Tag Archives: MP3

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Only Run

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Only Run- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is one of those bands that maintains it’s strong sense of identity despite the responsibility of artists that singer Alec Ounsworth specified as the need to take musical risks and shift aesthetic gears between albums. Although the band saw the loss of two members, guitarist/keyboardist Robbie Guertin and bassist Tyler Sargent, their fourth studio album Only Run preserves the perplexingly pleasant sound their known for while inserting increasingly electronic production, capturing the essence of our Cartesian world as well as a possible homage to the internet, the site of CYHSY’s initial success and purveyor of their status as one of the first groups to gain notoriety from music blog praise.

In this new album, the band smartly makes the choice to couple the shrouding guitar of their 2005 self-titled debut with a heavy use of synthesizer, expanding on the 2013 EP Little Moments, which essentially acts as a precursor to Only Run, with both tracks making an appearance on the album. Drawing from their first attempt with heavier electronic use on Hysterical, CYHSY develops a more successful balance on Only Run between real instrumentals and those like drum machines and synthesizers all while progressing the anxious beats of 2007’s Some Loud Thunder. However, while the band may be perfecting aspects of previous work, Ounsworth’s vision of the album as a “renewed sense of optimism” in response to news-stories detailing “overwhelming odds” embodies CYHSY’s exploration of a more complex, fresh-faced sound on Only Run.

‘As Always’ introduces the album’s enveloping electronic sound with hard percussion and strums of lo-fi guitar breaking through the sheet of synth that cloaks the track. While the ear may stick to the gooey guitar squirts in ‘As Always’ rather than Ounsworth’s signature vocals, ‘Coming Down’ has them on full display. After the Ben Folds ‘Rockin’ the Suburbs’-style opening, Ounsworth’s voice swirls from fizzy mumbles that slip into a gut-fueled, Brandon Flowers-esque crone before sliding into his piercing caw. ‘Coming Down’ displays all the elements of Ounsworth’s voice before it calls on the baritone stylings of The National’s Matt Berninger, another songwriter with an uncompromising sound, to weigh down the hopeful rise & falls of Ounsworth before they both crash into a synthesized riff.

Tracks branded with a mid-tempo melancholy reminiscent of Radiohead like ‘Blameless’ and ‘Beyond Illusion’ dig an even deeper sense of variety into the album. A quick paced drum machine scatters across a streak of synth while Ounsworth stretches a pained tone across ‘Blameless,’ whose conflicting timbres convey an urgent hopefulness. ‘Beyond Illusion’ becomes a high point of the album as Paul Lanksy-pitched keys tinge an otherwise down-tempo beat, coating the track with a new wave glaze.

Further Lansky, ‘Idle Chatter’-type influences become apparent by the chopped-up spoken word samples spliced into songs ‘Only Run’ and ‘Your Advice.’ The former opening with a female voice stating “I’m writing you from acid” before vibrating into the repeated “It’s a beautiful world,” urging one to pop the album like a tab of LSD, melting self-pitiful concerns into an optimistic view of the world. Bouncing synth and quick percussion pierce a haunting, Brian Eno-esque soundscape as chest-kept vocals fluctuate throughout. ‘Your Advice’ opens with laughter and a pondering “Do you feel happier?” before Ounsworth tells us to “ignore the new world” while he takes from it, displayed by the dense waves of synth, whereas the compelling drama of the chorus line “I miss the comfort of your chains” stands out in this otherwise wall-flower of a song.

Opposing its title, ‘Little Moments’ bloats with blinking keyboard and synth skipping along upbeat instrumentals and the high-pitched strength of Ounsworth’s voice, making it a big moment on Only Run. And although the contribution of master turntable artist Kid Koala is relatively unheard in ‘Cover Up,’ the track’s slow spaced drums and alien-esque reverberations provide a setting as ghostly as Ounsworth’s eerie crow and prove CYHSY can innovatively produce while maintaining their “ugly-pretty” peculiarity.

The repeated refrains of the original ‘Impossible Request’ drags on as Ounsworth’s characteristically sounding vocals are obscured by heavy-handed synth and oddly vanishing guitar. However, the alternate version at the album’s end does a successful renovation. Softer synths weave through drum machine beats before refined vocals hollow out the song’s thickened sound in a smooth sprawl while the addition of female backing brightens the track with hopefulness. So although CYHSY’s journey to producing an album as consistent as their debut has been an unsteady one, the band solidifies their antique charms with a refreshed finish on Only Run, as well as their listener’s “renewed sense of optimism.”…8/10

‘Beyond Illusion’

Foster the People: Supermodel

Foster the People_Supermodel
Foster the People: Supermodel
– I’ll admit: I totally wrote Foster the People off after hearing ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ for the umpteenth time on just about every form of media imaginable. And then I caught myself unconsciously singing the chorus back in the shower, in the car, on the train, walking my dog, cleaning my apt, etc. It was like a drug addiction I couldn’t quit. I finally gave in a download their debut album Torches. Like ‘Pumped Up Kicks,’ there wasn’t an ounce of fat on their debut; just perfectly crafted, highly addictive melodies. And, frontman Mark Foster actually had something to say lyrically. It was a recipe for pop perfection. After such a rock solid debut the stakes are obviously high for Foster the People’s sophomore album, Supermodel. However, this time around the ex-jingle writing frontman has taken on a more mature and introspective approach to pop rock with myriad musical influences. When it works it REALLY works. But, Supermodel ultimately ends up sounding like Foster the People sans the fun and originality. There are still plenty of great moments, just not as strong a follow up to such a satisfying debut as one would hope.

Things get started on a high note with ‘Are You What You Want To Be.’ It’s not as overtly catchy as anything they’ve released in the past but there’s a certain charm that screams Foster the People about this track with Foster’s childlike vocal stylings. It perfectly captures the essence of Foster the People while maintaing that mature tone that the band is shooting for. In doing so, it seems like the band is making not so subtle nods to a handful of indie pop allstars. ‘Pseudologia Fantastica’ is a great listen but is entirely too reminiscent of a leftover MGMT track. And, ‘The Truth’ flirts with a subtly dubsteppy groove like that of Alt-J‘s ‘Fitzpleasure,’ which is a comparison I didn’t think I’d be making going into this record. These experimental nods end up reading more like unoriginality, unfortunately.

Lead off single ‘Coming Of Age’ is what I’d hope this band’s actual coming of age, sophomore release would sound more like. Even though the verse and hook are a little underwhelming, the throwback to 80′s pop really works in a David Bowie kind of way. ‘Best Friend’ is another fantastic highlight with a funky dance groove and Bee Gees-esque falsetto that really is so much fun. The 80′s pop influence makes so much more sense than borrowing from modern indie rock, and it’s utterly apparent. As a result, Supermodel is unbalanced.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Foster’s truly original and chameleon-like vocalisms. He shifts from nasally pop singer, to falsetto rock star, to baritone crooner (‘Goats in Trees’) all in the span of these 11 tracks. So, even when some of these songs don’t necessarily work he’s at least intriguing enough to listen to just because his voice is so different and versatile. He’s knows how to breathe life into a pop song that’s for sure.

Most of the problem with Supermodel is with comparison. It’s just too easy make lazy comparisons and write the band off saying “Oh, they just sound like so-and so.”  Especially, because Foster the People has an undeniably Foster The People sound that they could build a successful career off of. The other level of comparison is the one to their debut. Torches is just so tight in its sound and production that a sophomore slump was in order even before the album was released. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call Supermodel a slump. For such an overtly accessible  band the album is rather experimental; that’s never a bad thing. If anything, this record is a stumbly triumph that sheds light on what works and doesn’t work for Foster The People. The bar was just set so high for them as a medium of instant gratification that when they don’t meet that unfair expectation it leaves a bit to be desired. Either way, throw some of these bangers on a summer party mix and revel in the handful of glorious pop moments that Supermodel has to offer…6.2/10

‘Best Friend’

Swans: To Be Kind

Swans: To Be Kind – You’d think that by this point a group that’s been around as long as Swans has would inevitably lose some of its magic. I’m sure Michael Gira’s decision to discontinue the experimental, industrial rock outfit back in 2006 helped him pop back onto the scene 14 years later with a rejuvenated sense of creativity. Their first post-hiatus record, 2010′s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope, was a respectable and valiant effort that merely scratched the surface of the musical triumph that was to come two years later. It was Swans’ 2012 monument, The Seer, that effectively propelled this vintage creative vehicle into massive amounts of acclaim and reverence, the likes of which the band had not seen before. It’s rare that such a niche band like Swans to completely reinvent themselves so late in the game, but Gira has assembled a much more grandiose Swans for these latter albums and its paid off tenfold. Their latest, To Be Kind, is a continuation of its 2012 predecessor, all the while being every bit as broodingly impressive.

Be warned: you might as well clear an entire evening if you want to really delve into everything that this double album has to offer. To Be Kind is a dark affair that shows little light at the end of the tunnel. And, that tunnel is long as all hell. Clocking in at a minute over 2 hours, it’s gonna take some stamina if you want to feel your way through that entire tunnel and make it to the other side. That being said, the moods on here are so perfectly crafted that it’s easy to get lost in them and forget that one song is basically an EP. ‘Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture’ in particular is a doozy; a 30-minute epoch that flicks off the confines of typical song writing structure. It kicks things off right away with a brutal two-note breakdown/intro and then makes its way through everything from cold, empty, spatial textures; metallic, ambient sounds; and distorted harshness. Everything feels organic and genuine, though. This beast of a track definitely takes its sweet ol’ time but there’s a natural flow to the movement that keeps you entranced and even allows you to be surprised at times.

There are definitely more straightforward moments on the album that cleanse the pallet, if you will, and give your brain a break from being constantly challenged enough to just enjoy the ride. The opener, ‘Screen Shot’ is pretty digestible even if it does clock in at just over 8 minutes. There aren’t many twist and turns here nor is there a lot of downtime. This song just builds and builds until it reaches a shrill, distorted climax that without a doubt will get your heart racing. ‘A Little God on My Hands’ is another moment on the album that nods to a more accessible sound (sort of). The main motif is a little funky and dare I say danceable? But it’s not long before the song jerks into a synth frenzy that is absolutely mental. Not to mention Gira’s vocal delivery sounds straight up demonic at times.

If you haven’t caught the drift yet, To Be Kind is anything but kind. This album ventures into American Psycho levels of fucked up on numerous occasions. But, its brilliance lies in the fact that Gira takes it there with interesting textures and harrowing effects and not the usual in-your-face cliché of employing loud volume to represent high intensity. Don’t get me wrong, there is enough volume here to beat you into submission. But, Gira most definitely has more than one trick up his sleeve. ‘Oxygen’ is a circus of a track that is what would happen if Heath Ledger’s Joker crashed the set of the original Batman TV show with Adam West. The horn blasts are very reminiscent of those old school comic book fight scene hits while the arrangement is so repetitively chaotic that it sounds like you’re running through a hall of mirrors on LSD. There’s a hint of playfulness and humor here but it’s the equivalent of Stephen King’s character Pennywise the clown.

The female guest spots here are also add so much to the layers of this album. Musical schizophrenic Annie Clark of St. Vincent contributed a number of vocals, as well as art-rocker Little Annie and Al Spx of Cold Specks. Little Annie’s contribution to ‘Some Things We Do’ is perhaps the most prominent female presence here though. The sensation of Gira and Annie slowly duetting on such odd lyrics like “We fuck, we rage, we weep…” is horror perfection. Gira is arguable a master of everything dark, doom, and gloom. And, he makes no bones about exploring those themes to the fullest and then some. To Be Kind isn’t for the light at heart. But, if you want to be challenged and walk away having witnessed truly bold and brave art then this album has the exact recipe for that…9.4/10

A Little God In My Hands

Chrome Sparks: Goddess EP

Chrome Sparks: Goddess EP- Well I never thought I’d hear a flexatone solo this week, but I’m very glad I did. Do you know how rare that is? This and many other musical surprises await the listener’s ear in Chrome Sparks’ latest release, Goddess EP. Here’s what to expect: cool rhythms, sweet synths, intricate composition, unusual instrumentation, and refined production. Not a whole lot else that you can ask for.

When I listen to this music I am reminded every so often of the musical tendencies and aesthetic qualities of other electronic musicians such as Royksopp, Burial, Flying Lotus, and Bonobo. This is a good thing, but I’m not saying that Chrome Sparks doesn’t have his own style, because he certainly does, and it’s wicked. In his music, the story progresses rapidly, not with huge changes of scene but with small heavily detailed moments that can easily pass the by the listeners perception unnoticed. The sound is very synth and percussion based and it’s not afraid to dip its fingers into other, more unconventional areas of instrumentation.

Although every track on this EP is amazing, the one that I find to stand out the most has to be ‘Enter The Chrome Forest’ because it implements sampled audio to generate a setting that is befitting of its title. Details like this which give a piece more a narrative element always strike me as indicative of an artist’s conceptual intention. It’s affirms the cerebral quality of the production and composition. The piece itself is very beautiful and filled with many different tones and colors, but the prevailing emotion is something somber and soothing. This overall mood is contrasted in the following track, ‘Lost in the Chrome Forest’, by an upbeat tempo and uplifting chords, and then again by ‘ZzzzzZ’ which has more of a hip-hop, slug-beat feel. No doubt, getting all these different styles back to back will keep you on your toes.

The EP wraps up with its titular track, ‘Goddess’, and it is just too cool for me to handle. It begins with a slow build over the course of a minute with quarter note bass drum hits help establish the setting. Within this cave-like atmosphere we hear rising synths, an arpeggiating bass line, and delayed mallet percussion. When we reach the climax around 1:48 wherein a militia of synths come down upon the listener’s ears the feeling is something like the last scene of an epic movie, it’s triumphant and overwhelming, as if everything prior to this moment was a set up for the finale. Very exciting stuff.

At only 26 minutes, this 6-track EP reflects Chrome Sparks’ versatility of style, pace, and mood. It’s a buffet for the ears. If you’re looking for that new thing to keep you excited and engaged, look no further than Goddess EP… 9.4/10

The Meaning Of Love

Tame Impala: Live Versions

Tame Impala: Live Versions – Last October, I was lucky enough to catch an otherworldly Tame Impala and Flaming Lips show at Terminal 5 in NYC. Looking back, I remember Tame Impala’s relatively simple set being visually overshadowed by The Flaming Lips’ overzealous theatrics including a surprise appearance by Yoko Ono herself. Now, I love spectacle as much as the next guy, but what I really walked away from the show with was how amazed I was at Tame Impala’s more musical, toned down set. They didn’t need the theatrics; they put on a fantastic show full of sublime psych jams that I could have listened to over and over again. Thanks to a few happy thoughts and a bit of Record Store Day magic, I’m able to recapture some of that live excitement with Tame Impala’s Live Versions,  even if it’s in an analog way.

As part of record store day 2014, the Australian quintet released a 9-track live album of their 2013 show in Chicago, IL. It was only released to participating record stores as a limited edition vinyl. After finally getting my hands on the recordings, the first thing that struck me was how brilliantly the album was mixed. Every guitar part, every vocal effect, etc. came through crystal clear, as well as the perfect balance of audience reaction which help to capture the energy of the venue. The live album opens with ‘Endors Toi’ from Tame Impala’s incredible 2013 album Lonerism. Normally a 3-minute psych rager, the live version of ‘Endors…’ is gratifyingly drawn out with an extended synth jam that’s an absolute eargasm. It’s one of many times during Tame Impala’s live set where you can lose yourself in a beautifully hazy wall of sound.

Most of Live Versions comes from Lonerism, with two tracks from their debut Innerspeaker, one from self-titled EP, and a brief instrumental jam called ‘Sestri Levante.’ One of the most exciting moments in Tame Impala’s set in when they play ‘Half Full Glass of Wine,’ which is double the length of the original recording. Kevin and the band send this song into the stratosphere with a series of solos that remove themselves so brilliantly from the original melody that you’ll be shocked at how well they manage to tie it back into the song so seamlessly. A few other noteworthy moments have to be ‘Mind Mischief’ and an short but amazing (though not vocally perfect) rendition of one of the best rock songs I’ve heard in ages, ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.’

The great thing about Tame Impala is that they really do offer something special when it comes to their live show. A lot of live albums end up sounding so similar to the recorded versions that they’re barely even worth listening to. It’s a testament to a band’s skill, especially one with as many sonic intricacies as Tame Impala, if they can pull off sounding exactly like a record. However, real artistry presents itself when a band can do that and then take it to the next level, which is exactly what Live Versions has done…9.0/10

Be Above It