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TNB Music’s staff picks for December, 2012. All the folk, pop, electronica, hip hop and metal a stocking can hold.

 

 

 

GUIDED BY VOICES

The Bears for Lunch

GBV INC.

9 / 10

Human amusements and self-inflicted aerial nostalgia

Following on the heels of Let’s Go Eat the Factory and Class Clown Spots a UFO (and two Robert Pollard solo records), Guided by Voices sound as enthusiastic, playfully schizophrenic, and full of heart as ever on The Bears for Lunch, their strongest release of this reunion year and their best album of the 2000s. These songs zap through you. Like Paul Westerberg’s 49:00, they’re best heard on fuzzed-out speakers. They sound like being young. Think of all the just-getting-starting bands that try to sound washed out, like something already old and gone (to steal a line from Dylan Nice). Here we get snapshot anthems for today from a band that’s never stopped being interesting. Nineteen songs in forty-three minutes. The longest one runs just under four minutes. Robert Pollard dominates, but Tobin Sprout’s offerings—“The Corners are Glowing,” “Waving at Airplanes,” “Skin to Skin Combat” and “Waking Up the Stars”—sneak up on the listener with their gloomy beauty. “Waving at Airplanes,” sounding like Warren Zevon and The Beatles wrestling in the air, might be the album’s standout track. Not to take anything away from genius Pollard. “Hangover Child,” “The Military School Dance Dismissal,” and “You Can Fly Anything Right” revel in full basement glory. “She Lives in an Airport,” a small song that’s catchy as fuck, finds Pollard buzzing our heads with the sweetest of melodies. “Smoggy Boy,” at thirty-four seconds, feels like a lost, too-short Roky Erickson gem. Like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, The Bears for Lunch benefits from great production. No gloss here. The songs feel hungrier, more immediate. Some will argue that GBV’s 2012 output should’ve been condensed to one record, fat trimmed. But part of the band’s greatness stems from the fact that they never would’ve considered that. Anyhow, there’s no fat. After almost thirty years, GBV can still punch hard. –William Boyle

Key tracks: “Hangover Child”; “Waving at Airplanes”: “She Lives In An Airport”; “Waking Up the Stars”; “You Can Fly Anything Right.”

For fans of: Big Star; The Replacements; Robyn Hitchcock; The Beatles.

 

FLYING LOTUS

Until the Quiet Comes

WARP RECORDS

10 / 10

Eternity’s background music

Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus hints at every kind of dream with Until the Quiet Comes. His most bare-bones release to date connects quickly with the listener. After ‘All in’, the astringent palate cleanser of an opening track, ‘Getting There (feat Niki Randa)’ arrives with the most accessible tune on the record. (We are on the astral plane, but we can still dance.) If 2010’s Cosmogramma is a dense exploration of death and life via DMT, Until the Quiet Comes explores the dream states, the meditative states — where we go when we look inward or reality goes away. Make no mistake, even the most accessible FlyLo record still lives three dimensions to the left, underneath the staircase made of radishes and light. Be that as it may, this album focuses on setting moods and tones within the larger work. Parts brood, and parts beg for future percussion ensembles to do their version, but as a whole there is a cohesive narrative. Rather than standing proudly at the helm, guests like Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu are played like instruments, as are tabletops, buttery glissandos, and what have to be rattling bones. Nightmare songs full of sinister plucked bass lines transform with new melodic lines that arrive like realisations, organic hammocks of tunes recline in stark contrast to circuit-bent explorations of crunched synth mantras. FlyLo nods to experimental jazz as much as Zappa, J Dilla, and Brian Wilson with this one. While never risking the listener’s ear by veering too far into any one influence, these memes arrive and disappear gracefully, existing more as movements in a symphony than as songs you’d want to hear on random. To hear these songs standing alone would break the spell, and invite madness. -Tom Mohrman

Key tracks: Getting There (feat Niki Randa), Sultan’s Request, Putty Boy Strut

For fans of: Onra, Harmonic 313, Dimlite

 

BRAD SUCKS

Guess Who’s a Mess

INDEPENDENT

7 / 10

 

Authentic Electricity

On his third independent release, the artist-currently-known-as Brad Sucks (née Brad Turcotte) unleashes a pulsating electronica showcase that far surpasses the expectations that his unfortunate name might imply. In a genre clogged with generic beats and soulless synth pop, Brad Sucks writes with a palpable rock and roll ethos that invests his music with a sense of authenticity, without stalling in pretense. These synthy beats were destined for the dance floor, and while Guess Who’s a Mess doesn’t have a singularly catchy track like “Making Me Nervous” (from 2003’s I Don’t Know What I’m Doing), the new record instead offers a more cohesive thematic exploration. Waves of rock and electronica blend effortlessly in “Feel Free! Plastic Surgery!”, an infectious caveat of the trappings of fame. A purposeful, thumping intro on “Waste of TV” risks distracting from the song’s lyrical affirmations, yet while the album’s title and subject matter may imply that Turcotte’s a bit of a disaster, the upbeat bass lines and groove-steady synth beats help us dance our way through. -Lindsey Bluher

Key Tracks: “Thank You For Your Add,” “Waste of TV,” “Feel Free! Plasic Surgery!,” In Your Face”

For Fans of: Overseer, Little People, Ghostland Observatory 

 

CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN

The Lost Are Found

THERE (there)

7.5 / 10

 

Taking an imaginary journey through the land of the lost

Covers albums are always tricky propositions. They usually signal an artist’s ego run amok and even under the most optimistic allowances, clatter with the unmistakeable banging of contractual obligations, or mark time between “real” projects. The Lost Are Found, on the other hand, is the newest chapter in the welcome resurgence of Claudia Brücken over the last few years. Continuing her partnership with producer Stephen Hague (Jules and the Polar Bears, Pet Shop Boys, OMD, Jane Wiedlin), Brücken covers songs by a diverse range of artists―from The Band to Dubstar―exploring themes of “loneliness, rejection, and isolation,” and the power of songs to both isolate and connect. The album navigates this territory with great success, creating a suitably moody atmosphere yet maintaining a sense of warmth. The album’s only real fault is a tendency towards over-production; while “Kings Cross” may benefit from the extra chaos in the fade, “Mysteries of Love” requires a lighter touch. Still, Brücken is in fine voice throughout. It’s good to have her back. -Kevin J. O’Conner

Key Tracks: “Mysteries of Love,” “Memories of a Color,” “Kings Cross”

For Fans of: Propaganda, Onetwo, Pet Shop Boys

 

DAY JOY

Go to Sleep, Mess

SMALL PLATES RECORDS

 3 / 10

 

Derivative indie-folk

Orlando’s Day Joy bring many things to the table, none of them very good. The word “mess” in the title hints unfortunately at the truth with their debut full-length. The best songs swim in psychedelic reverb, obscuring singer Michael Serrin’s vocals. At times Serrin’s vocals hint at Orbison, or Neil Young, but when he sings in his lover register it comes off at best an homage, at worst a rip-off of the Magnetic Fields. Go to Sleep, Mess seems to lack clear identity. At times shoegaze, at times indie-folk, the common denominator is Serrin’s voice, and instruments played cautiously when bravado would save the day. Songs promise huge and exciting possibilities at the beginning with walls of sound that inevitably resolve into what can only be called a lazy indie-folk patois. Go to Sleep, Mess offends no one, and there’s the problem. Risk, and very real possibilities of failure live nowhere in these songs. The heartbreaks and setbacks necessary to make music show up in the lyrics a bit, but never take true purchase. We are left with music with no discernible purpose. Perhaps it’s for “cool” dentist offices, or for soundtracks to movies about unfeeling couples on bicycles. Pretty, safe songs about nothing in particular. -Tom Mohrman

Standout tracks: Melting, Everything is Going to Last, Go to Sleep, Mess

For fans of: Pat Jordache, the Magnetic Fields, Iron and Wine

 

DONALD FAGEN

Sunken Condos

REPRISE

8.5 / 10

 

Fagen gets his Dan on

Nine years on from the last Steely Dan album, and six since the final installment in the Nightfly trilogy, Donald Fagen returns with a surprisingly satisfying new album. Harkening back to the Dan’s classic mid-’70s albums, Sunken Condos trades in the antiseptic digital sheen of Fagen’s last couple of solo turns for a warmer sound with some actual grit in the mix. Oh, it’s still exquisitely tasteful―more Gaucho than Countdown to Ecstasy―but you can imagine Fagen actually breaking a sweat, particularly on “Weather in My Head” and the Isaac Hayes cover, “Out of the Ghetto.” Of course, Steely Dan’s true subversiveness always came out in the lyrics; here, the shady characters inhabiting the songs include a bowling queen, a hit man, aging Lotharios, and a breakup victim for whom global warming is no match for the turmoil in his head. Though ostensibly a solo album (Walter Becker’s nowhere in sight), Sunken Condos is the best Steely Dan album since Gaucho. Highly recommended. -Kevin J. O’Conner

Key Tracks: “Slinky Thing,” “Weather in My Head,” “Out of the Ghetto”

For Fans of: Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Isaac Hayes

 

FREELANCE WHALES

Diluvia

MOM + POP/FRENCHKISS

3 / 10

 

State of the Indie 2012

According to the band’s PR, Diluvia “is a record about the possible survival―or peril―of space-faring humans and other arguably fantastical scenarios.” A glance at the lyrics bears this out; otherwise, Freelance Whales’ second album comes across as merely precious. Their acoustic-instruments-combined-with-electronics-and-light-folky-vocals approach has been mined by so many bands and labels over the last year or so that there’s little luster left once you get past the prettiness of the production. Consequently, the songs here that work best have the simplest arrangements: “Red Star,” “Winter Seeds,” “DNA Bank,” and “Emergence Exit.” Everything else sounds as though it could have come from almost any indie record released this year. That’s not to say that Diluvia is necessarily a bad record; rather, because of the excessive decoration, it doesn’t draw you in the way it could. In this respect, the band’s first album, Weathervanes, was more successful. Perhaps album number three will do the trick. -Kevin J. O’Conner

Key Tracks: “Red Star,” “Winter Seeds,” “DNA Bank,” “Emergence Exit”

For Fans of: Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Easter Island

 

JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT

Live from Alabama

LIGHTNING ROD RECORDS

9 / 10

 

Like a goddamn hurricane

Jason Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers in 2007, releasing three records in its wake. On the first, he flew solo. The last two, with the 400 Unit, found him expanding his sound. Artistically, Isbell most closely evokes Neil Young, and Live from Alabama feels a little like Live Rust or Weld. The band trots through recent tracks like Americana Awards Song of the Year “Alabama Pines,” Truckers gems like “Outfit” and “Decoration Day,” and hammers home covers of Candi Staton and Neil Young classics. Recorded in Birmingham and Huntsville during a couple of sold-out shows in August 2012, Isbell chose his favorite tracks from the performances and refused to do any in-studio doctoring, hoping to “document a certain period of time and a certain group of people.” The record’s infused with place. It doesn’t do to call Isbell an Alabama songwriter or a Southern songwriter because he’s just a good goddamn songwriter, but it’s impossible to separate his songs from their settings. At his best, on songs like “TVA,” “Alabama Pines,” and “Dress Blues,” Isbell recalls Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River-era Bruce Springsteen. If nothing here is revelatory, you’re not trying hard enough. The songs sound more urgent played live. Isbell lacks the rambunctious energy of Young or Springsteen, but he’s guided by an intense vision of home and this windows-down, driving around album should stay with you for a long time. -William Boyle

Key tracks: “Danko/Manuel”; “Alabama Pines”; “Outfit”; “TVA”; “Dress Blues.”

For fans of: Ryan Adams & the Cardinals; Justin Townes Earle; Neil Young & Crazy Horse; Drive-By Truckers; Centro-matic.

 

LOCAL STRANGERS

Left for Better

KICKSTARTER

4 / 10

 

Folk pop

If you haven’t heard enough of the new wave folkgrass that has been permeating indie radio waves and beer commercials, Local Strangers have released their debut album, Left for Better. Fusing pop music with any genre invariably induces a slippery slope, but the pop-Americana overlap tends to strip contemporary roots music of its roots, leaving the alt. country revival movement feeling derivative and contrived. Between the stomps, the claps, and the obligatory song about the Devil and needing “a stiff drink” (“Devil and A Stiff Drink”), Left for Better plays by all the rules and paints with beige, often bland strokes across the Americana canvas. The album doesn’t lack for talent– Aubrey Zoli’s voice finds moments to truly shine throughout Left for Better, and the brightest highlight is heard when Local Strangers combine their sound with the ghost of Fleetwood Mac’s better days for “Daniel,” Zoli’s voice taking on a distinct personality as she pleads for Daniel to make her a believer again. The song is the album’s first– and last– left turn, the remaining tracks paling in comparison to what the band is capable of when they focus more on their undeniable talent and less on shrouding their potential in the long shadows of the bands preceding them. -Brianne Turner 

Key Tracks: “Daniel,” “Artificial Love,” “Uptown” 

For fans of: Typhoon, The Head and the Heart, The Lumineers

 

NIGHT MOVES

Colored Emotions

DOMINO RECORDS

7 / 10

 

Psych-Country

Think Night Moves and you either think of A) Bob Seger or B) Arthur Penn’s great film with Gene Hackman. Minneapolis trio Night Moves wants you to forget Seger and Hackman and think of C) their solid-as-fuck debut. Initially released for free on Bandcamp, Colored Emotions was withdrawn as a free download when the band signed with Domino. They hit the studio with producer Thom Monahan and revamped the record a bit. “Headlights,” a country swirl that swells to scuzz-soul heights, opens the record. “Country Queen,” a cosmic groover, will appeal to fans of Cass McCombs’s haunting “County Line” from last year. Dreamy and triumphant, “Old Friends,” “Horses,” and “Colored Emotions” stand out as the album’s strongest tracks. The shortest songs—“In the Rounds,” “Put Out Your Shoulder,” and “Classical Hearts,” all under two minutes—weaken the flow of the record and feel incomplete. And dock the band a point for a terrible song title change: “Family Tongues” was called “Cosmic Titties” on the earlier version of the album. Come on, you’ve got to stick with “Cosmic Titties.” Hell, the album should be called Cosmic Titties. But that’s a relatively minor beef. Colored Emotions, spacey and ambitious, smells like cedar and sounds like tall trees. Let it swirl you. -William Boyle

Key tracks: “Headlights”; “Country Queen”; “Old Friends,” “Colored Emotions”

For fans of: T.Rex; Vetiver; Band of Horses; My Morning Jacket

 

SINKANE

Mars

DFA

6.5 / 10

 

Cosmic island brew

Sinkane’s Mars isn’t so much music as it is a brew, a flavorful stew set on low boil. It’s a heady mix, often with a soulful, tropical vibe. The ingredients include funk, dub, soul, electronics, rock, prog, ’70s jazz fusion and more, combining to create a sound that defies easy categorization. At the center of everything is Ahmed Gallab, previously known for his stints in Columbus bands Sweetheart and Pompeii, This Morning, as well as Caribou, Of Montreal, and Yeasayer. Mars isn’t the first Sinkane album, but it’s the most focused, with an immediacy lacking on the earlier discs. Highlights include “<a href=”http://youtu.be/Axgv-xW8B6c”>Runnin’</a>,” its insistent clavinet and heavy beats holding down the groove beneath falsetto vocals that manage to convey a sense of urgency while simultaneously floating above it all; “Jeeper Creeper,” a slice of cosmic dreaminess just perfect for a hazy summer afternoon; and the title track, all spacey atmosphere straight out of Miles’ Bitches Brew. Sinkane won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, particularly where it threatens to venture into “world music” territory, but at least they aspire to something―a particularly refreshing quality in the current cookie-cutter pop-music landscape. -Kevin J. O’Conner

Key Tracks: “Runnin’,” “Jeeper Creeper,” “Mars”

For Fans of: electric Miles Davis, Yeasayer, Caribou

 

SOLID GOLD

Eat Your Young

TOTALLY GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT

7.6 / 10

 

Atmospheric synth-rock

Though Solid Gold’s founding members gained a healthy amount of indie notoriety through their involvement with Gayngs, the same supergroup that has enlisted hipster heroes such as Bon Iver, Poliça, Megafaun, and Har Mar Superstar, their involvement with Gayngs left Solid Gold’s fans wondering if there would ever be time for a full-length follow-up to their 2008 debut, Bodies Of Water. The release of Eat Your Young introduces an older and wiser version of the Minneapolis-based trio. If Bodies Of Water is the introduction to the group’s electro-rock archetype, then Eat Your Young is the slow-burn compilation that illustrates what the band can accomplish when they streamline their model. The album opens with “Shock Notice,” a CliffsNotes version of the textured journey Solid Gold can create within any sonic space. Drifting effortlessly between acoustic and digital instruments, “Shock Notice” bleeds smoothly into reticent standout “Six Days,” setting the escalating pace for the remaining eight tracks. The album’s cadence begins to pick up in its final three songs, echoing the dance-friendly tone of Bodies Of Water, but the true payoff is in the 10-track crescendo. Eat Your Young is a quietly infectious excursion through layers of instrumentation and synth haze, a pleasant reminder that sometimes an album is best interpreted as a marathon rather than a race.-Brianne Turner

Key Tracks: “Six Days,” “Shock Notice,” “Elephants”

For fans of: Miike Snow, Cassettes Won’t Listen, Mikky Ekko 

 

TRAPT

Reborn

FOF

7/10

 

Straight down-the-middle alt-metal

They have continued making music for fifteen years, they count five studio albums under their collective belt and they have withstood the threats of multiple lineup changes. Did we mention that their 2002 major label debut went platinum? Yet California’s Trapt consistently elude the audience accolades and commercial successes of peers such as Everclear or Chevelle. Call it nu metal, alt metal or hard rock, Trapt’s sound fits neatly within those nominal confines perhaps a bit too snugly. Musically the band is as polished as any other player in that space and their albums betray a rich diversity of tempos and influences that invest their releases with more depth than most of their peers. With their fifth release, Reborn, the band recover from another lineup change (the January, 2012 departure of longtime drummer Aaron Montgomery) and look to match the prominence of their self-titled debut. First single “Bring It,” with a video that drummed up considerable social media buzz, opens Reborn with a surging elasticity that showcases Trapt’s gift for heavy grooving. Only half of the tracks threaten the heaviness of the opener however, which isn’t a bad thing by any stretch. The remaining cuts reflect a scattershot of hook-drenched mid-tempo rockers and spare ballads, Reborn might not free Trapt from their alt metal label, but their fifth full-length release clearly represents their best effort to date. -Joe Daly

Key Tracks: “Bring It,” “Livewire,” “Love Hate Relationship”

For fans of: Nickelback, Chevelle, Lit

 

COLES WHALEN

I Wrote This For You

WRECKING BALL

8/10

 

Soulful acoustic pop

What’s not to love about the Denver-based songwriting ingenue Coles Whalen? Taking a page from the books of Carole King, James Taylor, and Jewel, Whalen continues to cultivate a rabid fanbase the old-fashioned way: touring and albums. Two decades ago, this not-so-secret formula was the only way of doing business for professional musicians; in the new millennium however, social networking, YouTube and Kickstarter campaigns have turned the model on its head, and then proceeded to blow it up and bury its ashes at sea. When someone like Whalen comes around—someone with real talent and an uninhibited passion for songwriting—the light on her shines all the brighter because of the abundance of technological shortcuts available to today’s troubadours. Whalen wisely crafts her latest release around her canny gift for lyrics, which she delivers with a smokey sensuality and irreverent playfulness, imbuing her sound with both intimacy and authenticity. Strands of Americana, folk and blues dance and weave throughout “Cactus,” “Wrecking Ball” and the excellent “Second to None.” A cover of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” sequenced too early in the album, feels a bit heavy-handed, but “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” with its lazy Sunday coffee vibe, underscores her immense talent for painting bright vignettes with sparse melodies and simple, breathtaking lyrics. -Joe Daly

Key Tracks: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Average 20 Something,” “Cannonball”

For Fans Of: Christina Perri, Sara Bareilles, Tristan Prettyman

 

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Lindsey Bluher Lindsey Bluher is a freelance music writer based out of Seattle. She writes actively for Culturemob.com, Neumos.com, and acts as a live reviews writer and Public Relations Director for SSGMusic.com. Find her on twitter @lindseyblue, where she tweets about her appreciation of Ben Gibbard and how cute her dog is.

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