Sights and Sounds: Touching Up the Familiar

Sights and Sounds

by Mike Evans


JACK WHITE — Blunderbuss
THE GOOD: Detroit rocker Jack White cooks up his first solo effort.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: For almost 15 years, the man has cranked out quality work with the likes of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. Only the Stripes are officially broken up, which means White didn’t necessarily have to go solo. But the time was right.
White brings on the usual mix of hard rock, blues, rockabilly, country and rough R&B. But the music is more soulful this time. Songs like “Freedom at 21” and “Love Interruption” manage to move us without punchy backbeats. But that doesn’t mean they’re mellow. You can tell something is simmering beneath the surface, ready to pop any second.
More direct tunes like the jagged “Sixteen Saltines” and jumpy R&B classic “I’m Shakin’” (the only cover on the record) find the guy in rare form, flawlessly combining our more organic past with the electric present. And the occasional nod to those smoky honky-tonks or southern gospel churches of yesteryear only makes this tapestry even richer. Blunderbuss feels like the man’s past work but also explores new territories.
BUY IT?: Oh yeah.

THE GOOD: L.A. based trio Electric Guest bring on their debut.
THE BAD: If something crosses over into the mainstream, there’s an A&R feeding frenzy looking for copycat bands that are at least close to capturing the original’s feel and momentum. But what comes later is never as satisfying as what came first. And if you’re a couple of generations removed from the trailblazer — forget it. Electric Guest feels like a third generation band.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mondo was produced by Danger Mouse, and different tracks immediately recall two past DM projects. The upbeat R&B flavored stuff sounds like Gnarles Barkley without Cee-Lo Green. The more laid back moments resemble Broken Bells without James Mercer’s songwriting. And twinges of MGMT’s more radio-friendly material are all over this thing too. But Electric Guest isn’t as memorable as any of those aforementioned acts.
Just as Nirvana begat the inferior Bush which begat the even more inferior Silverchair two decades ago, Electric Guest find themselves at the end of the whole dance/rock/soul hybrid thing which has been chugging away for almost a decade now.
BUY IT?: Your call. Mondo has its moments, but you’ve heard them before.

ISLANDS — A Sleep and a Forgetting
THE GOOD: Ongoing Canadian indie rock project Islands (singer/songwriter Nick Thorburn and whomever he happens to be playing with this year) releases their (his?) fourth.
THE BAD: No gripes. Once again though, Islands revamps and redefines their sound; one could never accuse Thorburn of making the same record twice. Enter with an open mind.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Recorded in about two weeks with very little overdubs, A Sleep is the most intimate and emotionally open Islands record yet. Written in the wake of a bitter break-up and relocation to the west coast for Thorburn, the collection is a stripped down somewhat melancholy affair; our guy sounding like a cross between your favorite Pacific-northwest bearded band and some haunting late ’90s Mercury Rev. Tracks such as “This Is Not a Song” and “Can’t Feel My Face” embrace the sadness in settings both subdued and forceful.
But A Sleep is not a downer. Thorburn keeps the set balanced, bouncing between lyrical and musical extremes. One could hardly call cuts like the catchy “Hallways” or the swaying “Lonely Love” depressing.
BUY IT?: Yes. A Sleep is another quality shift in an eclectic catalog.

CROCODILES — Endless Flowers
FRIENDS — Manifest
THE HIVES — Lex Hives
MYNABIRDS — Generals
THE TEMPER TRAP — The Temper Trap

JOHN CARTER with Taylor Kitsch
SAFE HOUSE with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds

Sights and Sounds: Rock Pile

Sights and Sounds

by Mike Evans


THE TWILIGHT SAD — No One Can Ever Know
THE GOOD: Scottish indie rockers Twilight Sad shake things up again on their third full-length.
THE BAD: These lads ensure every album comes with a slight shift in sound. That’s only “bad” if you’re unwilling to follow.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Now a three-piece (bassist Craig Orzel has left the fold), Twilight Sad are experimenting with bolder rhythms, analog synths and a more densely packed sound. Andy MacFarlane’s layered guitars still scream; they’re just less important to the overall presentation. Legendary producer Andrew Weatherall (Beth Orton, Primal Scream) also makes sure the guys’ wall of sound is more multi-dimensional and sonically diverse; the band cranking out everything from the slowly churning “Nil” to the more straight-laced but challenging “Another Bed.”
But the band’s most distinct element remains intact — that is, vocalist James Graham’s heavy Scottish brogue. His singing brings a sharp intensity to these songs, at times adding feelings of frustration and hopelessness (No One is not the most lyrically optimistic record you’ll hear this year). It all ends up being an abrasive but winning combination for the disenfranchised among us.
BUY IT?: Oh yes.

THE GOOD: Oregon alt-rock outfit Dandy Warhols are still plugging away on their seventh.
THE BAD: The band’s last two albums, Odditorium (2005) and Earth To (2008), sucked hard (to put it bluntly). This Machine is a vast improvement over the past seven years, but is that saying much?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Being a longtime follower of the Dandies (sometimes enthralled and often times frustrated), I’m just happy there are a handful of halfway decent tunes here. Low burning lead single “Well They’re Gone” is eerie and gloriously understated. “The Autumn Carnival” is a bit of creepy funk. “Enjoy Yourself” is the band at their sarcastic best.
Unfortunately, Machine also packs on the filler. “Don’t Shoot She Cried” meanders in a muddy psychedelic haze (I think there’s a melody in there somewhere). “Alternative Power to the People” has to be an instrumental goof. And the group’s baritone sax-infused cover of “16 Tons” sounds less like Tennessee Ernie Ford and more like a discarded Morphine leftover.
Machine forces you to think either “Yeah, they’re back” or “Not again” at different points. That’s only slightly better.
BUY IT?: Your call.

HOWLER — America Give Up
THE GOOD: Young Minnesota indie rockers Howler give us a loud debut.
THE BAD: This band has potential, but…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Right now, the guys have about a dozen other bands in their sound. And all of those other bands are still better. Pick any track and you’ll hear the Black Lips’ spontaneity, the immediacy of the Black Keys, the Strokes’ tortured souls, and the cranked licks of “insert your favorite roots rock band name here.”
So why bother? Maybe so you can hear a young group formulating their style. These guys are barely in their 20’s, and they do have some growing up to do. But as you listen to America, you can’t help but think their music will eventually turn out okay. There are traces of not only modern contemporaries in these songs, but the legends as well. You can tell Howler did their homework when the occasional rockabilly stomp or garage psyche reverberation bursts through the din. Not every cut is memorable, but at least these boys are on the right track.
BUY IT?: Maybe. America is decent. Next time around should be better.

INSANE CLOWN POSSE — The Mighty Death Pop
REGINA SPEKTOR — What We Saw from the Cheap Seats
SIGUR ROS — Valtari

with Sam Worthington and Elizabeth Banks
with Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly

Sights and Sounds: Switched On

Sights and Sounds

by Mike Evans


Switched On

THE GOOD: Globetrotting indie trio (they’re mostly Australian) Young Magic goes for the spacey on their patchwork debut.
THE BAD: Melt is a mood record; its overall vibe overshadowing the individual songs. Expect something that works best as a whole.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Melt is a compilation of sorts, comprised of a handful of previous released singles, some experimental links and a few new cuts. It’s all hazy low-key electronica that resembles both early Hot Chip (remember the creepy “Playboy?”) and contemporary upstarts such as Small Black. There are sprinkles of dub a la Thievery Corporation and Neon Indian-like chillwave; the entire set a throbbing low-burning ooze.
Tracks like “You with Air” and “The Dancer” flirt with traditional song structures and cohesive melodies but even these touches are engulfed in a neo-psychedelic fog. Most of the album finds the band trying to hypnotize the listener; to send us drifting off to a higher place. It’s a great vibe as long as you’re in the proper frame of mind. This outfit truly shows promise.
BUY IT?: Maybe. Young Magic could be great … but probably not until next time.


THE 2 BEARS — Be Strong
THE GOOD: The 2 Bears make every dancefloor a London dancefloor.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: We live in the age of the side project. It’s not uncommon for a musician to be in three different groups at once, or for members of varying acts to merge into entirely new outfits. Sure that has always happened, but the world of indie has been totally immersed in this “blurring of the bands” for at least a decade now.
With that in mind, meet the 2 Bears — Joe Goddard of Hot Chip along with MC Raf Daddy.
Together, these men make up a duo hell bent on showing us a great time at some steamy, sweaty English establishment that’ll be pumping until the break of dawn. Encompassing everything from electro to house to dancehall, 2 Bears’ music looks forward while constantly recalling the best of our rhythmic past.
Like many side projects, Strong sometimes feels custom-made for the music geeks; collectors too cool to dance and perfectly content with counting all the classic references lurking in the mix. But the album never loses its sense of fun.
BUY IT?: Yeah!


PORCELAIN RAFT — Strange Weekend
THE GOOD: Italian-born singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Mauro Remiddi offers up the dreamy thumping Porcelain Raft full-length debut.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Recorded and conceived in a Brooklyn basement, Weekend finds Remiddi doing the whole electronic dream-pop aesthetic rather well. Think a lighter Passion Pit crossed with a delicate take on M83. Then toss in some vintage glam, mix in fellow Secretly Canadian act Painted Palms and you begin to sense what this spaced-out journey is all about.
Synthetic instrumentation and Remiddi’s wispy vocals divinely combine over a myriad of fragile beats and warm basslines, creating tracks that owe just as much to classic ambient techno as they do to current indie pop. Tunes such as “Unless You Speak from Your Heart” and “Put Me to Sleep” are equal parts mid-period Orb, contemporary Best Coast, and “shoegaze revival” all at once. The record remembers the past and looks towards the future while pulling us out of the present altogether. It’s a pretty cool all-encompassing effect.
BUY IT?: Yep. And here’s hoping the ever-changing Remiddi settles into this persona for at least a little while.

Sights and Sounds: Boys and Girls

Sights and Sounds

by Mike Evans



HOSPITALITY — Hospitality
THE GOOD: Brooklyn trio Hospitality gives us
a smart debut.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Led by Amber Papini (vocals, guitar, and most songwriting duties), Hospitality combines twee pop and indie rock and gives it all an Upper East Side attitude. Think a reserved Vampire Weekend or an Americanized Belle and Sebastian, and you sort of get an idea of what these urbanites are playing.
The album is filled with wry observations about everything from ambitious co-workers (“Betty Wang”) to the post-college doldrums (“Liberal Arts”). Papini’s precious chirp brings each tune to life; the backdrops comprised of tight beats and melodic guitar stings.
Listening to the record brings you into the whole intellectual urban experience. Whether the band fully embraces this lifestyle or are poking fun at it is a tad ambiguous, but it’s probably the latter. Papini and company aren’t old by any means, but they’re not 19 either. And it seems the older you get, the sillier “hip” city culture becomes. This work seems to be happening at that perfect time between enthusiasm and indifference. “We’re still cool, but it’s beginning to matter less and less.”
BUY IT?: Oh yes.

THE GOOD: Don’t judge a band by their moniker! “Trailer Trash Tracys” makes you think of a psycho-billy outfit or some babes making a racket out in the garage. Neither of those options would be disagreeable. But that’s not what you get here. On Ester, the London outfit (three guys and one girl) gives us a spaced-out debut.
THE BAD: Ester is slightly uneven; the group still finding themselves. Once you settle in though, it’s a memorable trip.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ester boasts a heady mix of early ’90s shoegaze, do-it-yourself bedroom electro, retro pop and airy female vocals a la Broadcast. Think vintage Lush meets modern Bat for Lashes while the Raveonettes jam in the background. Some tracks are all about the multi-textured vibe, but others are divine unassuming (and somewhat unexpected) bits of pristine pop.
Cuts like “Dies in 55” and “Starlatine” sneak up from behind with the most graceful of melodies. “Los Angered” and “Strangling Good Guys” are more visceral; TTT unafraid of occasional bursts of noise. But it’s these violent mood swings that make Ester all the more appealing.
BUY IT?: Sure.

THE GREAT PARTY — The Great Party
THE GOOD: Scranton indie pop outfit The Great Party throws one hell of a debut bash.
THE BAD: This is one of those pesky 6-track EP’s that leaves you hungry for more. Rumor has it though the band is currently working on a full-length.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by husband and wife team Michael and Rosaleen Eastman, The Great Party wildly toss around a bevy of sounds both vintage and modern that somehow end up clicking rather than clashing. Opening cut “Solid Gold” flashes back to the ’90s with an odd shuffle recalling mid-period Throwing Muses and retro keyboards straight off the first Rentals album.
As the disc plays on though, we’re brought up to date with “Cupcakes,” a tune brilliantly capturing the playfulness of Elizabeth and the Catapult. The slightly funky “Hecho En Mexico” gives Architecture in Helsinki a run for their money with its raucous male/female interplay. And other synth-tinged moments immediately remind one of another husband and wife concoction – Mates of State.
BUY IT?: Absolutely. Score yours at local music outlets or attend the release party at the Bog on Saturday, May 26.


BEST COAST — The Only Place
GARBAGE — Not Your Kind of People
SAINT ETIENNE — Words and Music

ALBERT NOBBS with Glenn Close and Brendan Gleeson
THE GREY with Liam Neeson and Dermot Mulroney
ONE FOR THE MONEY with Katherine Heigl
RAMPART with Woody Harrelson and Robin Wright

Sights & Sounds: The Wonderful Acoustic/Electric Clash

Sights & Sounds

By Mike Evans


GOTYE — Making Mirrors
THE GOOD: Australian singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Wouter De Backer (stage name Gotye) returns with his third full-length and first significant international release.
THE BAD: No gripes. Please realize this guy is a hell of a lot better than most “flavors of the month.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: I only say that because his duet with Kimbra, “Somebody That I Used To Know” has been slowly climbing up various charts across the globe for nearly a year. I went into Mirrors with low expectations myself (always leery of the mainstream) and was pleasantly surprised by a multi-layered mix of obscure samples, keyboard wizardry, hushed vocals and rock solid songwriting. Songs like the aforementioned hit and the more forceful “Smoke and Mirrors” are accomplished enough to hold their own in more stripped down settings, but Gotye’s production only makes all the compositions that much more enticing.
The record’s most distinct moment though is the quirky “State of the Art,” a subtle funk piece praising a vintage Lowrey organ, complete with features like “Genie Bass” and “Magic Swing Piano.” My parents actually had one of those in the late ’70s. (How uncool is that?)
BUY IT?: Yes.

THE SHINS — Port of Morrow
THE GOOD: Indie rock’s Shins have regrouped, shuffled their line-up, and signed a distribution deal with a major label. But how’s their first album in five years?
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After taking a break and messing around with producer Danger Mouse on the side project Broken Bells, frontman and songwriter James Mercer is back home. And home feels good.
Teaming up with producer Greg Kurstin (the Bird and the Bee, Lily Allen) and a bunch of collaborators both old and new, Mercer (the guy is the Shins) delivers a record that touches upon elements from the previous three albums while boldly forging ahead.
Mercer has a rather eclectic bag of tricks this time. Looking for haunting delicate pop with acoustic leanings and ghostly backing vocals? You have “September” and the title cut. How about something more direct, upbeat and wildly catchy? Groove on first single “Simple Song” or “No Way Down.”
Whatever you liked about the band’s other outings, you’ll find in some capacity here. Mercer dodged the “comeback” bullet by actually producing something that lives up to our five-year expectations.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

M WARD — A Wasteland Companion
   THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter M Ward is back with his
THE BAD: Companion is a tad “hit and miss,”
but satisfies overall.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ward’s voice is part weather-beaten, part soothing. His work can seem either cryptic or whimsical (depending on the tune). And the man excels in both intimate settings (just a lone acoustic guitar) and full-blown splashy pop arrangements (his collaborations with Zooey Deschanel under the moniker She and Him).
Companion sees all of these different styles and settings coming together in a set that works at least 80 percent of the time. There’s the ringing pop bliss of “Primitive Girl” played against the smoky jazz-like “The First Time I Ran Away.” The noisy dirge of dissatisfaction “Watch the Show” is the exact opposite to Ward’s modern take on the classic tango “I Get Ideas.”
It’s the usual M Ward mish-mash that somehow remains harmonious, giving us a modern folk-infused album that never feels oppressive or takes itself too seriously. And a more than pleasurable listening experience makes up for any potential lack of substance (although more than a few cuts give us plenty to ponder).
BUY IT?: Sure.

HERE WE GO MAGIC – A Different Ship
KEANE – Strangeland
SILVERUN PICKUPS – Neck of the Woods

UNDERWORLD AWAKENING with Kate Beckinsale and Stephen Rea
THE VOW with Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum