new amsterdams - story like a scar (mar.30th/06)

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Album: Story like a scar
Artist: New amsterdams
Label: Vagrant
Rating: 7.8/10
MP3: Turn out the light
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Ten years with one of the most popular emo/punk/indie bands, the Get up Kids and three albums with his side project (now full time project), the New Amsterdams you'd think fans would know what to expect from Matt Pryor and assume he developed a pattern for his song writing. Well, the new record, Story Like a Scar shows that is not the case.

Matt was quite open about how he wasn't enjoying his time with the GUKs, and after a great farewell tour, he began focusing on the New Ams full time. The band line-up was finalized and the New Ams was more than just a project he could write songs for when he wasn't on the road. This really shows on the record.

Combining more instrumentation and a more rootsy feel to the songs, you are taken to small town America. The simple stand up bass riffs provide a great backbone for the songs, and Matt's voice and guitar are filled out with so many new subtle textures and layers (Lap steel, banjo, harmonica, brushed drums, pump organ, piano, Wurlitzer and the Rhodes) you really feel a sincerity in this reflective record. The album is a more focused effort from start to finish and I think a lot of the credit has to do with the band. Dustin, Eric and Bill are seasoned vets and bring a lot of talent to the studio, which really give the songs an organic feel.

The songs are almost mellow, and show an evolution from the upbeat, acoustic dominated track of the first two New Ams records. The single, 'Turn Out the Light', is a song dedicated to his life on the road and how hard it is for his wife and kids. Realizing family is what matters helps you realize how much of Matt has grown and how much of himself he puts into these songs.

It might seem cliché but the songs are about love lost, growing up and finding home. While these are pretty well the most common themes in country influenced or roots rock albums, knowing the journey Matt took to get here helps you believe in what he's singing. On first listen, I heard 'Bad Liar' and thought it sounded a lot like the material the GUK were playing before they broke up. This makes sense when you listen to the lyrics, which are a telling commentary on the fall and demise of the Get up Kids.

The beautiful, 'A Small Crusade', shows that Matt realizes he's found what he wants in life and music. The New Ams are more than a few good singles on an album with filler. Story Like a Scar shows that, like Matt, the band is moving in a direction they are finally happy with. "Sometimes you have to scrap everything to find yourself."

Exactly.

Check out the New Ams at Dick's on Dicks May. 24th.


lovely feathers - hind hind legs (Mar.28th/06)

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Album: Hind Hind Legs
Artist: The Lovely Feathers
MP3:: In the Valley (via IGIF)
MP3: Frantic
Ranking 8/10
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It's really hard to review the new Lovely Feather album, Hind Hind Legs. The band hails from Montreal, which is quickly becoming the new black for Indie bands, and has shared the stage with so many of the bands that have made the area famous. The album is even produced and engineered by people in the same circle (Jimmy - BSS & Drew - engineered almost every great Canadian Indie band going, like my favs the Unicorns). It's so easy to just start making comparisons to this scene and assuming the Lovely Feathers want their piece of the pie.

The thing is, I don't think that is the goal of this band so it makes me not want to draw on the similarities. The album is really good, and does have some of the same styles as other good Montreal bands (the tempo and energy and quirks of Wolf Parade or the Unicorns for example), but the Lovely Feathers are trying to show everyone they have a unique sound.

The album starts well with the simplistic, pop infused guitar of Pope John Paul, but quickly transitions to a powerful anthem-esque driving sound that is constantly interrupted, or maybe accessorized, with new sounds. It's organized confusion at its best. Dueling guitars and pulsing drums that build only to be stopped by a subtle breakdown or a new sound. Songs like this hit home with a certain audience and might not be everyone's style, but they are definitely mine.

I like the risks the band takes, and I like the sounds they create, for example almost channeling Men at Work (the flute-like sound) while repeating 'we'd laugh if we were younger' on 'Photo Corners. 'Breakfast Cake' uses rapid fire vocals (that drift to perilously close to early metal) and double guitars (not like the kind Otto wanted to buy on the Simpsons) with some tasty licks for a song that will be a crowd favorite at any live show. The band refuses to be lumped into one style.

But the band can also deliver solid rock tracks like the single, 'In the Valley'. The bouncy bass line and guitars that more or less seem to build and build, into a smoothed out infectious jam. These are the moments where the band really finds its stride. The energy is never broken by the intricate transitions and makes the track very accessible, just like the straight ahead, post punk track, 'Rod Stewart'.

Perhaps the best intro to the band is the track, 'The Only Appalachian Cornfield'. The catchy hook is nice, and the breakdowns are more subtle and the chorus more than brings the energy back to the front. It is almost a perfect way to get used to the eccentric songs the Lovely Feathers write.

The pop aspects of my favorite song, Frantic, are perfect. The glockenspiel and keyboards (or whatever instrument they use) and the harmonized 'oohs' that start the track quickly change into a frantic paced verse, only to be followed with sing-along La's. What sounds so simple is what is missing in most Indie rock outfits today. You are hooked in from the intro and you are never given a chance to lose interest. Perfect for all us ADD kids.

The album isn't perfect, and I don’t think the band wants it to be. I'm sure they could have written 12 songs that follow the format of the stand-out tracks on this album, but I think they are determined to play music they like, not that is uniquely Montreal or Indie-tastic right now. The more arty songs, which at times sound like a narrative, are experimental and will obviously be hit or miss with fans, but I'm going to guess these guys, despite their own wishes, might be the next big thing coming out of Montreal.


Hotel Lights - Hotel Lights

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Album: Hotel Lights
Artist: Hotel Lights
URL:http://www.hotellights.net
Label: Bar/None Records
Rating: 8/10
MP3:You Come and Go
MP3:AM Slow Golden Hit
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Being a member of a hugely successful band is a bit of a double edged sword. Darren Jessee was the drummer and back-up singer (the nice harmonies) for Ben Folds Five. Naturally, fans of the band are interested in the endeavors of the people in the band, but most assume any music will progress from that same sound.

Hotel Lights is Darren's new project (along with former Archers of Loaf drummer Mark Price, Roger Gupton - bass, vocals, and Chris Badger - keyboards, guitar), and the sound is nothing like the material the BFF produced. These songs are sad, beautiful acoustic and piano numbers, paired with atmospheric keyboards and subtle drum machines beats. They aren't fun songs with bouncy piano riffs, and I for one couldn't be happier about that.

Pop music makes depression and heartache sounds fantastic and Hotel Light's debut self-titled album is no exception. The majority of the record is a slowed down, emotional journey. Whereas a lot of singers rely on a simple riff, a good voice, and the power of lyrics, Hotel Lights seem to out equal weight into each part of each song. The opening track, You Come and Go, is a perfect example – balancing a piano, the delicate use of a high hat, an acoustic guitar and Darren's vocals – of this style of composition. A.M. Slow Golden Hit combines so many basic elements (handclaps, drum machine beat, acoustic guitar and some keyboard effects) but the end result is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

That being said, the band also uses upbeat numbers to change the feel of the record well. More rocking tracks like What You Meant, I am a Train and the new-wavish Marvelous Truth are pseudo-danceable and very enjoyable, but the slowed down numbers are the standouts for me.

It's hard not to get caught up in the lyrics that highlight the sparse arrangement of Miles Behind Me. "All this water under the bridge, everything comes sneaking back and we didn't talk after that. Nobody saw you fall, miles behind me." The song adds the perfect combination of instrumentation (like the mallets on the cymbals) without putting so much into the song that it becomes muddled. Motionless follows the same formula, this time adding some lovely slide guitar to help cement the feeling of being lost.

My favorite track is the beautiful Stumblin' Home Winter Blues. The lyrics are the perfect combination of sadness and optimism that happens to the best of us after a long night of drinking as we walk towards the hotel lights that shine in the distance.


King Biscuit Time - Black Gold

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Album: Black Gold
Artist: King Biscuit Time
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Any fan of the Beta Band knows that their unique combination of hip-hop, folk, funk, r&b;, pop, dance hall, electronica and just about every other genre was only equalled by their desire to make crazy ass music that didn't really have any set market.

Well,Steve Mason started his own label - No Style - a new band - King Biscuit Time - and cut out the middle man. No more conforming his visions. The result is a a melting pot of sounds. Steve goes from a dub feel (Izzum) into a folk influenced instrumentation track Impossible Ride, but his use of sounds and textures make this transition possible. This transition sums up the best parts of this record. It doesn't seem like it should work, but it does.

Tracks like the lead single (C I AM 15), Kwangchow and Way You Walk are perfect for fans of the Beta Band. The beautiful melodies, the sweet drums and the Beck-style white hip hop skat vocals are all present on these songs. Although the songs are a little more subdued than his former work, they also have nice tempo changes and crescendos (Paperhead). The album closer (Metalbiscuit is a crazy synth heavy, spacey track that makes you remember why Steve wanted his label.

The infectious All the Way is my standout track. The beat is an earthy type AIR styled production and the little guitar riff and bouncy drums really helps this song out.


Psapp – The Only Thing I Ever Wanted

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Album: The Only Thing I Ever Wanted
Artist: Psapp
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I'm the type of guy who hears lap-pop music and starts to get suspicious. I'm also the type of guy that says the pudding is delicious (ha – an LL throw). But it seems that lately, a lot of nice mellow, computer driven beats records are being made and are deserving of some praise from herohill. One such record is the new Psapp LP – The Only Thing I Ever Wanted.

Psapp is actually the work of two London based sound freaks, Carim Clasmann and Galia Durant. They self describe their style "as making songs with little noises poking out", and I can't describe it any more accurately.

As the first track on the album (Hi) starts playing, you get the feeling you are in for a unique listening experience. The beat sounds like something that would be playing as cartoon characters build some type of object on an assembly line. But as the vocals come in, and some subtle guitar is added, the sounds mesh perfectly together. The next track (King of You) pairs some worker type blips with a finger picked guitar riff and throws in a nice Doors-esque synth riff. The subtle transitions and sounds help keep me interested in the track, which is usually my biggest objection to female vocal electro beat records. The sounds are nice, but the album often blends into one big 45-minute track.

That's not to say this doesn't happen at points with this record. A lot of the beats are similar and make use of the same tempo, but the duo seems dead set on trying to add new textures, layers and ideas to their songs. The nice strings they add on the perfectly mellow track, New Rubbers, are a great example and so is the steel can drum beat and galloping rhythm on Tricycle.

I really like the piano ballad Make Up. Using only a sparse piano chord progression and fragile (but lovely) vocals, this song breaks up the beats on the album and kind of re-engerizes the listener. It also takes the band out of their comfort zone, which makes the emotion of the song seem more sincere.

This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is well worth a listen or two.


ben harper - both sides of the gun

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Album: Both Sides of the Gun
Artist: Ben Harper
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Whether you like Ben Harper or you hate him, you can't deny he puts more into his music than almost any other artist. His songs are rich in emotion, and you realize that he believes that his music can change the world, by opening eyes, hearts or invoking a revolution. His work is not what you throw on as background music. It's a thought evoking experience.

His latest album is the double disc – Both Sides of the Gun – is no different. Aside from a political philosophy, the album title is also indicative of Ben's approach to this record. Mirroring the style of his fantastic Live at Mars CD, the first disc of this album features Ben's acoustic work. However, this time around even Ben's acoustic songs are beefed up with layers of strings, piano and back-up vocals.

Ben writes about the loss of love with more emotion than anyone I've heard before. Each song seems like a painful gateway into his personal life. Tracks like Waiting for You and More than Sorry sound like they are written for someone in particular and Ben is expressing his feelings for everyone to hear. It's that sincerity that makes these songs work. Ben still rocks the steel, and the familiar sounds of Sweet Nothing Serenade interrupt the acoustic strummed songs perfectly. He also drops one of the best lyrics I've heard all year when he says, "You can't find it with him, so you've got to find it within."

The second disc is much more adventurous. Mixing funk (Black Rain), R & B (Get It Like you Want It) and straight up blues (Please Don't Talk About Murder When I'm Eating), Ben lets the Innocent Criminals share the spotlight with him. The band also uses some more instruments on this disc. Classic piano and a stand up bass compliment a few tracks, including The Way You Found Me.

Instead of heartache and regret, Ben changes subject matter and his outlook on these songs. Despite the dire situation that is the USA, these tracks are uplifting songs hoping to inspire his audience to stand up and fight. It sounds hokey, but unlike other artists who look to write catchy songs and political anthems without caring how people react, I really think Ben thinks about how every lyric and every note will be received.

As the Beatles-esque fuzz starts the album's first single, Better Way, you hear Juan tear up a crazy bass line that is matched with some nice congos before Ben starts in with the steel. These types of songs are my favorite, because every member of the band is talented and giving them some freedom only strengthens Ben's vocals.

Following up is the 70's styled funk title track that seems to channel the great Jaco Pastorius (don’t front, he was the first to play the fretless). This is the first of many songs that is openly critical of the current political situation and how it uses the poor and mistreated. Ben wants to inspire people, and no where is this more obvious in the Superfly-esque Black Rain. Ben attacks the government over gas prices, New Orleans and the war in Iraq and wants a "black rain" to fall. His unwavering optimism helps you believe that he actually thinks the people can turn this around and make this world better.

This album is solid from start to finish. There aren't any classic singles, like some of other Ben albums, but overall already I'm liking this more than any albums since Fight for your Mind.


the essex green - cannibal sea

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Album: cannibal sea
Artist: the essex green
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It's so easy to take a look at any new release on Merge Records and assume you are going to be feeling it. I mean, Spoon, Arcade Fire, Magnetic Fields, M.Ward, Teenage Fanclub, Destroyer and the Elephant 6 connection, you can't really go wrong. One band that is finally starting to get some blog love is The Essex Green. Their new album (3rd full length), Cannibal Sea, is due out in a fortnight, and it is fantastic.

For those unfamiliar with this outfit, TEG is a Brooklyn based collective that thrives on 60's pop sensibility. With singers Chris Ziter, Sasha Bell trading vocals you get swept up in a Mamas and Papas feel. Throw in punchy simplistic bass lines, keyboards and understated guitar riffs and you can't helped but get sucked into this record. I'm a big fan of Byrds style pop songs, but this album is more than that.

On the first track, This Isn't Farmlife, you are treated Sasha's voice, harmonies and a catchy sing-along style song that sets the theme for this record. The lyrical content for this album is all about travel and feeling lost in the big city. Not sure if anyone can relate to that.

When Chris and Sasha both sing on songs (Penny & Jack – which takes an almost Jens Lekmen feel), the sound is as infectious as that monkey from Outbreak. Songs with a tambourine, female vox and keyboard are just screaming for hand claps and audience participation. That equals FUN.

The thing I like is the variety on the album. Cardinal Points really sounds perfect, and initially mirrors the structure and sounds of Belle and Sebastian before taking a tangent into a two-minute upbeat guitar and keys outro that rocks. Some folky numbers (Rue De Lis, Sin City) are interspersed through the 60's pop songs and tracks like Rabbit sounds similar to the multi-instrument story-telling tracks that Colin Meloy and the Decemberists do so well.

I'm more into the songs that let Sash'a voice stand out, so here is one:
This isn't Farmlife



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new amsterdams - story like a scar (mar.30th/06)
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