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Eddie Vedder

Ukulele Songs

(Monkeywrench; US: 31 May 2011)

Review [1.Jun.2011]


Eddie Vedder
Ukulele Songs


A mix of originals and standards, Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs is clearly an album made on his terms without commercial success in mind. The deceptive simplicity of these songs are, in fact, a logical step when following Vedder’s career. With Pearl Jam, Vedder and the rest of the band have run the gamut from huge rockers to punk to ballads, but with his work on the Into the Wild soundtrack Vedder has continued to stretch himself as a singer, as well as a songwriter. His duets with Chan Marshall (“Tonight You Belong to Me”) and Glen Hansard (“Sleepless Nights”) also offer another side to Vedder, whose voice is so distinct that hearing him blend with others is a welcome change. The songs are intimate and often very beautiful, and it is Vedder’s obvious connection to the instrument, and the counterpoint of its delicacy with his voice, that brings them to life with such immediacy. Jessica Suarez


 

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TW Walsh

Songs of Pain and Leisure

(Graveface; US: 11 Oct 2011)

Review [13.Dec.2011]


TW Walsh
Songs of Pain and Leisure


When you think the term “indie rock”, you might think of the sound TW Walsh makes on his excellent Songs of Pain and Leisure. It’s all guitar and drums and bass and keys, but if the elements seem basic, even simple, the execution is far from it. Walsh’s album—his first solo record since 2001’s Blue Laws—is full of brilliant pop songs that shift tempo and mood without ever losing energy. From the bright drums and sharp riffs of “Make It Rhyme” to the ghostly acoustics of “Rattling Jar”, the album varies in its textures but remains pitch perfect throughout. Infused with equal parts regret for the past and hope for the future, Songs of Pain and Leisure acknowledges that titular pain but never beds down in it. Rather these songs, even at their most stripped down—propel past that pain into whatever it is that comes next. Walsh may be best known as part of Pedro the Lion, or as the guy who mastered Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz, but if you haven’t heard his own stuff, then you don’t know him yet for what he’s best at. Matthew Fiander


 

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Warm Ghost

Narrows

(Partisan; US: 27 Sep 2011; UK: Import)

Review [1.Dec.2011]


Warm Ghost
Narrows


Fighting against a trend is hard; even harder yet is trying to stand out in a trend that’s gaining popularity. Such seemed to be the case with Warm Ghost, whose two stellar releases in 2011 (the EP Uncut Diamond and their debut LP Narrows) were overlooked in lieu of several other releases in the regrettably named chillwave scene. Those recordings, notably Toro Y Moi’s Under the Pine and Washed Out’s Within and Without, while not bad by any means, shouldn’t excuse the large lack of attention given to the excellent music to be found on Narrows. Very wisely, the band makes emotive use of the synthesizer, using it to create moods and textures rather than catchy riffs. (Frankly, no synth riff could have been conceived in 2011 that was catchier than M83’s “Midnight City”). And what a gorgeous textures there are on Narrows: album highlight “Once One” is otherworldly in its beauty. That track, along with the rest of the tracks that comprise the musical collage that is Narrows, make a strong case that Warm Ghost are a band that still have great things yet to come. Brice Ezell


 

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Chris Watson

El Tren Fantasma

(Touch; US: 25 Oct 2011; UK: 14 Nov 2011)

Review [2.Jan.2012]


Chris Watson
El Tren Fantasma


Descriptions make this album sound prosaic. British sound recordist Chris Watson rode a train from coast to coast across Mexico and Fantasma is a collage of recordings he made during the trip. But nothing else I heard in 2011 could match it for denseness of evocative compression. His attention is holistic. He listens not only to the engine but also to the landscape, the weather, the difference between one area of the machine and another. Birds are not only birds, they are daytime itself, and near the end we have insects and night. Watson organises plein air noise with the camouflaged intelligence of a Monet whose eyes were ears. Deanne Sole


 

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We Are Augustines

Rise Ye Sunken Ships

(WEA; US: 23 Aug 2011)


We Are Augustines
Rise Ye Sunken Ships


Guitarist Billy McCarthy and bassist Eric Sanderson, both originally of the band Pela, joined with drummer Rob Allen to produce one of the most relentlessly authentic records of the year. With stories inspired partially by the resilient life and untimely death of McCarthy’s brother, Rise Ye Sunken Ships is a kind of concept album about traveling the long road out of despair and making the best of trying circumstances. Combining a Springsteen-like “common-man” authenticity with an Arcade Fire-like anthemic quality and the emotional nakedness of the National, We Are Augustines is one of the greatest undiscovered secrets in indie rock. Jacob Adams


 

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We Were Promised Jetpacks

In the Pit of the Stomach

(FatCat; US: 4 Oct 2011; UK: 3 Oct 2011)

Review [13.Nov.2011]


We Were Promised Jetpacks
In the Pit of the Stomach


The pride of Glasgow, We Were Promised Jetpacks, along with country mates Frightened Rabbit, were breakout stars at South by Southwest in 2010, consistently delivering high energy sets that showcased their 2009 debut release, These Four Walls. So it’s only natural that by doubling their time in the studio, from eight days to a ‘whopping’ three weeks, the band would outdo the success of their debut with a relentless album that demands to be heard live, while featuring some of the most inventive arrangements of a 2011 release. The album cover depicts a human figure pacing boldly within the confines of a big city high rise canyon, suited to the band’s penchant of sneaking up on you mid-song


The album blasts off with “Circles and Squares”, an inverted track that starts with a long solo transition and bridge that seems to rise from the ashes. Seemingly caught in the midst of an extended Rush instrumental solo, the song kicks into a taut brisk tempo, before changing tempo again, offering three songs in one composition clocking in at over five minutes. The next track, “Medicine” possesses a relentless pacing that seems in danger of careening out of control, the song hinting at the danger of wasting one’s valuable years. “Dirt and the Gravel” also sneaks up on listener, showcasing the long instrumental solos that are a hallmark of the album, with at least two minutes elapsing before the first verses kick in on “Act on Impulse” or “Sore Thumb”. The one song that leaps out immediately is “Human Error”, likely to be a fan favorite for a video that counters the notion initially suggested of “hoarding one’s opinion to avoid seeing how wrong one can be”, giving way to a theme that demands instead that people live life to the fullest. Lead singer Adam Thompson varies his vocal stylings, delivering a catchy Scottish brogue, or muffling his vocals in a manner that creates the effect of emanating from the very back of the room. Dennis Shin


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