Bridges and Powerlines: Better – There is nothing quite like the allure of New York. It is without a doubt an iconic city, full of tragedy and triumph, and serves as a beacon for lost souls. Nestled within the elusive state lines is the eccentric city of Brooklyn. Bridges and Powerlines have taken it upon themselves to pay homage to six neighborhoods in Brooklyn, in their new “mini album,” Better. In these six songs, Bridges and Powerlines squeeze the importance of life, love and everything in between.
‘Bushwick’ is the opening track and first single. The vocal rawness captures the essence of that young, invincible feeling we all felt at one time or another: “don’t cry/we might see tomorrow if we try/ we might be the ones that never die.” The hopeful ambitions will leave you with the feeling that anything can happen. Isn’t that really all we are looking for in a song? Three minutes that gives you the space to open your world, and be dazzled by all the possibilities.
Judging by the intense feelings brought about from just the opening song alone, it is easy to see this record will be memorable. ‘Park Slope’ progresses with the same type of foolish abandon. Even after being bruised and battered, there is still no stopping the hurling life force that often times knocks you down, but that will only make living that much more beautiful: “when it’s over/ we’ll see mountains/we’ll see forests/when it’s over.”
‘Williamsburg’ deserves a place in the library of great romances of the 21st century. ‘East New York’ has an eerie exquisiteness coursing through its impassioned undertones and slowed-down lyrics. In its consuming quietness, Bridges and Powerlines bring you to a new level that is both somber and intricate.
The last two songs, ‘Greenpoint’ and ‘Red Hook’ finish out Better just as powerful as it started. Writing this mini album with the hopes of expressing that sometimes after a bad year you come out better on the other side, Bridges and Powerlines will stay with you…9/10
Wild Nothing: Empty Estate - I will be the first to admit that a few months ago, when Wild Nothing released the animated music video for ‘A Dancing Shell’, the first single off of Empty Estate, I was more than a little perplexed. The sound is so different from what fans have been used to hearing from founding member and mastermind behind Wild Nothing Jack Tatum. If not for qualities like Tatum’s distinctive voice, it would be hard to know you were even listening to a piece of work by the indie dream pop outfit. Empty Estate is a venture away from Wild Nothing’s usually dreamy, laid-back tone into something that is much more pop-driven with clear electronic influence and instrumentation.
Upon hearing the EP in its entirety, I must say, there was a sense of relief after having ‘A Dancing Shell’ act as the first impression. By no means is this track an accurate representation of Empty Estate as a whole, which is why I was personally so confused as to why Tatum would choose to release it as the introductory single. There are plenty of other tracks off the new work that would have done the job more effectively such as ‘Ride’, ‘Ocean Repeating (Big-Eyed girl)’, ‘Data World’, or ‘The Body in Rainfall’ (and that’s over half of the EP right there).
Wild Nothing is one of those few bands who release consistently great music, whether it be Gemini, the Golden Haze EP, or the most recent release prior to Empty Estate, Nocturne, which received rave reviews and succeeded in gaining the band quite a deal of buzz. Trying to pick a favorite Wild Nothing song is a near impossible task. Each one is so skillfully crafted and lovely in its own way. The best one can do is just listen to them all as a collection and appreciate Tatum’s entire body of work. But Empty Estate is a break in the usual flow. It doesn’t so much fit with the rest of this collection but takes you into uncharted waters, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing. If anything it is positive, because it shows that Tatum has the ability to shatter music fans’ expectations.
Fans of Gemini and Nocturne will surely enjoy most of the EP, especially the song ‘Ride’, which captures techniques used in previous work such as layering vocals and pairs that with an upbeat, fun indie rock sound. Being that the new EP is more high-energy than Wild Nothing’s usual stuff, which is much more lax, it definitely packs a punch, one that is both intriguing and surprising. Another clear strength is in the seamless transitions. Many of the songs blend right into the other and it is hard to know that the song has even switched unless you are specifically looking. This ability to keep listeners guessing where one track ends and the other begins shows skill on Tatum’s part.
Still, being so accustomed to Wild Nothing coming out with albums that are so beyond exceptional and outstanding, this new effort does not succeed in reaching the usual level of impressiveness. By its own merit, Empty Estate is a pretty solid piece of work but when held up against Tatum’s previous material it just doesn’t quite hold its own. A decent EP overall but by no means is it his best stuff. That being said, I cannot fault him for breaking out of his comfort zone and trying something new. Growth is an important aspect for any band or artist in the music industry. Experimenting with sound is the best way to keep from becoming predictable. I applaud this step forward for the group and am only that much more excited to see what comes next… 7.1/10
Hey Anna: Pompette EP — Hey Anna is a band made up of Anna, Katie and Erin Rauch-Sassen on vocals, Matthew Langner on drums and Andrew Smolin on guitar. Katie plays bass and Anna and Erin do keyboards and synths sometimes, too. The band has been putting out music since their first single, ‘Blackout’ in July 2012. Their self-titled EP was released last September and now we have the Pompette EP this spring. So, creation isn’t the problem. In fact, there isn’t a problem at all. As the cover art for Pompette can attest, everything is basically a day at the beach. The surprisingly sultry voices take you by surprise on ‘Tim McQue’, but by the second and third songs you begging to pick up on the band’s vibe. Cool, upbeat and fun, they aren’t trying to go too deep on this album. ‘Dance Until Three’ seemed to fulfill the summer prerequisites of driving guitars and drums, dance-themed lyrics and hand claps. Because, really, who doesn’t love hand claps?
The song ‘Pia’ is probably my favorite on the EP. A litte slower, a little more measured and starring some drumming that sounds like a clock counting down, this song resonates. Plus, it’s more deep than anything else on the collection, proving that, although everything is upbeat instrumentally, they do have the capacity for a dark side. Simpler lines like, “she’s leaving tonight, it doesn’t feel right,” makes up the chorus, but the earlier lines of “all the hours / they start blending / like the voice of you mending up your heart / up your senses / don’t forget / love is expensive,” offer more depth.
‘Superglue’ is slower, still, but not as catchy as some of the earlier songs. Then again, aren’t poignant songs supposed to be more about the lyrics than the instrumentals? Yes. The answer is yes. Even though it wasn’t necessarily instrumentally exciting, ‘Superglue’ was definitely one to watch out for.
Overall, the band put together a tightly-packaged EP that showcased just enough diversity to keep you interested in further albums, while still giving the people what they want. It felt a bit like they were trying to put on a show for listeners, instead of put something with genuine feeling in the EP. Then again, it was only four songs long, so they could easily be saving more impactful things for later. Still, at the end of the day, the vocals are solid and the mood is perfect for spring…7.0/10
The Phoenix Foundation: Fandango — The Phoenix Foundation’s new album, Fandango spans everything from ’70s synth pop to psychedelic indie pop. The New Zealand sextet recorded Fandango in a span of 15 months in four different studios. This follow-up from 2011’s Buffalo ignores the short game, and goes right for the double album. Co-frontman Samuel Flynn Scott has called this album, “Test match music.” All 78 minutes of this album was well-thought-out to break any barriers of genera.
Fandango starts with the psychedelic ballad, ‘Modern Rock’. Its quiet lyrics and guitar progression lead the dominant first three tracks of the double LP. It shows a darker side of The Phoenix Foundation that hasn’t been seen in previous albums. The lyrics in ‘Black Mold’ portray a twisted dark world of urban decay: “Little dark flowers growing in the shower / Villas in the mist, in the valley of the saggy / where the sun will never kiss, and it’s a nice little place / and it’s cozy I suppose, if you don’t mind living in a never-ending war with black mold.”
Fandango then turns from the dark to the light with a synth pop explosion. This is the point where the ‘Test Match Music’ begins. The first single off the album, ‘The Captain’ is an upbeat change from the darker lyrics and tone. The laid back melody sung by co-frontman Lukasz Buda are juxtaposed with the synth pop guitar and piano. The quiet melody continues into ‘Thames Soup’, and turns fuzzy in, ‘Evolution Did’.
There’s a point into the second LP where Fandango shifts personality again, and becomes alt-county and folk. Co-frontman Samuel Flynn Scott retakes the lead vocals, and channels his inner Wilco lyrics and sounds. Of course, The Phoenix Foundation adds their twists like a wild jazz flute in ‘Sideways Glance’. Fandango ends with the 17-minute experiment, ‘Friendly Society’. There is a hint of Pink Floyd, but you can tell The Phoenix Foundation is creating a sound to call its own.
So, sit back and take in all 78 minutes of Fandango. There are times were the experimental test match music drags, but let the artist experiment. Fandango takes a commitment to listen to, but it’s worth it. A double album is doesn’t mean much in the digital world, but The Phoenix Foundation aims to give the listener more…8.0/10
Shannon And The Clams: Dreams In The Rat House — Not quite retro enough for rockabilly and a bit too vintage for prog rock, Shannon And The Clams, the Oakland-based garage trio helmed by one-time Hunx and the Punx singer Shannon Shaw, is a bit of a mystery. So rather than try to sum up their sound with some overly hyphenated adjective, I’ll just put it like this. Shannon and the Clams is what rockabilly would sound like – wait for it – in the future.
The rockabilly portion of that equation should come as no surprise. Shannon and the Clams have been cranking out Mad Men era rock since their 2009 debut album, I Wanna Go Home. And though its true that all of their songs seemly firmly couched in vintage rhythms and sound, it can also be said that the band is pushing the limits of what “vintage” rock can be by adding distinctly modern touches where they are needed most. The trio’s latest album, Dreams In The Rat House, is a perfect example. It’s a bit dirtier than the squeaky-clean surf rock it pays homage to, and it’s a lot more innovative – rhythmically, lyrically, melodically – than doo-wop and rockabilly it imitates. Simply put, there’s a lot of energy on this album, and Shaw and her creative counterpart, guitarist Cody Blanchard, know exactly how to harness it.
That sharp uptick in ferocity is evident on the very first tracks of the album. Dreams In The Rat House starts off at a full gallop. Blanchard’s voice is brimming with electricity (though I’m sure the microphone effects have something to do with it) on the beach-rock inspired ‘Hey Willy’, conjuring images portable record players and sandy beer bottles. Album standout ‘Rip Van Winkle’ features Shaw’s dynamic, scruffy vocals over a jangly 60s soul groove a subtly bluesy drum beat.
But perhaps even more than Shannon And The Clams’ energy – notice Blanchard’s gritty yelps on ‘Bed Rock’ and ‘The Rabbits Nose’ and Shaw’s crackling vocal work on ‘Ozma’ and ‘Heads and Tails’ –it is the poeticism of the band’s lyrics that really pushes them into futuristic territory. ‘In the River’ is hypnotically repetitive, embellishing themes of loneliness and frustration to an exhilarating limit. Album namesake ‘The Rat House’, is equally as haunting, a hodgepodge of drum-driven folk rock and chirpy doo-wop background vocals.
But let’s not forget about the musicianship on Dreams In The Rat House. Blanchard’s dexterity as a guitarist is featured prominently on this album. He clearly understands the stylistic nuances of mid-century music. Yet his most impressive feat is that he manages to capture the unbridled energy and understated rawness of the music he’s borrowing from. As a vocalist, Blanchard adds an element of musical liberation to the otherwise predictable genres of R&B and surf rock. ‘Into a Dream’ and ‘If I Could Count’ are cases in point. Blanchard’s guitar is hard and biting, yet still manages to remain cooler than a slicked-back pompadour.
As it stands, Dreams In The Rat House is something like a musical time capsule. It contains all the artifacts of music from centuries past, but still carries some of the promise for the future. Both gritty and clean, spicy and sweet, it is an album that doesn’t quite know what decade it belongs to – and is just fine with that…8.1/10