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Galactic

Carnivale Electricos

(Anti-)

Review [27.Feb.2012]

25



Galactic
Carnivale Electricos


The New Orleans funk and jam kingpins have delivered again on a disc that crackles with energy and sonic flavor. Many jambands struggle to capture their live energy in the studio, but Galactic cracked the code on 2010’s Ya-Ka-May by utilizing a variety of guests to add fresh vibes and creative sparks. This formula is used successfully again here, with a theme that focuses on the Mardis Gras festivities that fuel much of what Galactic is all about. Highlights include the charged dance groove of “Hey Na Na”, ever soulful vocals from Cyrille Neville on “Out in the Street”, the 40-piece KIPP Renaissance High School Marching Band adding to the stomp of “Karate” and dueling raps from Mannie Fresh and Mystikal on “Move Fast”. Drummer Stanton Moore, aka “the redneck gangster”, is the ringleader and the band’s sound gels around his tight funky beats like a well-oiled groove machine. But this isn’t just retro funk… Galactic are masters at mixing their old school influences with fresh cutting edge sounds. Greg Schwartz


 

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The Mountain Goats

Transcendental Youth

(Merge)

Review [3.Oct.2012]

24



The Mountain Goats
Transcendental Youth


John Darnielle has always been one of indie rock’s most celebrated songwriters, and for good reason: he could do albums based off Tarot cards, explore spirituality through songs whose titles were bible verses, and collaborate with Aesop Rock and Kaki King pretty much whenever he felt inclined. Yet as brilliant as Darnielle’s songs were, the Mountain Goats never reached the mass appeal of some of his indie rock contemporaries—until now. Transcendental Youth is the band’s biggest, brassiest album to date, occasionally approaching a Broadway level of grandiosity and exuberance, but all still carefully reigned in by Darnielle’s precise words and tight arrangements, leaving the stripped down arrangements of Life of the World to Come far behind in the dust. Such a noted change in the group’s tone would be met with cries of “sell out!” in some circles, yet the Goats’ secret lies in the fact that they make it look so easy. A brisk mood piece like “Night Light” can stand next to optimistic piano-pounding crime tales like “The Diaz Brothers” without a second of hesitation. They could still do moments of powerful straightforward honesty (“Until I am Whole”), but when things end together with the jazzy strut of the album’s title track, it’s obvious that after two decades of making music, Darnielle & the Goats are just getting started ... Evan Sawdey


 

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Taylor Swift

Red

(Big Machine)

Review [30.Oct.2012]

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Taylor Swift
Red


Red feels designed to outdo others at their own game, to demonstrate Taylor Swift can do U2/Coldplay arena anthems, teenpop radio songs, Rilo-Kiley like LA alt-rock, Mazzy Star-like daydreams, cutesy pop like they play in Target commercials—plus keep perfecting her own brand of songwriting, with its romantic balladry, snarky kiss-offs to exes and introspective growing-up songs. Red is ambitious but doesn’t seem it, which is her M.O. It’s a thematically unified album about the next phases of growing-up, about failed attempts at love and the pleasure and pain within them. For all its dance-club moments and infatuation peaks, it might be her most downbeat LP yet. One of its chief goals is depicting the “sad beautiful tragic” nature of young love. For all her romantic dreams, she seems awfully skeptical, about love, life, other people and careers in music. Where the last two albums ended with big generational anthems, this one ends with a quiet hope for renewal, to “begin again”. Dave Heaton


 

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The Avett Brothers

The Carpenter

(American)

Review [11.Sep.2012]

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The Avett Brothers
The Carpenter


In the ‘00s, the Avett Brothers attracted a passionate cult audience with their raw, barroom take on Americana. With The Carpenter, the band’s second major label album and second with producer Rick Rubin, the last traces of those scuzzy early days have been scrubbed away. Fortunately for the band and their fans, the Avett Brothers have gradually blossomed into great songwriters and savvy arrangers, and The Carpenter puts their talents on full display. Songs like the banjo-driven “Live and Die” and “Pretty Girl From Michigan”, with its bouncy electric guitar leads, are instantly catchy. But the heartfelt lyrics of the album’s quieter moments, particularly “February Seven” and “A Father’s First Spring”, take a bit longer to appreciate. Even the more unusual musical ideas, like the subtle brass choir in “Down With the Shine” and the full-on rock arrangement of the unfairly maligned “Paul Newman Vs. the Demons”, work well here. This is an album that shows a band confident in their ability to develop their craft without falling back on their tried-and-true tricks. Chris Conaton


 

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The Maccabees

Given to the Wild

(Fiction)

Review [26.Feb.2012]

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The Maccabees
Given to the Wild


Modern rock bands tend to have a problem when it comes to aiming for grandiosity. Wary of the meat-and-potatoes classic rock clichés (and possibly limited by their own level of technique), oftentimes their dreams of soul-stirring majesty are realized as formless bluster, more pale sketches paired with vague sentiments than fully-realized vistas. If Coldplay is one of the chief perpetrators of this sort of stadium-sized blandness, Brighton, England’s Maccabees are here to undercut them by redeeming it. The quintet’s third album Given to the Wild takes them further away from their early incarnation as a third-division indie rock ensemble stylistically indebted to the Futureheads, and finds them continuing down a populist art-rock furrow they started plowing on their previous LP Wall of Arms (2009). Given to the Wild is essentially Coldplay done right: its floating atmospheric sections are grounded by a corporeal (and nimble) rhythm section that’s always ready to bound forward at an opportune moment, and rest of the band is never subordinated to focus attention on Chris Martin-soundalike Orlando Weeks’ chaste sighs. Tracks such as “Child” and “Heave” strive to ascend to lofty realms, and their successful quests to attain entrance are invigorating in a way that the more demure of the modern rock lighter-igniter crop would do best to learn from. AJ Ramirez


 

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Spiritualized

Sweet Heart Sweet Light

(Fat Possum/Double Six)

Review [15.Apr.2012]

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Spiritualized
Sweet Heart Sweet Light


Spiritualized maestro Jason Pierce cites middle-period records by artists like Captain Beefheart and Iggy Pop as inspiration for Sweet Heart Sweet Light, his follow-up to 2008’s Songs in A & E. This manifests not so much as a big shift in sound as in an underlying lyrical concept of getting older and wiser. With additional distance from the sickness that fueled Songs in A & E, Sweet Heart Sweet Light confronts what life has in store once youth has passed us by. Framed at the beginning by “Hey Jane”, a nine-minute cautionary tale of living fast and dying young, and at the end by “So Long You Pretty Thing”, a prayer for getting right with God, the album asks a lot of questions about the relationship of the here to the hereafter. Ultimately emphasizing that you can’t take it with you, Sweet Heart Sweet Light is singular within Pierce’s already accomplished discography. It’s a moral tale born from surviving early years of joyless indiscretions. Thomas Britt


 

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Grizzly Bear

Shields

(Warp)

Review [18.Sep.2012]

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Grizzly Bear
Shields


If there are any lingering doubts as to whether Grizzly Bear is the greatest American band currently recording, they should be laid to rest once and for all by Shields, the band’s irrefutably gorgeous third album. The band’s 2009 breakthrough Veckatamist may have had catchier tunes but the both the complexity of the arrangements and the level of musicianship on Shields are positively awe-inspiring. Over the years Grizzly Bear have evolved into a band in the truest sense of the word, with each member absolutely essential the group’s ever-broadening sonic palate. The lyrics might be a bit cold and world-weary here yet the performances are full of boundless energy and innovation. From the ominous opener “Sleeping Ute” through the towering finale of “Sun is in Your Eyes”, the band explores everything from classic rock to jazz to pastoral folk, often within the confines of the same song. The album concludes with the line “So bright, so long / I’m never coming back”. I’m sure I’m not the only one praying that this isn’t the case. Daniel Tebo


 

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Cloud Nothings

Attack on Memory

(Carpark)

Review [23.Jan.2012]

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Cloud Nothings
Attack on Memory


Attack on Memory, what an album title. That’s exactly what Cloud Nothings’ third album will feel like to anyone who grew up on the rough-edged emo and garage rock that constituted indie music from the early ‘90s through roughly Trail of Dead’s Source Tags & Codes. Teaming with Steve Albini, this formerly middling foursome somehow cranked out an album that defies expectation. It opens with a pair of tracks, “No Future / No Past” and “Wasted Days”, that instantly bring to mind the former’s multi-tiered epics, but they turn out to be red herrings. The rest of the album is essentially an update on the punk attitudes of guys like Kurt Cobain and Lou Barlow. “I need time to stay useless / I need time to stop moving / I need time,” rings single “Stay Useless”, while “Cut You” ends the album with a balancing act of the dirge and the pop with simplistic, whining verses from Dylan Baldi that quickly shifts into pop excellence and back again. At a curt eight tracks and barely over a half hour, Attack on Memory is so brief and full of energy that it ends up on repeat over and over, constantly reminding me that I was young once, and I was never quite sure what that meant until it was probably too late. But this was the sort of music that made for a less awkward time, and unlike the current popular form of this malaise like Wavves and Real Estate, there’s a hardened edge of catharsis that would lure just about any child of the ‘90s. This is about as purely nostalgic as new music can get. David Amidon


 

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Pepe Deluxé

Queen of the Wave

(Asthmatic Kitty)

Review [16.Feb.2012]

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Pepe Deluxé
Queen of the Wave


The soul-nourishing abundance of Queen of the Wave took a lot of people by surprise in 2012. A concept album based on the psychically channeled Atlantis writings of Frederick S. Oliver from the late 1800s, the fourth full-length by Finnish neo-psychedelists Pepe Deluxé utilized over 60 talented musicians from across the world and a plethora of vintage, arcane technology, from an aether modulator and chromatic gusli to the Great Stalacpipe Organ (a.k.a. the world’s largest instrument). Sure, their ingredients look impressive on paper, but this surrealistic lark is even tastier when heard in its genre-hopping, whirlwind context. Thoughtfully assembled for a wink and a prayer with all the proceeds going to clean the Baltic Sea, this visionary work demonstrates immeasurable depth in its dynamic range and thematic exploration. It would be a compliment to exploratory thrift-store epics like Since I Left You and Thunder, Lightning, Strike if it wasn’t for the fact that every sound on the boundlessly creative Queen of the Wave was painstakingly researched and designed to seem like the crate-dug samples from which the Avalanches and Go! Team manufactured their material. Through its melody, narrative, instrumentation, emotional resonance, and charitable disposition, Queen of the Wave generates a myriad of reasons for audiences to care, incessantly flooding listeners with exquisite quirks that tickle the senses and ignite the imagination. This is one for the ages. Alan Ranta


 

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor

‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

(Constellation)

16



Godspeed You! Black Emperor
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!


For a band whose every album felt something like a monument of intent and ideological purity, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s quiet recession from the public eye following the release of 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O. seemed uncharacteristically weak-willed, as if they’d left something unfinished or, worse yet, resigned themselves to the very injustices they’d fought so hard to combat. That is what makes ‘Allelujah, Godspeed’s first album in ten years, not only so welcome, but so vital. The two 20-minute behemoths which anchor the record may have originated from the waning days of the band’s first run, but here, in recorded form, they sound refreshingly urgent, the album’s unexpected release coinciding with the run up to the U.S. Presidential election in pointed fashion, a brush of synchronicity impossible to read as coincidental. The contrasting drone suites, meanwhile, lend an appropriate gravity amidst such heart-stopping pyrotechnics, reconfirming this mysterious collective as saviors of a stagnant scene. ‘Allelujah indeed. Jordan Cronk


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