Venice is Sinking - Sorry About the Flowers

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Album: Sorry About the Flowers
Artist: Venice is Sinking
Label: One Percent Press
URL: Venice is Sinking - myspace
URL: Venice is Sinking
MP3: Pulaski Heights
Ranking: 7.2/10
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We at herohill are happy to review any promo CD. Taking an honest, unbiased listen is how we are trying to make our name. We don't care if the CD comes from a PR company or a guy mailing out CD-R's looking for some press to help fill up his gas tank. If the CD is good, we'll review it favorably. You probably aren't going to read a lot of negative reviews, because instead of ripping a disc or a band to shreds, we will probably just not write about it We know our cup of tea isn't everyone else's.

That beng said, on certain occasions, after scouring the MP3's that end up in our inbox, we will be so into a band that we will harass a PR company into sending us a CD even if we are North of the border (and the CD is a small release). Team Clermont (with some obvious bias) sent out some fantastic leaked tracks off the debut full-length from the Athens based band, Venice is Sinking. After hearing Pulaski Heights, it was my goal to get a nice review for the band on herohill (admittedly, we don't set our goals too high). After getting the full-length, I am happy to say it is one of my favorite albums of '06.

Sorry About the Flowers is an album that is sure to make a lot of noise with bloggers this year. Mixing equal parts acoustic, viola, distortion, drums, piano, lush melodies and sounds with male/female vocals about breaking up, and loss seems to be a recipe for postive reviews from 50% of the hill team. Daniel Lawson and Karolyn Troupe's vocals accompany the the beautiful strings and guitar and Lucas Jensen's subtle drum backing, rather than try to stand above them. For a debut CD, the band has produced a solid, polished sound that mixes temposkeep the listener interested. The album consists of (9) elegant songs and a 16-minute mismash of earthy, organic sounds (Blue by Late) to complete the album. Highlights include Pulaski Heights, Undecided and Buried Magents.

People are comparing the band's sound to Low, and Galaxie 500 but I'm not sure that is fair to the sound the band is creating. Sure it gives you an idea of the type of mix you are going to get - intricate melodies that don't confuse the song, but rather enhance it, and layers..lots and lots of layers - but I don't want you to think this band is a carbon copy of either outfit. These songs are spacy/dreamy, folky orchestral pop songs and well worth taking the time to really listen to - especially with headphones.

I think the best compliment I can offer is this: as a music reviewer and more importantly a music lover, I listen to a lot of new bands. Some fly under the radar, some are ok but very few make me a fan with one listen. Venice is Sinking has made me a big fan.


Islands - Return to Sea

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Album:: Islands
Artist:: Reruen to Sea
Label:: Equator Records
URL:: http://www.islandsareforever.com/
MP3: Rough Gem
Rating: 6.8/10
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Islands is probably not the most accessible band you are ever going to come across. Featuring members (multi-instrumentalist Nick Diamonds and drummer J'aime Tambeur) of the wildly popular but now defunct outfit, the Unicorns (as well as some guest appearances from some of Montreal’s most notorious musicians), the Islands continue in the same vane, mixing style, tempos and instruments with nonsensical lyrics.

Reviewing the album is almost impossible. How can you try to explain how an album is sequenced starting with a 9-minute epic (Swans), followed by a noise and clatter filled song about the rise and fall of society (Humans) - that can be described as one of those Decemberists songs you aren’t really sure why you like it (and why they use so many weird sounding percussion and wind instruments), but you do – followed by a country & western influenced, masterful pop-ditty with one of the greatest titles in the history of song (Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby). You just shake your head, enjoy the songs and wonder how the creative process for these guys happens.

The single, Rough Gem, is amazing. Catchy as hell, using a simple keyboard riff to drive the drums, strings and synths, this is the Islands at their best. Much like their label mates, The Lovely Feathers, these are the type of songs that really show how talented they are and how great their songs can be when they keep the lsitener's attention. But they quickly follow it up with a nutty, off kilter instrumental piece (Tsuxiite) to keep fans guessing. Me, I like it, but I’m not sure if everyone else will. Case in point, will people want to hear some nutty white guy rap pushed into the middle of a rock album? I don’t know, but I kind of get into Busdriver’s wack delivery and rhymes with the instrumentation backing it.

The band can write some beautiful melodies, like the steel drum & flute (or maybe recorder) sounds of Jogging Gorgeous Summer, and this album seems more focused than previous efforts involving the duo. Don’t get me wrong, the wackiness is still there (like a 16 minute bonus track that is really only about 4 minutes of music in the exact middle of the track), but the songs almost have defined structure – like a plodding country backbone of Volcanoes that is strengthened by adding a lap steel and some delicate strings. It’s a nice growth for the duo, and the album is solid. Like the 80’s rap group, it’s organized konfusion. It’s the type of album that will produce lovers and haters. There won’t be many sitting on the fence. Check it out.


Josh Rouse - Live at the Red Room

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Album: Live @ the Red Room
Artist: Josh Rouse
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The solo acoustic show is always a tough path to choose, even when you are as talented as Josh Rouse. After the hype about hearing Josh was touring with disposable string quartets and seeing his amazing performance on KRCW, I was pretty excited to see him on stage with a cello, and some violins. Couple the fact he was playing with Rocky Votolato, the stage was set for a great show.

What actually occurred was a goat rodeo, none of which could have been fixed by Josh. First we have the venue – The Red Room. The Red Room is a chotched out dance bar that hosts shows on occasion. It’s a far enough walk to make you reconsider going, especially when the crowd consists of huge dudes wear small shirts and girls wearing even smaller skirts. Most nights, the beer on tap is red bull, and the club opens up the doors at 10 PM. That means any concert has to start early; really early.

That is fine. I’m a fan of the early show. I don’t want to be standing for 6 hours, especially to hear a talented six-string samurai in a somewhat intimate setting. The problem with the early show was that the venue decided to tell the paper and those calling in the show started at 8:30PM. Yet somehow, when we showed up at 8:45PM, Rocky was done and Josh was finishing his first song. WTF? This made me a bit salty, because I was excited to hear Rocky play.

My first observation was that Josh was huge in the “balding, older men, who play air drums” crowd. I had no idea if the venue would be packed or dead, but Josh drew in some very hyped up fans, which made the show even better (at first). As he started playing songs from his latest two albums, the crowd was – ba ba ba ba - loving it. He sounded amazing. Some artists can replicate their CD sound effortlessly, and Josh is one of those people. He effortlessly floated between songs off the new album (Givin’ It Up, Summertime, It Looks Like Love), Nashville (Streetlights) and 1972 (Love Vibration). It’s easy to forget how long Josh has been making records, until you hear people freak out over his older work.

Halfway through the set, Josh called up “his friend”, Luke Doucet to play a few songs, including the great – Winter in the Hamptons. Luke’s solos and finger picking added some fullness to the tracks and broke up the set nicely.

Unfortunately, Josh is an artist that simply likes to play without engaging the audience, and in the venue, as more and more people started talking, it became less intimate and the audience noise kept getting louder.

As a final treat, Josh brought up his girlfriend, Paz Suay (who did the lovely artwork for the new record as well) to sing The Man Who. It was a nice finale to a strong set. It’s too bad Josh lives in Spain now, because in a different venue, this show would have been amazing and I’d love to see him again.


Wordsworth - Mirror Music: The Deluxe Edition

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Album: Mirror Music: The Deluxe Edition
Artist: Wordsworth
Ranking: 8/10
Label: Halftooth Records
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"Everybody and their grandmother love rap now,
And everybody and their grandmother try to rap now"

-Classified, The 5th Element

Halifax's Super MC Classified is a very wise man, everbody and their grandmother do indeed want to rap now. And with the all the modern technology that makes bedroom studios as common as Raiders hats in an NWA video, everyone and their grandmother actually can rap now and even put out an album. That leads to a flood of hip hop albums, which in turn leads to good albums being slept on. One such album is Wordsworth's Mirror Music. When it was originally released in 2004 I didn't check it out, even though I'd heard good things about it. Well lucky for me & you, Halftooth Records has re-released Mirror Music, but in a deluxe edition.

Wordsworth has been around the hip hop biz for quite a while and is known for his affiliation with the Lyricist Lounge when it didn't suck and being one half of the battle ready duo Punch & Words (with Punchline). According to his bio on Halftooth's site, Wordsworth has an English lit degree and wrote all of his assignments & essays in lyrical verse - that's comittment people. He's also a gifted MC who is quite comfortable addressing a wide array of subjects. He's kind of like a battle-hardened J-Live, which is quite a complement in my book.

Mirror Music is a solid hip hop album. It's clever rhymes over quality beats throughout the entire album, which isn't readily available these days. Right Now is a classic intro jam with great punchlines and a banging beat from Ayatollah. Trust is a song that features Wordsworth's introspective side, telling his daughter that men are dogs but you need trust because men can change like Wordsworth himself has. Be A Man is another very personal track where Wordsworth talks about maturing and the issues he dealt with pursuing his music dreams, like having to ask his mother for money. Not what you're used to from your neighborhood rapper. Guardian Angel has a solid beat that freaks organ keys to provide the backdrop for Wordsworth to talk about his dead father looking out for him from above. Evol gets bonus points for a Masta Ace cameo plus a solid beat that uses the "Now That We Found Love" Third World sample made famous by Heavy D.

The deluxe portion of the album is mainly the bonus disc that features remixes by Philly producer Oddisee. Oddisee has worked with Jazzy Jeff's Touch Of Jazz production house and has a more soulful sound than you normally get from hip hop producers. The Trust remix mixes bongos, stuttering organs, guitar licks and thumping drums - dense but smooth with some soul samples chucked in for good measure. The remixed Point Blank has a beat unlike any hip hop song I can think of, the simple snyths, finger snaps and drums are complemented by two different, constant cymbal-type sounds that pan back and forth. It's makes for a very interesting sound. Oddisee's take on Run is another solid beat, think chunky drums, pianos and more cymbal sounds - even a new-school Watch Roger Do His Thing style synth solo at the end of the song, bonus points for that. After listening to this remix album, Oddisee is a producer I'll be checking for in the future.

Mirror Music is a solid slice of modern New York hip hop and thankfully Wordsworth and Halftooth Records are giving us all a second chance to hear it. I didn't sleep on it this time, and now that you've read this, you don't have an excuse not to check it out.


Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther

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Album: The Trials of Van Occupanther
Artist: Midlake
Ranking: 8.4/10
Label: Bella Union
MP3: - Just check out their myspace page
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It’s impossible to keep up with the bloggers. It really is. So many sites, all hearing one MP3 and raving about a band. It makes me wonder how many hours they have in their day, or how much they actually enjoy the music they claim to be listening.

One band that I’ve stumbled across after reading about them on almost every blog out there and really enjoy listening to is the Texas outfit, Midlake. The MP3 that got everyone interested is the amazingly elctro-folky opening track, Roscoe. The "ooohs" and "aaahs" take me back to listening to Rumours. Say what you will about the band, Fleetwood Mac wrote some quality pop songs.

The fantasy and nature friendly content of the lyrics makes you wonder if in the 70’s, these guys froze themselves like Ted Williams family wanted to do to the Splendid Splinter, only to unthaw in time to rock the 2000s. The attention that Roscoe (and the fact they are signed to the amazing Bella Union label) brought to the band jumped them up from Indie rock nobodies to hype machine status and an opening slot for the Flaming Lips European tour. This is funny, because their debut album got numerous comparisons to the Lips, but this album doesn't really go that route. Not a shabby way to get a fan base, but don’t be fooled into thinking these guys are the latest in the one hit hype machine. They have already released a solid EP (1000 copies) and debut album that was well received.

The album, "The Trials of Van Occupanther", is solid from start to finish. I’d be remiss to not mention the eerie similarities between the bands and Fleetwood Mac (minus the Stevie Nicks female vocals) at times. Head Home is a perfect example. The guitars and keyboards mix perfectly with the harmonies and mirror the arrangements Fleetwood Mac.

But they aren’t a one-trick pony, stuck in one sound. At times, the guitars venture into hippie territory at times (busting into distorted solos on Bandits), but I think it works perfectly for the quirky style of pop these guys are playing. The album is a throwback to a style of music sorely lacking in music today. Combining piano and acoustic driven melodies with creative lyrics and subtle instrumentation (like the flute on You Never Arrived or the plucky bass line on Young Bride), Midlake crafts an album that will appeal to a lot of people.

The band also shows a talent for writing early Radiohead/Britpop influenced songs, without leaving the structure and stylings of a 70’s pop influence. The vocals do stumble into the Thom Yorke vane at times (Chasing after Deer, We Gathered in Spring), but never does the band ever come off as a band trying to emulate successful acts. They are just using their influences to create a style no one else is trying. Possibly the best compliment I can give them, is that you’d never guess this band was a USA (Texas) based band.



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Snow Patrol - Eyes Open
Venice is Sinking - Sorry About the Flowers
Islands - Return to Sea
Josh Rouse - Live at the Red Room
Wordsworth - Mirror Music: The Deluxe Edition
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
new amsterdams - story like a scar (mar.30th/06)
lovely feathers - hind hind legs (Mar.28th/06)
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