Tag Archives: album review

"Indigo Meadow," out now on Blue Horizon Ventures.

Review: The Black Angels’ “Indigo Meadow”

“Indigo Meadow,” out now on Blue Horizon Ventures.

By Lara Kinne–

The Black Angels share the same picnic table as The Velvet Underground, despite their Austin, Texas roots. Both bands have five members – if someone invites Nico – they all wear black sunglasses and their music acknowledges things that happened before and around the 1970s. At the same time, they are nothing alike. Leather jackets and tambourines aside, The Black Angels are not restrained by time.

Color is a visual inspiration for the Angels, who jam on a spiritual drive to transcend time and space. Vocalist and songwriter Alex Mass said that during the writing process, they attempt to describe the images they hear and see during moments of mutual vibration. It’s driven by hues of color, translating what they see into audible notes.

With that said, The Black Angels’ fourth studio album, “Indigo Meadow,” says the vibrations have strengthened, breathed oxygen and hardened into a black cocoon, one that will burst in time if the limbic energy between them breaks from revisiting techniques of earlier albums. The looping, spindly riffs are too familiar to what is heard on 2008’s “Directions to See a Ghost.” But there’s a sense a romance in “Love Me Forever” and “Always Maybe” that hasn’t surfaced on Black Angel records before. It feels genuine affection for the blatant desire pressed in tambourine-driven “You’re Mine,” a strong hint for making sweet love.

“Indigo Meadow” indicates the Angels using more shades of tone. A colorful salute to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd on the jangly “I Hear Colors (Chromoaesthesia)” celebrates 60s music technology with pop-licked organ. The isolated bassline and echoing riffs midway “Holland” also recall Floyd’s twenty-minute epic, “Echoes,” but the Angels are more restrained in that the tracks shy from lingering on one idea.

In most cases, slow-building melodies deserve a climax, and widely-spaced thunder needs a little spark of lightning. “Indigo Meadow” wants to remain tight, just as they proved on 2010’s “Phosphene Dream,” with a record compiled of songs that stand well on their own. But sprawling melodies are not fulfilled in this format, and straight riff-driven stompers “Evil Things” and “Broken Soldiers” are wrung dry by the end.

“Indigo Meadow” scores a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Photo courtesy theblackangels.com


Review: Casey Veggies is no daily dose

By Aaron Williams–

Building off the success of last spring’s “Customized Greatly Vol. 3,” West Coast emcee Casey Veggies returned to the forefront of the hip-hop scene by dropping his latest project, “Life Changes,” last week. The mixtape is slightly shorter than Veggies’ last, with 13 tracks that stress quality over quantity. True to his previous material, the Cali rapper does most of the heavy lyrical work on “Life Changes,” relying primarily on R&B singers for his features. Dom Kennedy is the only rapper, other than Veggies, to drop bars on any of the beats found on this mixtape.

Casey utilizes smart production on ‘Changes’ by teaming up with producers that fit his style and flow like a new Fendi belt. The Futuristiks and 1500 or Nothin combine and supply five of the 13 beats found on the mixtape. The Futuristiks produced the openet and title track of “Life Changes” in conjunction with Dawuan Parker. The track has a smooth and laid back feel that is amplified in the chorus by the whimsical crooning of Phil Beaudreas. Once the beat drops, Veggies spits his lines with an earnestness that tells the listener that the Inglewood artist is confident that this will be his breakthrough project. “This gon’ change everything, like a child, a funeral or a wedding ring.”
The third track, «Young Winners” produced by Dynamic Duo, turns the energy of the tape up several notches with Veggies rhyming over piano and string samples. The track is a celebratory romp primarily about Casey’s upcoming success. He chants on the hook: “I’m poppin’, we on, she playin’ my song, I’m rightin’ my wrongs, it took me so long,” DJ Dahi continues his streak of quality beats by facilitating the Casey Veggies and Dom Kennedy’s joint track, “She in My Car” that follows “Young Winners.”

The highlight of ‘Life Changes’ is undoubtedly “Life$tyle,” a Cardiak-produced beat that fits Casey’s rap niche like a silk glove. Veggies brings his A-game on the five-star production with lyrics that pay homage to the luxury his rap career has bought him.

The middle of the tape rolls out Casey’s most party-friendly tracks. These include beats like ‘The Team,’ “Whip It” and “Everything Wavy,”  a substance-induced, materialistic anthem produced by the aptly named “Price Tag.” That’s not to say there still aren’t artistic moments on the second half of “Life Changes” that represent a break from the rap norm on Casey’s part. These include tracks like the seven minute, two-part beat produced by Rahki titled, “Love = Hate, Ulterior Motives.” The first half is held down by Veggies while BJ the Chicago Kid lends his vocal talents for the second half of the song, titled “Ulterior Motives.”

«Changes” certainly has its shortcomings. The Harry Fraud beat is ruined by a cringe-worthy chorus sung by Casey Veggies and other tracks like “My Vision” and “Faces” are more than a little lackluster. However, Veggies clenches the tape with two characteristic beats from 1500 or Nothin that feature some of his most authentic lyrical content on the whole project. Overall, “Life Changes’”earns three out of five stars.

Photo courtesy datpiff.com


Soundtracks to the season: ‘Silver and Gold’ lacks luster

By Aimee Jewell–

Released on Nov. 13, 2012, Sufjan Stevens’ newest Christmas album, “Silver and Gold,” is a slight disappointment. Typically, I am a fan of his unusual melodies and soothing voice, but this album sounds like it was recorded at a Christmas party where he and friends drank one too many drinks. Some songs on the album sound like genuine attempts to recreate Christmas favorites, but some seem too ironic, like he’s purposely trying to butcher the tunes. And while I’m not a fan of the boring, same old Christmas carols year after year, this drastic of a change is not favorable in my opinion. Stevens seems to be in key throughout most of the songs, but his accompaniment is another story. With 58 songs to choose from, Stevens covers a number of crowd favorites, but maybe not in the best way possible.

His first Christmas CD, “Songs for Christmas,” released in 2006, seemed to have a better grasp on the crowd favorites, without making listeners cringe. His unique blend of instruments, along with his distinct voice, makes a few of his songs some of my favorites, but I was most certainly not as big of a fan of this album. If you are a fan of modern, contemporary, Christmas carols, than this may be the CD for you, but be prepared to take a step back. Stevens’ purpose is to surprise listeners, but I for one, am not as big of a fan as I was with his first Christmas installment. Stevens’ does cover some obscure Christmas melodies on “Silver and Gold,” rather than the clichéd favorites, which is admirable. But how well he actually covers the songs is up to the listener.

With “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Silent Night,” Stevens adds a twist to favorite Christmas themes without ruining them – at first. But halfway through the song, I found myself begging for the beginning. Off-key harmonizers, mixed with obscure instrumental notes makes for a cringe-worthy second Christmas installment, which is unfortunate from someone with such immense talent. Not many know about Stevens’ and his unique blend of melodies and instruments. Because of the obscure nature of some of these tracks on the album, I hope that not many rule him out, solely due to his lacking ability to adequately cover a Christmas song. But if you’d like an Indie Christmas album for the holiday season, I would most definitely stick with his original chapter of Christmas jingles, “Songs for Christmas.” You’ll thank me later.

Photo courtesy musicsufjan.com


Matchbox Twenty’s comeback album bittersweet for longtime fans

By Aimee Jewell–

Matchbox Twenty’s newest album, “North,” hit shelves Tuesday, September 4, nearly an entire decade since their last studio release. Fans held high hopes for the fifth CD released by the Grammy-nominated, hit-generating nineties band. “She’s So Mean” is the first single off of the album and is currently ranked number eight on the Adult Contemporary chart, proving a good start for the band’s comeback. But how easy is it to release an entire album after a ten year hiatus?

Unfortunately, not as easy as the gang might think. Still donning front man, Rob Thomas, Matchbox Twenty’s new bubble-gum pop ballads are mixed in with some strong beats and slow melodies as the band attempts to make their new album more relevant and less Matchbox. Unlike their Grammy Award nominated anthem “Unwell,” and the ever-so-popular “If You’re Gone” and “Bent” (just to name a few),“North” sounds like an entirely different entity. With honest lyrics and foot-tapping beats, Matchbox Twenty has created an album like their previous releases. However, their overall sound is what has thrown listeners for a loop. After a ten year period, supporters expected “North” to be Matchbox Twenty’s greatest album to date. Yet despite fans’ hopes, Matchbox has failed to deliver.

Possessing a more modern sound than before, Thomas and the boys seem as though they’re striving for something that just can’t be reached. It is not to say that “North” is not a quality pop album. “Put Your Hands Up” and “Our Song” are beat-heavy and contemporary, urging listeners’ to shake what their mamas gave them. However, the get-up-and-dance singles are contradicted by slow, solemn tunes, such as “Sleeping at the Wheel” and “English Town.” The album is not consistent and proves to be a constant rollercoaster of emotions for anyone listening. With an album title such as “North” and 10 years to work on new material, one would think synchronization on the record would come naturally. But sadly, this is not the case.

At the beginning of a FoxNews.com interview, Thomas shared that instead of bringing his own work to the table like he did for previous albums, the band started from scratch with “North,” and composed the songs together rather than letting Thomas take the creative reins. With nearly 60 songs to choose from, the band had a difficult time picking out the songs for the record – which is most obvious by the random switches in tempo.
Maybe Thomas and the rest of the band were “Unwell” when organizing the album? Maybe they were up until “3 a.m.” trying to pick the songs to put on the record? Whatever the excuse may be, their new album gets a three out of five in my book. Great tracks are necessary for a comeback album, but so is overall cohesion, something that Matchbox Twenty definitely did not consider before releasing “North.”

Photo courtesy Atlantic Records


The Mars Volta delivers solid sixth album with ‘Noctourniquet’

By Ben Nance–

The Mars Volta is back to once again polarize the music world with their weirdness. Some will praise their technical brilliance and see them as innovators of rock; others will dismiss their overwrought salsa-prog songs as silly and self-indulgent. Since releasing their magnum opus “Frances the Mute” in 2005, the band has unfortunately fallen into the Tim Burton pattern, where every other release turns out to be a dud. Thankfully, their latest album “Noctourniquet” follows the highly disappointing “Octahedron,” so the pattern rules say this one has to be good.

If you don’t like The Mars Volta by now, then “Noctourniquet” will do little to change your mind. However, for fans that adored the audacious, aggressiveness of “The Bedlam in Goliath” and the melancholy hooks of “Frances the Mute,” there is a lot here to treasure. In opening track “The Whip Hand,” lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala lays in his reverberated vocals on top of frantic stop-and-go drums, while an unexpected dubstep bass line buzzes in the background. It’s a fresh surprise that shows the band’s willingness to evolve their sound into stranger electronic territories. They continue working outside their comfort zone on songs like “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound,” where their trademark eclecticism is temporarily abandoned and traded for something that resembles a commercial ballad. It’s the closest they’ll probably ever come to repeating “Televators.”

While there is plenty of frantic jamming to go around on “Noctourniquet,” as evident in the songs “Molochwalker” and “Dislexicon,” the album takes on an unusual nighttime gothic feel. I never thought I’d be comparing The Mars Volta to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but it’s hard not to think of Cave’s “Up Jumped the Devil” while listening to the dark howl of “The Malkin Jewel.” Lead guitarist and prolific songwriter, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, knows how to restrain his crazy licks at crucial musical moments, allowing room for the studio effects to shine. This has always been an admirable quality of The Mars Volta. Like the greatest and tightest prog-rock bands, they operate as a collaborative team, utilizing whatever sounds necessary to make each song odder than the last.

“Noctourniquet,” for all of its sonic power, feels overstuffed. It makes one wonder what great heights Zala and Rodriguez-Lopez could one day achieve if their goal wasn’t to always back themselves into a corner of unnecessary complexity. Still, this is a very fine, intricately textured album that warrants a purchase. Both genuinely interesting and cinematic, it proudly stands out in an endless sea of forgettable, underdeveloped indie releases.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros.

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Name your price, make it free.

By Lara Kinne–

Another Bandcamp feature allows listeners to purchase and download albums by choosing their own price. Zero is a tempting option for a free pass, but fans should feel obligated to support these artists anyway, even if it means giving an extra penny. Here are a few to invest in:

Al Lover | allover.bandcamp.com

California-based producer, Al Lover, always keeps rock and hip-hop in close quarters. Following-up last year’s acid beat experiment, Satanic Tambourines, he continues to extend through the back pages of psychedelia on its second half, Heavy Hippies. Backed by fuzz-clad percussion, funky cyclic sound collages are manipulated from instrumental beats into altered compositions. With this fresh brew, Al Lover writes himself a page in the catalogue of experimental hip-hop. Leave the genre margins out.
First Listen: “Mind Melt 1400 A.D. Swag.”


Lightning Bolt | lightningbolt.bandcamp.com

“I Found a Ring in My Ear” is the first installment of The Lightning Bolt Practice of the Month Club, an ongoing series of recorded sessions courtesy of one of the loudest bass-and-drum duos playing today. Be prepared for plenty of discordant, musical ad-libbing strewn into a chaotic twenty minute jam. No edits, no worries.
See also: The sounds of drummer Zach Hill



Lately Kind of Yeah | latelykindofyeah.bandcamp.com

In his debut, multi-medium artist Nathan Rich salutes listeners into the grim dream world of Claradence. These somber confessions swell underneath clean sheets of finger-picked guitar, sample embellishments and lo-fi vocal harmonies, resonating like desolate, self-comforting chants. Listeners depart feeling consoled by the delicate melodies that bury fragmented revelations of emotional complexity. Even the harshest words meld into gorgeous sentiments.
First Listen: “Attractive Room.”



Aaron Ross | aaronross.bandcamp.com

While most know Aaron Ross for fronting math-noodlers Hella on There’s No 666 in Outer Space, he’s already built a collection of transformative solo albums since his start in the folk-rock world. Keeping close connections with Hella guitarist Spencer Seim in the noise-folk collaboration, Amaranth, has heightened the volume of his personal records. Last year’s Autopilot and Personal Hell travel electronic waves that give Ross’s voice a stronger channel rather than just a single guitar track. Shapeshifter is a record before this transition, capturing Ross in an intimate self-exploration.
First listen: “The Mountain.”

Graphic illustration by Nate Malchow/The Louisville Cardinal


Review: The Foxery- Life is Still Beautiful

By Colin Fien–

Louisville-based rock outfit, The Foxery, released their debut studio EP entitled Life is Still Beautiful around the turn of the new year, and it has already begun turning heads and catching the ears of many listeners. The Foxery is no strangers to making good old-fashioned, lyrically driven rock and roll; they know what they’re doing, to say the least.

For their first studio EP, the band traveled to Atlanta to the acclaimed Glow in the Dark Studios to record. The album really shines in its production, accurately capturing the timbre of front man Calvin Fackler’s gravely – and at times nearly whispered – vocals. With chunky guitar tones that beef up the mix, shimmering clean tones that fill up the ambient space and overdriven bass, instrumentally, the album packs quite a punch. The drum tones sound impeccable inside the clear, natural reverb of Glow in the Dark’s gigantic Studio A.

In this regard, this is the best record that The Foxery has released. Other EPs, being largely self- produced and recorded, somewhat lacked in the production value that Life is Still Beautiful has. Longtime fans will feel right at home with most of these songs, with tunes like “Broken Beds” and “The Widower” that feel like more polished versions of songs heard from The Foxery before.

The band experimented with their sound in few songs, however. Tracks like “The Recluse,” which sounds somewhat like an ode to Taking Back Sunday with bassist Mike Stuart taking the lead vocal duties for majority of the song, and “Loose Lips,” akin to a heavy ‘90s grunge rock song, work well by themselves, but detract from the cohesion of the album.

A step in the right direction, Life is Still Beautiful reflects that The Foxery does indeed have a lot of life in them, and is without a doubt an indicator of big things to come in the future.

Photos courtesy The Foxery


Review: T.R.A.M.- Lingua Franca

By Nate Malchow–

T.R.A.M. is the collection of like-minded, talented musicians moving on a progressive path into uncharted audio lands. This music cannot really be classified, as it is very experimental and doesn’t fit into any genre I’ve ever heard. It’s part jam band and part jazz crew with a little indie grooving. T.R.A.M.’s Lingua Franca stands for itself and is better left unconstrained. That being said, it has some tasty bass riffs behind saxophone, bass clarinet and flute diddies. Each member brings creative energy to the table, much owed to their backgrounds in experimental music. This lineup of proficient artists includes Adrian Terrazas of The Mars Volta on saxophone, flute, bass clarinet and percussion; Javier Reyes of Animals as Leaders on guitars; Tosin Abasi, also from Animals as Leaders on guitars; and Eric Moore of Suicidal Tendencies on drums. On Lingua Franca, they set out to express their creative flow together, making music that fits into no preconceived notion of what it should be.

Photo courtesy Sumerian Records


Review: Bowerbirds- The Clearing

By Joshua Davis–

Releasing their third full-length in three years, Bowerbirds have clearly taken time crafting the sound and energy permeating The Clearing. Hailing from Raleigh, N.C., the band has entered its sixth year with a solid and enjoyable set of recordings.

Pulling together acoustic influences and electronic celerity, The Clearing offers a warm tone and pulsing tempos. Strings are used tastefully, adding depth and fluidity to the steady drums and guitar rhythms. It is clear their newest member, Leah, who contributes her own cello and synth skills, further molds their sound.

Bowerbirds is heavily influenced by folk music, and although their sound is unique, it does not vary through the album. Often relying on similar chord progressions, songs are defined by the stories told through the music. As songwriters, they are intriguing and enjoyable. The last year of personal turmoil has turned into a beautifully expressive and haunting album. The Clearing is their most polished release to date. They continue to pull in new players and ideas, gaining international notoriety.

An international tour is coinciding with the March release, kicking off in North Carolina. It is their first tour as a five-piece band and they are ready to hit the road after months of constant work launching The Clearing. The United States portion of the tour will be alongside another indie-folk group, Dry the River. They will part ways as Bowerbirds heads to Copenhagen for the start of a European tour.

The Clearing will be released through iTunes, as well as on CD and analog vinyl. Various limited edition packages are available for purchase from their web site at Bowerbirds.com. Look for the album on March 6.

Photo courtesy Dead Oceans


Leonard Cohen: Old ideas for a new audience

By Ben Nance–

Legendary singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen is one of the most highly regarded musicians on the planet, so whenever he dishes out new material, it is considered to be something of an event. Still singing about spirituality, mortality and sexuality at the ripe age of 77, he shows no signs of dulling the teeth of his witty songwriting. While it’s unfortunate that the closest most people will come to hearing his stuff is through covers of “Hallelujah,” the fact that such a unique and poetic voice is still active in the music world is a blessing indeed.

Speaking of blessings, Cohen wastes no time getting his religion on in the opening minutes of his new album “Old Ideas.” In the soulful track “Going Home,” Cohen imagines what the big guy in the sky would say about his songs while simultaneously hinting at his own death: “A cry above the suffering/A sacrifice recovering/But that isn’t what I need him/To complete.” The song is a perfect lead-in to the slow gospel vibe of the album, with Cohen’s trademark female backup singers providing the hooks. It’s his catchiest and most satisfying opener since 1992’s “The Future.”

Things move along quite nicely in the album’s first half as Cohen shuffles through the burlesque tune of “Amen” and the gruff, locomotive “Darkness.” Once you hear the triumphant ballad “Show Me the Place,” you will be moved beyond words at how effortlessly Cohen manages to create a beautiful moment of grace using his humble baritone voice, a hymn-like song structure and angelic background vocals. In the song’s chorus, he expresses the painful burden of virtue with, “Show me the place, where you want your slave to go/Show me the place, I’ve forgotten, I don’t know.” It’s overwhelming power makes it the key track of “Old Ideas.” This kind of bare honesty is rare in modern music, which is all the more reason to treasure it.

It’s more of a mixed bag once the album approaches its halfway point and becomes less focused. The lyrics remain brilliant—“I’m tired of choosing desire/I’ve been saved by a blessed fatigue/The gates of commitment unwired/And nobody trying to leave”—however, the musical arrangements sort of feel shapeless in comparison to what came before. You’ll realize how crucial the backup singers really are when Leonard briefly decides to go solo on “Crazy to Love You.” The few weak songs that show up in the middle feel like B-sides, but the beautiful thing about a Leonard Cohen B-side is that it’s just as good, if not better, than any pop single you’re bound to hear on the radio.

The album quickly gets back on its feet, livening things up with the powerful vocal harmonies of “Come Healing” and the festive New Orleans flavor of “Banjo.” There is even a memorable lullaby track that isn’t quite what you expect it to be. It all ends on a groovy, electric organ-fueled bang with the song “Different Sides.” Despite his spiritual musings, Cohen suggests on this track that he’s not quite done being a clever devil of appetites. “Old Ideas” can feel a little top-heavy in the musical department, but it achieves greatness nonetheless. This is the album to beat in 2012.

Photos courtesy Columbia Records