familiar. Distorted piano, affected vocals, glissandi, and the sound of the wind whistling all carve out a sumptuous sonic environment. The songs certainly stand on their own, but Watson makes them sound incredible.

Source: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/reviews/wooden_arms/

Moderat: Moderat (BPitch Control)

Moderat, the amalgamation of German electronic suits Apparat and Modeselektor, has returned after an abrupt split back in 2002, and this eponymous debut reveals influences drawn from dubstep, ambient techno, and glitch.

Having recorded the album in analog and in the same studio David Bowie used to record Heroes, the entire record radiates and reverberates. The dark sonic space created by Apparat and Modeselektor is layered and vast throughout.

Each track builds slowly, lines weaving in and out of the foreground with a minimalist patience. Repetition within each track is counteracted by a strong rhythmic variation between tracks, giving the album a sense of evolution and progress. And the thick atmosphere that results is indelible. Moderat is brooding, but manages to carry itself along without weighing itself down.

Source: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/reviews/moderat/

Hockey: Mind Chaos (Capitol)

Sometimes you’ve got to loosen your tie and try to remember that not everything is such a rigid business. Hockey’s debut album, Mind Chaos, is here to help you out. The tracks freely move through a shortlist of genres: “Too Fake” boasts a dance punk influence, “Song Away” references a New Wave pop sound à la The Cars, and “Four Holy Photos” pops out with its country sauntering and close harmony.

Mind Chaos comes across as fun, not stilted or stiff. What the album lacks in continuity and consistency, it makes up for by its ability to keep things entertaining. “Song Away” is one of the more feel-good tracks I’ve heard in a minute. “I want to write a truthful song over an ’80s groove/I’d like to let you know I’ll always be straight with you,” singer Benjamin Grubin pronounces.

And as he reminds us in between less understandable mutterings in “Work,” “It’s too much work, work, work, yeah/Oh, it’s so much work for me.” He knows when it’s time to punch out, and I’m willing to believe anyone can benefit a little bit from that.

Source:

Sometimes you’ve got to loosen your tie and try to remember that not everything is such a rigid business. Hockey’s debut album, Mind Chaos, is here to help you out. The tracks freely move through a shortlist of genres: “Too Fake” boasts a dance punk influence, “Song Away” references a New Wave pop sound à la The Cars, and “Four Holy Photos” pops out with its country sauntering and close harmony.

Mind Chaos comes across as fun, not stilted or stiff. What the album lacks in continuity and consistency, it makes up for by its ability to keep things entertaining. “Song Away” is one of the more feel-good tracks I’ve heard in a minute. “I want to write a truthful song over an ’80s groove/I’d like to let you know I’ll always be straight with you,” singer Benjamin Grubin pronounces.

And as he reminds us in between less understandable mutterings in “Work,” “It’s too much work, work, work, yeah/Oh, it’s so much work for me.” He knows when it’s time to punch out, and I’m willing to believe anyone can benefit a little bit from that.

The Bitter Tears: Jam Tarts in the Jakehouse (Carrot Top)

The Bitter Tears draw from their guts and the things that come into their workspace. When writing music, the band values instinct over intellect, though none of the tracks here seem hasty or insipidly freeform. In fact, the entire thing plays out as a coherent, albeit eclectic, album.

Jam Tarts in the Jakehouse is a collection of folk-inspired (primarily acoustic) rock with a healthy mix of morbid, down-turning lyrics. For the album’s creation, the band toyed with old orchestral instruments picked up at small shops: old trombones, cracked violins, French horns, but the production keeps it all from sounding like chaos. Sure, they’re older instruments with flaws, but the music incorporates them in a way that is both deliberate and effective.

Overall, the album boasts the exuberance of Neutral Milk Hotel, the cool of Cake, and the melodic consideration of The Shins… if that makes any sense.

Source: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/reviews/jam_tarts_in_the_jakehouse/