January Collection


Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory

The much-hyped follow up to the self titled album of last year. Cloud Nothings continues to baffle me. They ended up on quite a few 'Best Of' lists last year, but it didn't really move me all that much. It was a fun, reckless pop rock release with some lo-fi bedroom charm and a punk aesthetic. But it didn't change my world, and I could name 30 more interesting releases from 2011 off the top of my head. So why the sudden explosion of popularity? That was my state of mind before hearing the new release, and even though I wasn't thrilled by them previously, I'm actually disappointed by Attack on Memory. It abandons the crowd-hopping pop anthems, the youthfulness and the soft/noisy dichotomy, but doesn't add anything new to the formula.

First of all, this guy CANNOT SING LOUDLY for the life of him. What was supposed to be a raw, naked roar is nothing more than a grating, strangled yelp pushed out of his throat like vomit, and as such only reveals how little real vocal power this guy has. If this was predominantly a noise rock record and that somehow fit with something of that caliber, fine, whatever, but it isn't. Not most of the time, anyway. That might be a minor thing for some people but it appears to be a focus for the majority of the songs - it's an inseparable part of any Cloud Nothings conversation, and cannot be written off. The melodies and chords are simple enough, which is expected from a band like this and can't really be held against them, but in the end that just translates to nothing really exciting. 'Cut You' is the best song on the album by far - you can hear him singing (actually singing!) softer and much more in tune, the chords are rendering yet maintain that rough quality, percussion is on point and it sounds more complex than most other songs. Compared with the yawning, plodding drawl of tracks like 'No Future/No Past' and 'Wasted Days', not every other song is a groaner - 'Separation' is a pulse-raising thrasher (conspicuously devoid of vocals), and 'Stay Useless' sounds like it could be the breakout pop hit of the winter. Taken as a whole, though, Attack on Memory is a few gems and a disappointing amount of off-base tracks.

Here's a sample.
Here's the album. (V0)

Lindstrøm - Six Cups of Rebel

I don't have a ton to say about this album, actually. It's an electronic/disco thing, heavy on the synths, with a constant pulsing bass that ALMOST makes me want to get up and dance, but unfortunately this constantly seems to undershoot its potential. The production is top-notch while every other aspect of these songs are average at best. He introduces me to nothing remotely new or revolutionary, which would be fine if this was just a collection of solid tracks, but sadly there's just way too much that bores me. 

The album seems to start off strong until I realize that every song is pretty much the same tempo with the same kick drum. The synths sound stock and cheap, like he lazily cherry picked them from Fruity Loops. Sometimes (especially on 'Call Me Anytime', where the first couple minutes seem to be synth-noodling that goes nowhere) he sounds downright amateur. The small bit of vocals that are present are scattered and random, and I know that vocals aren't the focal point in something like this, but when they're as mumbly and out-of-tune and non-committal as these, what's the point of having them at all? 'All I want is a quiet place to live' in an annoying falsetto with the same old beat for six minutes straight? He could have replaced that vocal with literally anything else and it would have made it ten times as interesting and listenable. Back to 'Call me Anytime', a large portion at the end is incoherent stop-and-start muttering that doesn't follow the beat and adds nothing, while the title track just has pointless laughing near the end. As for the tunes themselves, they're simply too repetitive while not having any real meat to them. It's not extremely interesting, nor is it properly dancey, or hypnotizing, or evocative, or anything. It just is. Bottom line, I'm obviously just not feeling this record. For me, at best it's bland background noise to drone out to.

Here's a sample.
Here's the album. (320)

The Maccabees - Given To The Wild

I'm going to admit right now that I missed the boat on The Maccabees, as this is the first album I've heard of theirs. Based on my very small amount of research it appears these guys have been popular for some time - I don't know why I haven't heard of them before now, really. It seems they originate from Britain, so that's a good excuse. I generally don't enjoy hopping into a band's discography at random but I guess it's not a big deal. 

Anyway, Given To The Wild. It's a sweet and delicate indie rock record, a smart mix of upbeat toe-tappers and soaring heart-renderers. This band feels like an experienced and seasoned oufit unconcerned with gimmicks or scenes, out to simply make some engaging songs. They feature twinkling on-point guitar work, a singer intensely familiar with his range and output, savage drums that get your heart racing, and tactful inclusion of varied instrumentation like horns and light synths that never feel dominating or overdone, or, well, tacky. They don't seem to be breaking new ground - they know what they do and they do it well. There's a tiny bit of filler here but nothing that ruins the album experience, most songs stand out enough from the others that they don't all sound the same. This is probably going to be a favorite for awhile. It's definitely widely accessible but that doesn't come close to tarnishing its overall quality.

Here's a sample.
Here's the album. (256, to be replaced) (DOWN)

Anthony Green - Beautiful Things

Veteran frontman Anthony Green's second solo release, Beautiful Things, is a triumphant announcement of his fully realized sound. After singing for a few bands, most notably Circa Survive, he released his solo debut Avalon, which is my main focus for comparison simply because the only thing you can put side by side (in terms of his bands) is his vocal quality. That's only one part of the equation here, however I realize the importance so I'll get it out of the way first: the decay of his range with age and strain is conspicuous. He simply cannot reach the signature highs that he exhibited in Circa Survive to great effect - compare a current track like 'Get Yours While You Can' to something like 'The Glorious Nosebleed' 6 years prior. The piercing, crystal clear power yell has been replaced by a throaty, sandpaper rasp that becomes most apparent when he attempts to reach his past heights. That might be a bigger problem if Anthony was constantly striving for that, but he appears comfortable in a strong median that suits him. 

That aside, Beautiful Things is a massive improvement on Avalon in just about every way. Avalon sounded disjointed and half-formed. Between the decent indie pop, there were sappy ballads like 'She Loves Me So', a bizarre electronic interlude, and the plain awfulness of 'Califone'. It was all over the place. Beautiful Things is fine-tuned to hell and looking straight ahead. The instrumentation is precise and professional, and instead of diving into random experiments, he's dipping his toes into things like folk and country and assimilating that into his personal style to bring refreshing glimpses into his potential. For something that could've easily been another 'Oh, that guy. He's still making records, huh?' from a seasoned figurehead, This record is a pleasant surprise that makes me excited for what else he's got up his sleeves.

Here's a sample.
Here's the album. (v0) (iTunes Deluxe edition with demos and bonuses) (replaced)

Decide for yourself.


Alvin Band - Rainbow Road


The long awaited follow-up to Mantis Preying is a many-feathered animal. Alvin Band produces a unique brand of experimental psych pop with a large emphasis on vocals - however, Rainbow Road is a departure from the vocal-ONLY Mantis Preying and delves into Rick Alvin Schaier's instrumental skills.

Before you even hear the album, if you ever played Mario you can see the tongue-in-cheek references right in the song names: Bowser's Castle, Dry Bones, Shells, King Boo, Vanilla Dome, and of course, Rainbow Road. I think it goes without saying that when you see something like that you have to second guess yourself as to what it is you're getting yourself into. Is this going to be some experimental-'funny'-chiptune mess of a nightmare? Re-workings of video game music? Your worst fears are confirmed by the organ intro and Nintendo lyrics talking about the castle, spikes, and the princess - until it explodes in a synth-heavy funky groove with voice overlaying, tactful reverb, ukeleles, and WHISTLING? Not only that, but it almost feels as if this (and the songs to come) have 'movements', if you will - there's a lot of loud/quiet contrast, with soft lullabies and hard rhythms working in tandem - but nothing sits still in one place for long, and before you know it, you're hearing the cheerful guitar intro and Rick's soulful falsetto that gets your head nodding. This thing is ridiculous.

Very early on, you may notice some familiar things. Like, oh I don't know, this guy sounds EXACTLY LIKE PANDA BEAR. The Animal Collective comparisons are rampant, some accusing him of 'copying' and 'ripping off' AnCo, which I do not believe are entirely valid. There's a definitely influence, sure, and his voice compared to Panda Bear is uncanny in its similarity. If anything, I'd say this is starting to sound a bit like Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is one small chapter in the Animal Collective story, which in itself is a highly debated and polarizing album among fans. Alvin Band sometimes exhibits a swelling maximalist style of mind blowing synths and funky percussion (punctuated by those Panda Bear yells), much like choice songs on MPP, as with the third track, 'Stanley Kubrick'. But, come on, twinkling bells, steel drum synths, a segment with nothing but piano? Alvin Band is coming from a different place, with a different goal in mind. Similar, yes. Ripoff? Slander.

The fourth song continues the delicate and airy piano interlude, with lots of sighing vocals lilting through the air. This kind of thing makes me wonder where the hell this album is going. The minute long movements are both appreciated and confusing. I've mentioned before that I am personally slightly biased towards albums where every song sounds different - I am firmly entrenched in the idea that, musically, variety is the spice of life, which this album is certainly delivering in spades. But the flow seems a little odd and it can definitely throw you off when you get into a portion of a song only to have it flip around on you and do something entirely different twice over before it's done. Taking a step back, the album as a whole seems like it's sort of struggling to keep the balance between lively, interesting flickers of inspiration, and cohesiveness. It never goes too far in one direction but on rare occasions it can just seem like a jumble. But 'Transcendental Meditative Mutant Ninja Turtles' is a celebration of the peak of the aforementioned balance: a down low beat with echoing vocal harmonies that all at once, sync into a smart rhythm that shows of his vocal range and control. It doesn't go too far out into chaotic territory and retains a common melody before ending in a frantic cabaret. Then, immediately, I burst out laughing - smack dab in the middle of a psych chamber pop acappella kaleidoscope is a ridiculous off-course stoner anthem called 'Crazy High'. One of the cheesiest songs I've ever heard, with shimmering guitars, an 80's saxophone out of nowhere, nudge-inducing lyrics such as 'Just a little goes a long way, I must say... I believe in magic, do you believe in magic?' Funny thing is, IT WORKS. It's refreshing to see this caliber of creative tongue-in-cheek humor combined with such talented songwriting and musicianship.

However this album is not without its bum notes, sadly. 'Shells' starts out promising as a pleasant floating ditty transformed into a detailed description of the physics of blue shells from Mario Kart, but the "Shells shells shells I'mtalkinbout shells shells shells sh-sh-shells shells shells" is repetitive and slightly abrasive. I'm further disappointed to hear the next tune consists mostly of "King Boo Boo Boo King Boo Boo Boo he is spooky spooky spooky" with the same boom-boom percussion that dominates 'Shells'. What happened here? This is an album so jam packed full of ideas, yet he made two practically identical songs and placed them one after the other. It comes off arduous and smacks of filler, but thankfully due to the album's constantly-shifting nature it quickly shoots off into another direction.

By the last track, I can say this is definitely a resounding success at sucking you into its world - I feel constantly interested, by this time I'm pretty much on the edge of my seat wondering what's gonna come out of this next. Rarely am I truly engaged with ears forward, rarely does something feel like a breath of fresh air, something new and exciting. It's a respectable body of work that also appeals to your memories and sense of humor. Whether he can iron out the kinks or not is anyone's guess, but either way, Alvin Band has definitely earned my attention.


Here's some samples.
Here's the album. (320) (re-upped)
Here's the last.fm.
Here's the site.

Decide for yourself.


The New Law - The Fifty Year Storm

The New Law is a couple of producers from Seattle making some inspired instrumental hip hop that stands out a bit from the crowd. Never heard an album of theirs and they seem (relatively) like an unknown on the scene as of yet.

The absolute first thing you will notice about the album is simply the DENSITY of everything - the layers of sound, the production, the influences and inspirations coming from every which way, the delicate combinations of sounds and unorthodox instruments.It definitely hints at (but doesn't fully commit to) a maximalist leaning, kind of a strange offering from this particular genre. The New Law uses a smorgasbord of different styles and effects - hip hop percussions, dubstep-ish bass, faded horns, droning synths, lilting strings, Spanish guitars, various other electronic manipulations - but it never sounds too chaotic or out of whack, in fact just the opposite. It sounds cohesive and purposeful, the sounds working together to achieve a brooding and suspenseful, yet soulful feel. They also pull no punches, and show you exactly what they're up to and what they're all about starting with the first song, 'I've Seen Some Mean Faces.' They then dive right into showcasing their electronic chops. The track that follows is a somewhat longer song that never feels like it drags on but instead keeps introducing fascinating aspects of their style, with tortured and unfamiliar vocal snippets, intriguing use of synths, and most importantly intricate and detailed beats.

The album feels like an experiment, first and foremost. It sounds like a greatly varied album that puts its hands in a great number of paint cans to see what they can make, all the while fleshing out their specific sound. The third track, 'Get Your Gun', begins on a softer and lighter note before being rapidly propelled to a pulsing groove. 'Voyage' begins with a piano ballad that launches into what can only be called a dubstep drop, never losing the unique elements present in other songs. 'Constellations', I was pleased to find out, could have easily been mistaken for a song from someone like Knxwledge, or lifted straight from Collections 01 from another very talented beat wizard. Soon I hear tribal drums that immediately bring Fever Ray to mind, while the title track is a furiously punching electronic rhythm powerhouse. I'm surprised at how many different distinguishable styles can be assimilated and tweaked to a new perfection.

None of this is to say that the experiment is a strict success, as the album has a few minor missteps that are pretty hard to ignore. A cheesy swirl effect that just feels like a cop-out, akin to being distracted from 4th of July fireworks because someone lit a sparkler nearby. 'Get Your Gun' goes a bit overboard with the frantic horn doing the brass equivalent of 'noodling'. The seventh track, 'Opium Den', has a small mandolin melody that nags at me because it sounds more like a synth than a 'real' instrument, which spoils the enjoyment just a bit. Overall these are not enough to tip the scales in a negative direction as it never detracts from the complete song - indeed, it's simply more to explore.

The Fifty Year Storm kind of takes how my album experiences usually go and flips them backwards. I (and a lot of other people, I think) tend to 'see the big picture' for the first one or two listens, and if you continue on you begin to notice details, effects, and idiosyncrasies that may have passed you by upon first inspection. But the first thing you notice about this album is the level of detail and the many different sounds to concentrate on, so LATER is when you get a grip on the main melodies and directions of the songs. After multiple listens the songs seem simpler than they really are, maybe. ('Nest Of Hornets', I'm looking at you.)

The album is hard to pin down, and I enjoy that about it. I may be slightly biased, as I tend to enjoy varied albums that don't stay too long in one place. It's a valid entry into any instrumental hip hop collection, and despite it's few shortcomings, leaves me curious as to the future of these talented young men. One last thing that I think is worth mentioning is that this album has them busy carving out their own style and specific sound, yet doesn't take any daring steps into trademarks. By capitalizing on variation, it capitalizes on nothing, in a way. It might be doomed to obscurity by virtue of being a decent, respectable album in a sea of decent, respectable albums, but I'm going to keep an eye out for these fellows.


Here's a sample.
Here's the album. (320) (re-upped)
Here's the last.fm.
Here's the bandcamp.
Decide for yourself. 


Bellman - The Curse


Bellman is apparently one Norweigan guy named Arne-J Rauan. I've never heard of him, nor am I aware of any previous releases. This album is soft indie pop with a lot of classical influence.

The classical influence is noticeable off the bat, as the beginning of the album focuses on gentle string chords and a twinkling piano melody, accompanied by the lonely sounds of one guy with an acoustic guitar. This guy's voice is pretty easily distinguishable. It starts off strong and solitary, but as the album progresses it becomes an incredibly airy, wistful nasal exhale. It comes off soft and somewhat feminine. The second song, 'I Suppose', sounds like a true pop song, and a little after midway through, you hear the singer take out the air and put some power behind his voice. It sounds like he's actually singing instead of just breathing with words, which you will learn is uncharacteristic for the rest of the album. The Curse is littered with little pockets of the vocalist exhibiting his range and vocal chops only to slip back into his trademark whisper, which is disappointing to me, personally.

The third track, 'Olivia,' is the closest to 'upbeat' you'll hear at that point, yet it still retains the longing quality of the other songs. It's also another perfect example of real singing that suits him well. It's obvious that lots of orchestral backup pretty much dominates the various songs' direction and tone - epic, sappy movie score buildups which constantly sound like he's pining for someone. Every song seems to be about a girl. As I slip into 'Gasoline', I hear the loaded band set up but it's again directed by the continuous piano melody in the background that reminds me of Something Corporate. The next one, 'My Sound'? DOMINATED BY PIANO. This just makes it sound like pussy beta indie. It's not innovative or new or particularly exciting. It seriously does sound like a mix of Something Corporate and early Keane that's a lot simpler and has a weaker singer.

'85/40' is easily the best song on the album - it escapes the sad-bastard formula and actually sounds feel-good and catchy. The vocalist is channeling The Fire Theft a bit here and even though it's as simple as the other tracks, the hook stands out as an emotional earworm. He utilizes the other instruments at his disposal to such great effect, the song doesn't even feel like it belongs with the others. It quickly becomes a cruel joke, however, as Bellman slashes your hopes and goes straight into another plodding country-esque lonely-ass piano ballad plus strings where he croons 'See me tonight, I've got you anyway, inside.' It's so unbelievably corny and cliche that it's difficult to take him seriously. 'Inside' tries to pick it back up but ends up just being forgettable.

This album is a constant tug-of-war - you're always striving to notice the things that could save this album. The production is excellent, especially for one guy who, to the best of my knowledge, is playing all the instruments. There's no annoying interludes or intros. The instrumentation is spot-on and on time. Ultimately, though, these are bonuses or they're simply expected of normal musicians, and are not what elevates artists above the crowd. It's listenable, but not memorable in any way. Even the last track, 'Go,' is a real let-down - it's no different from the other piano ballads except it has a proper wrapping-things-up tone. After a few minutes of epic orchestral build up, he has the string section play two dull notes over and over for eternity into the fade out. An elementary school beginner's orchestra could play the fade out with zero problems. It reeks of boring non-creativity. That's great that you play violin, but I'm unable to care unless you write some interesting parts for it.

In the end, this is a light, safe pop record with no real curveballs, no surprises, and no saving graces. If this guy wants to stand any chance, he's going to have to find his voice and tinker with his formula a lot.


Here's a sample.
Here's the album. (320)
Here's the last.fm.
Here's the bandcamp, and the site.

Decide for yourself.