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Friday, February 25, 2011

Cut Copy - 'Zonoscope'

Modular; 2011

Our Take - 9.1

Three years ago, Cut Copy made an album that seemed like it came out yesterday. 2008's In Ghost Colours is still as fresh as it was the first time I heard it, and it got better with each spin.  It is a dance masterpiece and cemented Cut Copy among the kings of indie dance rock.  It is one of my favorite albums-- soaring choruses with staying power, roaring synths, and dance guitar punch.  It hooked in all the right places and built and released tension accordingly.  But at the end of it all, In Ghost Colours was less an album than a series of never-miss singles.

How does Cut Copy follow such an album?  In early interviews, they dismissed the notion that they would create another collection of four to the floor dance pop bliss.  They shot for a  more rhythmic, cohesive, and experimental work, and succeeded with Zonoscope 

Zonoscope is Cut Copy's best album, but I make that claim with a specific definition of album in mind.  Is it their most fun or most infectious? Probably not.  Does it house their best stand alone track? Again, probably not.  But aesthetically it is their strongest  most complex work to this date.  The songs sound right together- from opener "Need You Now" a tension building, slow burner and appropriate start to the album, to the behemoth of a finale "Sun God."  It moves through a complex series of ideas, genres, and instrumentation without ever sacrificing its dancefloor capacity.  

This new cohesiveness can in part be attributed to mixing work from Ben Allen (Deerhunter, Animal Collective) and you can really hear this in some of the chanting and in the general atmosphere of the album.  But credit should go to the band.  This is an album of details, one that merits repeated listens (preferably on headphones), for them to really sink in.  Even in hookier songs like first single "Take Me Over" there are complex undertones-- layer after layer of percussion, background vocals catchy as anything they've ever done, funk guitars, a tension filled piano build before the chorus, a cleverly circling bass, handclaps in all the right places, and driving synths round out this "pop" song. 

These are the tracks you would expect to hear dominating radio stations if the radio were just a bit, well, weirder.  With Zonoscope, Cut Copy really set their mark on the music world.  If you haven't heard of them yet, you will soon.  See you on the dance floor.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Iron & Wine - 'Kiss Each Other Clean'

4AD/Warner Bros.; 2011

Our take - 6.8

Kiss Each Other Clean is Sam Beam and Iron & Wine's major label debut, a fact that is easily discernible on first listen.  The days of whispered, intimate, I-am-singing-directly-to-you style vocals are long gone, as are the hushed sounds of his fingers on the guitar and the lo-fi, crackly recordings that inhabited his early work.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, 2007's The Shepard's Dog was a complete expansion of the Iron & Wine palette-- increased percussion, a full backing band, fatter bass, and higher degrees of song complexity all signaled a shift away from their lo-fi, bedroom roots.

What remained in The Shepard's Dog was Beam's constantly involving voice and lyrics, his guitar-work, and solid song writing chops.  Kiss Each Other Clean is the next step in Iron &Wine's evolution-- what remains with this album is Beams' ability to paint vivid pictures with his lyrics and his ability to write great songs.  Same Beam is talented, and with his first record on a major label, he does exactly what one would expect someone in that position to do... experiment with the studio and a bigger budget, add new sounds, increase the amount and variety of instruments, and create something entirely new.

Without question, for Sam Beam, this was an album of experimentation and great risk.  He uses buzzing synths, saxophones and other horns (they're back everyone, i.e. Girls and Destroyer), pan flutes, in-and-out percussion, tribal echoes, some funk, whistles I can't place, and much much more.  To add to that, for the first time Beam is projecting his voice, and he does so with confidence.  All of these sounds are JAMMED into an album that is only 10 songs long, an impressive feat.

The risks Beam and the rest of the Iron &Wine crew take with this album are great, some pay off-- some don't.  "Rabbit Will Run" is a track that is unlike any Iron & Wine song to this point, it's complex and rewarding, "Tree By The River" is the most reflective of his old sound and a personal favorite for that matter and "Monkeys Uptown" has an interesting bass line, some sort of chimey-percussion and nice hooky guitar to keep interest with a little bit of synthy-background-buzz to fills in the details. "Big Burned Hand" is an example of a miss-- the funk seems out of place and a giant honking sax and overlong runtime carry the song over the top.

While I "like" the album, I don't "love" it as I have some of their previous records.  While this is entirely a vague and subjective description of what the album sounds like, it raises a good point-- the album feels a little off.  There is so much going on in Kiss Each Other Clean in terms of instrumentation, melody and direction but it seems strangely, well, empty.  The rich imagery he evokes with his lyrics seem like they are inhabiting an alien world of buzzing synths and blaring horns and it isn't necessarily believable.

Kiss Each Other Clean is ambitious and a well put together album, but it is also hit and miss.  It will be a divisive record for die-hard Iron & Wine fans, the ones who want Sam Beam to forever sing them to sleep, but credit is well deserved for a new direction and a pretty successful experiment.

Iron and Wine | Tree by the river | A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cold War Kids - 'Mine Is Yours

Interscope; 2011

Our Take - 4.2

Cold War Kids are a band I  have really liked cheering for.  Their two previous releases Robbers and Cowards and Loyalty to Loyalty were largely hit and miss; containing catchy bangers like "Hang Me Up to Dry", off-kiltered emotional piano jaunts like "We Used to Vacation", desperate bluesy grooves like "Hospital Beds", and synth-based slow-burners like "Relief".  Their music was always a little abrasive, a little grating, and a hell of a lot of fun.  It took time, was preachy, a little over the top-- Nathan Willet's vocals non-traditional and even a bit annoying at times, but with these factors they found a sound that was distinctly their own.

With Mine is Yours, Cold War Kids erased what worked so well for them in the past.  The album is more accessible than any of the others, it will reach more ears, might make them famous, but what it makes up for in accessibility it lacks in originality.  I say good for them.  After this record, they'll be doing what millions have tried and failed at-- being full on arena-rockers.

Cold War Kids recruited Jacquire King to sit at the production table for the record.  King seemed to treat Mine is Yours in a much similar way as he treated the latest two Kings of Leon releases, smoothing them out, making them "break-through" ready.  And he did a good job in doing so.  Willet's vocals are almost unrecognizable as his own on the record.  They are mostly smooth, cutesy, croonish, and melodramatic, and lacking in his signature moves-- oddly stressed syllables and off-kilter desperation. To add to that, the once sporadic key signature changes and up and down tempos are almost altogether switched out for a static sort of evenness.

All of that being said, Mine is Yours, has its moments, but the moments that shine through are mostly reflective upon their old sound.  "Sensitive Kid" is a nice little minimalist groove, but borrows heavily from "contemporaries" (real loose quotes) Spoon.  "Cold Toes On The Cold Floor" could have fit well into one of their older albums-- it has some of the desperation and uneasiness that inhabited their past releases that were mostly smoothed over this time around. 

The album seems emotionally empty, over-wrought, over-polished, and less personal than their previous efforts--  it may garner more attention from your local radio station, but at the cost of what?  Personality? Originality? How about both.

New Radiohead This Saturday-- The King of Limbs

These days it seems like that hype around new Radiohead records is focused a little too much on how it is released rather than the individual tracks.  The band follows the recent pattern with an announcement of a new album this Saturday, Feb. 19th-- The King of Limbs.  The album is slated to be the world's first "Newspaper Album." Check out the details and pre-order the record in a variety of formats over at the the album's official site Although the record is no longer available in the "pay what you want" format, MP3's for the record are on sale for the modest price of $9.00.  Get excited, and get ready for another communal Radiohead experience. 

Some News

-- Bonarroo released their official lineup, it looks pretty hot.  I'm still up in the air about which festival to attend this summer or if I'll be in the country to do so.  Some highlights are The Strokes, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, a reunited Buffalo Springfield, Eminem, The Decemberists, and My Morning Jacket.  This is looking pretty good, check out the entire lineup here.

-- Death Cab for Cutie has officially given us a release date for their latest Codes and Keys, March 31st via Atlantic Records.  They're mixing with famed producer Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Interpol, A Perfect Circle, Blonde Redhead, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Killers, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Killers, etc.).  Hear what guitarist Chris Walla has to say in an interview below.

-- LCD Soundsystem made an appearance on the "Colbert Report" last night.  It was stated to be their last ever TV appearance.  This is leading up to their upcoming final performance.  Check them out below playing "I Can Change" from my favorite album of 2010 This Is Happening.  Also check out James Murphy's interview with Stephen Colbert which is kind of funny and kind of heartbreaking. 

-- PJ Harvey dropped her latest today, Feb. 15th, Let England Shake.  Pick it up at your favorite record store when you get the chance and check back for a review at some point.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In Case You Missed It

--LCD Soundsystem really are calling it quits.  They have announced that their final show will take place April 2nd in New York City's Madison Square Garden.  Looks like they'll go out with a bang though.  The set will be three hours long and they will dig up some material they have never played before.  If you're lucky enough to be in New York in the beginning of April, make the trip.

--In festival news...
  • Coachella has completely sold out. Try ebay? Is Coachella the States' Glastonbury?
  • Sasquatch has announced their lineup. Foo Fighters, Death Cab, and Modest Mouse are topping the bill, but it doesn't drop off too much after.  Check it out here.
  • Bonnaroo will be announcing its initial lineup next Tuesday, Feb. 15th. Stay tuned for details.
  • Lollapalooza will delay announcing their lineup until April, but Muse, Foo Fighters, and Eminem will be among their 6 headliners.
--A 30 second clip of The Strokes new single "Under Cover of Darkness" from new album Angles (March 22nd via RCA) has been circling the web for a few days and now the entire song has been released.  Head over to for a download or listen to it below.

--2011 releases.  Check these out and look for some of them reviewed in the coming days/weeks.
  • Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
  • Destroyer - Kaputt
  • Cold War Kids - Mine Is Yours
  • James Blake - James Blake
  • Cut Copy - Zonoscope
  • Akron/Family: Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT
--TV on the Radio took a short break but now seem to be back on track. They'll drop new album, Nine Types of Light this Spring.

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Hear James Blake's Debut Now

    James Blake gifted us three great EP's in 2010 and is finally ready to share his first LP with us.  Via Universal Republic, Blake's self-titled debut will hit the shelves in the US next Tuesday, Feb. 8th.  However 3VOOR12 is streaming the album in it's entirety, RIGHT NOW.  I see nothing but promise in this British youngster, and Consequence of Sound has already given the record a perfect 5 stars.

    Check out the album here.

    New LP from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart-- 'Belong'

    The sophomore album from The Pains, Belong, will be released March 29th via Slumberland.  Listen to title track and lead single "Belong" below.  Check your ears at the 15 second mark, these guys are getting louder and louder. For Belong, The Pains teamed with legends Flood and Alan Moulder who handled production and mixing respectively.  The two have worked with a few decent bands in their time including PJ Harvey, U2, Smashing Pumpkins, NIN and Depeche Mode to name a few. Their influence can definitely be heard in the track below.  Check it out, and mark March 29th down on your calendar.

    The Pains of Being Pure At Heart "Belong" by Slumberland Records

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    The White Stripes Officially Call It Quits-- 1997-2011

    On an official statement at their website on February 2nd, Jack and Meg White of The White Stripes officially called it quits. The band will no longer create new music or play live and claim the breakup is, “not due to artistic differences or lack of wanting to continue, nor any health issues as both Meg and Jack are feeling fine and in good health. It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.”

    Fair enough.

    Still, where will rock and roll music go without one of its few remaining legends?

    I guess we'll find of from here.

    Check out the full statement at their official website.

    Some videos in memory of the band are featured below.