The Heavy Resurrects Soul with “Can’t Play Dead”

As a self-professed anglophile and fiancee to one very cheeky Brit, I certainly appreciate the many aspects of our wry, Founding Fathers. From stodgy meals, statuesque cathedrals and sublime music, England is a nation enriched in all aspects: cuisine, culture and most importantly, creativity.

My most recent English example? Indie/blues/rock/soul/funk mash-up musicians known as The Heavy.

Hailing from Britain’s rain-sopped turf are The Heavy; four very talented lads who emerged onto the music scene circa early 2000s. Their most notable song, “How You Like Me Now?” has been featured in countless adverts, movies and video game trailers (and was the first tune that sparked my fan frenzy).

The Heavy reeks of rawness. They’re uncut and unparalleled artists who perform as well at gigs as they do on VEVO. I would know; I’ve frequented three of their concerts within the past two years, and have yet to be disappointed.

While The Heavy is relatively under-the-radar, their undeniable talent is worthy of high accolade. Take a peek at the ghoulish video for their new single, “Can’t Play Dead,” and let us know your take on this British, bass-heavy/bad-ass band.

Destroyer: Kaputt


RIYL: Dirty Projectors, David Bowie, anything on Kompakt

Though he may be more known for his role in indie rock supergroup the New Pornographers, Dan Bejar has been enticing people into his strange world for the past 15 years via Destroyer. Backed by a frequently rotating cast of band members, Bejar uses Destroyer to craft his own brand of avant-pop-rock, unmistakable to anyone who has ever heard it. Over the course of nine albums, he weaves tales of numerous women, told in a hybrid of speech-yelp-singing with non-sequiturs, dense, visually striking metaphors (so dense someone created a Wiki for them), and references to his own body of work. So what happens when you’ve spent 15 years basically perfecting your own genre? What happens when what starts out as weird suddenly becomes the standard? With Kaputt, Destroyer’s ambitious tenth album, Bejar proves he can still make us question our notions of normality and taste.

When he serenades someone in “Blue Eyes” with the line, “Your first love’s New Order,” Bejar surely must be speaking of himself, because with the heavy synths, the saxophone and the female backing vocals that flutter throughout Kaputt, he seems to be unleashing his inner ‘80s. But, as tacky and oppressive as those reference points can be, under Bejar’s particular guidance, they are transformed into something delicate, as though he accidentally played dance records at half-speed and heard something he liked.

The first half of “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker” would make a decent soundtrack for footage of outer space. It opens with slow, steady synths, various sounds floating in and out of the background, such as a quiet guitar riff, light chimes, and what sounds like someone breathing. The song shifts drastically about half-way through, when some relative of the flute jumps in, followed by Bejar’s voice, cautioning, “Fool child, you’re never gonna make it / New York City just wants to see you naked, and they will / Though they’d never say so.” By the time the backing vocals arrive, one might conjure an image of Bejar in a white suit, performing at a hotel somewhere in Hawaii with a Robert Palmer-style all-woman band.

Though it arrives at the end of the album, “Bay of Pigs” serves as the obvious transition piece between Kaputt and Destroyer’s earlier works. Loosely relating to the 1961 invasion of Cuba, Bejar built an EP around it last year. In its original form, “Bay of Pigs” was over 13 minutes long. In its slightly trimmed down length, the 11-minute opus still finds time to transition from droning ambience to scaling blips that sound like they could come from an early Nintendo game, to the guitar-based avant-pop sound he became known for, complete with hand claps. It was around “Bay of Pigs” that Bejar’s record label, Merge, coined the term “ambient disco,” which is the most apropos classification for anything off of Kaputt.

Take off one of those Ts, and Kaputt becomes “kaput,” which means to incapacitate, break, ruin, or destroy. Knowing Bejar’s self-referential tendencies, it could be that he found a cheeky way to create a self-titled album. But with the new direction he’s embarking on, it speaks more fittingly to the ways he is destroying the Destroyer of the past, killing his old sound to create something new. (Merge 2011)

Destroyer MySpace page

The Law: A Measure of Wealth


RIYL: The Kooks, Dogs Die in Hot Cars, The Futureheads

Those coming to the Law via their international exposure on the soundtrack to “The Men Who Stare at Goats” might be a bit surprised when they listen to the rest of the album. Whether that is a pleasant surprise or not will simply be a matter of taste. A Measure of Wealth is just that, a little slice of energetic indie rock that begs the question whether a band from Dundee Scotland would be insulted to be called Brit-pop. Whatever their feelings, their influences are clearly ’80s and ’90s Brit-pop, more on the Blur side of the tracks than Oasis. They lack the Trad-rock elements of the Gallagher brothers, though the album was recorded at Sawmills Studios, the studio that gave birth to Definitely Maybe. This isn’t what you might expect after the lead track “Don’t Stop, Believe” (which is also found on the aforementioned soundtrack) comes blasting out like a Wolfmother lead. Full on blues-based hard rock, with Robert Plant-like wailing in the background, “Don’t Stop, Believe” is pedal-to-the-metal music, and nothing like what follows.

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As track one grinds down into a single Hammond chord, the album transforms and we are greeted with a heavily Pulp-influenced tune called “The Chase,” which truly sets the tone for everything to follow. The Pulp influence resurfaces in riffs and refrains throughout, but halfway through, on “Television Satellite” they drop any subtlety to wrap themselves fully in the glam-influence and swirling guitars of the biggest heroes of Brit-pop, Suede. More than a few tracks would have been right at home on an album like Coming Up, and this is a good thing. All in all, the Law have created a romp of an album, one that should be shuffled into any discerning college student’s party mix. So, while anyone looking for more stoner rock based on the opening track might be disappointed, A Measure of Wealth is a solid, energetic debut that shouldn’t be overlooked. (Local Boy Records 2010)

The Law MySpace page

The Whigs:In the Dark


RIYL: Dinosaur Jr., Foo Fighters, The Replacements

In the Dark starts out by rolling over you with a wall of guitars that, far from dissonant and buffeting, instead envelops you like the wind before a promising storm, and like some great thunder, the Whigs continue to prove they are an experience not to be missed.

Coming off their well-received second album, Mission Control, and a series of acclaimed live shows (not the least of which was a standout performance at the 2008 SXSW), it is evident that the hard core touring and energetic playing has only invigorated their songwriting. In the Dark is the Whigs’ best album yet, and one that engages from beginning to end.

The album is power rock, through and through, but it never forgets that melody and rhythm shouldn’t be sacrificed for that power. It is the same for the lyrics, as throughout Parker Gispert is clearly singing from those hidden places where anger and regret fester, but he refuses to either rage or mope. There is as much a sense of resolute energy as anything, even when he sings “Kill Me Carolyn” or questions his lust for “Someone’s Daughter.”

Most of the album openly embraces their primary influence, the more hard-rocking post punk of the Replacements (most evident on “Automatic” and “So Lonely,” with no little bit of the Godfathers thrown in there on the title track and the opening “Hundred/Million.” The production is just tight enough and the arrangements original and lush enough to push it beyond any assumed imitation, and the first five tracks are solid Whigs.

Then, just when it feels like you have a handle on the album, they throw you a hard curve right in the middle. “Dying” comes on and everything shifts into a heavy rhythmic chant full of psychedelic influences. It tosses you into dark places only hinted at up until now. That is the flow of the album. An energetic, but evident descent into the viscera of the music, but then the steady, strong drive that leads us back out; an inverted emotional parabola that never slows, but never lets us off the ride, either. Check out “I Am for Real” as the perfect catharsis moment.

In the Dark ends with a mini-jam session of a song, “Naked,” at times minimalist and echoing, while at others a pulsing rocker. It is one of the more inventive and original works that lets the Whigs flaunt their talent, energy and idiosyncrasies.

Check out In the Dark. It is one of the better albums to come along so far this year, and it should win them new fans while pleasing their faithful. Listen loud! ATO Records 2010

The Whigs MySpace page

April Smith and the Great Picture Show: Songs for a Sinking Ship


RIYL: KT Tunstall, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Liza Minnelli

Sometimes great singers try a bit too hard to prove that they’re great. April Smith is not one of those singers. The arrangements on her latest and most impressive album Songs for a Sinking Ship fit her sultry voice like a glove and her songwriting is both playful and intellectual. April Smith is clearly capable of controlling the whole circus when it comes to vocal acrobatics but possesses the restraint to allow each song to shine as bright as her ability.

After numerous listens, I’ve yet to find a track that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. A standout track on Songs for a Sinking Ship is “Wow and Flutter” which combines semi-dark theatrics with a refrain that could have found a home on a Ratt record. Odd, I know, but it totally works. Additionally, the closer “Stop Wondering” is easily the most delightful “fuck you” to a former lover ever recorded.

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Aside from her glowing talent behind the mic and the pen, she’s clearly figured out the business side of things as well. She used kickstarter.com and her ever-growing fan base (acquired from near constant touring over the past few years) to fund this release. We always hear stories of bands collecting cash online to fund their latest projects but many of those bands were once privileged enough to receive that initial “major label” push. April did it her way from the start and we can only hope that in the years to come she will be recognized as the fearless trailblazer that she is.

There are no gimmicks on Songs for a Sinking Ship. Only great writing and performing which is a very welcome change of pace from your typical release. You’re going to want to sing along with April Smith but you had better stretch out before attempting it or you will most certainly hurt yourself. (Little Roscoe 2010)

April Smith and The Great Picture Show | Official Website
Click to buy Songs for a Sinking Ship from Amazon

Sea Wolf: White Water, White Bloom


RIYL: Iron & Wine, Conor Oberst, Jeremy Fisher

Sea Wolf, a band of Alex Church plus friends-as-needed, has returned with the sophomore album White Water, White Bloom, expanding their folk-infused, intimate indie rock into a larger, more orchestral sound that is both richly textured and a touch disappointing. Whereas the original Leaves in the River carried a dark, chanting, old world feel throughout, White Water… layers in several more musicians and instruments, and Mike Mogis’ production punches everything up to a lush and sweeping cascade of sound. One side effect of this is that Church’s vocals, still slightly warbling and dry, sometimes emphasize his limited range, rather than capturing the quiet intimacy that is his strength. The title track is the best example, where pianos, multiple strings, drums and synths all vie for attention, becoming heavy and ponderous with the vocals dragged down by the weight of it all. Or, as on the opening track “Wicked Blood,” where the pop elements overwhelm and it can occasionally sound like a cover of a Roy Orbison track circa Mystery Girl. Lyrically, it seems that Church tried to keep pace with this expansion and this resulted in a rambling feel on some of the longer songs. His writing is missing the concise, insistent quality that made Leaves… tracks like “You’re A Wolf” and “The Cold, The Dark & The Silence” so powerful.

This could be considered quibbling, as the album has its share of gems. Middle tracks “Orion & Dog” and “Turn the Dirt Over” have all the power and simmering energy to make you listen intently and repeatedly. Here you feel that the music serves the song and story as folk demands, rather than the other way around. When “Oh Maria!” really rocks out, it is not just the pounding drums and angular guitars that drive it, but the passionate personal quality of lyric and vocal delivery. It is unfortunate that this beautiful strength gets lost in the complexity of the larger, denser tracks that are pretty, but inevitably fall a bit flat. Church and company made a clear bid for “more” on White Water, White Bloom, and definitely succeeded. But the uneven results show that more isn’t always a good thing. (Dangerbird 2009)

Sea Wolf Myspace page
Click to buy White Water, White Bloom from Amazon

Ramona Falls: Intuit


RIYL: Badly Drawn Boy, Menomena, Bon Iver

Intuit lives up to its name in many ways. The debut by Ramona Falls, a solo project of Menomena’s Brent Knopf, is a masterful work that needs to be absorbed indirectly, because while a first listen quickly demonstrates its Alternative/Indie Rock pedigree, it escapes any easy comparisons and is tricky to grasp. That isn’t to say it is inaccessible. Far from it. The first three tracks are powerful songs that are intensely hooky. “I Say Fever” is especially rocking, with a classic soft-hard juxtaposition of stanza and refrain. Yet they are all completely different and keep the listener guessing. Such cognitive dissonance can often backfire, causing a loss of cohesion and thus disinterest, but on Intuit it works like a charm. When the stark and insistent drum line of “I Say Fever” fades, the muted piano beat of “Clover” picks up and spins you into a more a wistful bent. “If I’m dreaming you, and you’re dreaming me, why don’t we choose a different story?” Knopf asks, lyrically personal and emotional without ever stooping to clichés.

The album isn’t perfect. It slows down and gets a bit too diffuse by the end, but Knopf’s plaintive voice washes through tracks that sway between the richly textured and almost Talk Talk-like minimalism. Some will argue this comparison, but there is a similarity in experience in listening to Ramona Falls and to a great Decemberists album. Not that they sound anything alike – there is no Old English folk ballad quality on Intuit, but as with Colin and company, Knopf creates complex songs that are aurally catchy but challenging both intellectually and structurally. Intuit is both smart and passionate and extremely, intuitively rewarding. (Barsuk 2009)

Ramona Falls MySpace page

All is right in the world: Pavement to tour in 2010

Ladies and gentleman, I’m on cloud nine. I woke up in a bad mood and now I want to hug everyone I see. Pavement has confirmed that they will reunite and tour next year. All that’s been announced at this juncture is that they will play at the Central Park SummerStage in New York City. Even better, the first show of the event is scheduled for September 21st, which is my birthday. It’s very difficult to write journalistically right now as the music gods are doing everything they can to make my head explode. A ticket pre-sale begins tomorrow and I’m already daydreaming about flying to New York with my buddy Derrick, each of us taking our guitars, staying in some seedy hotel, and then waking up in the morning ready experience a day of magnificent yet unlikely music. Pavement is often regarded as the most important band from the 90s, but I can never find the right words to describe them. Simply put, they’re my favorite band. Funny enough, I didn’t discover Pavement until a few years ago. While the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Beach Boys will forever remain in my top five, I was getting fed up with the fact that I only listened to older music. I understand Pavement isn’t considered “new” music as they did break up in 1999. Still, their sound combined the influences of grunge and pop – the two genres that defined the 90s. As we’ve witnessed in the last decade, the advent of electronic music and crunk rap is tolerable at best. Trends, by definition, don’t have staying power, but when judged against the barometer of quality, 90s music destroys their competitors from the last nine years. True, Nirvana may have held the torch, but Pavement didn’t want to. I have no qualms in saying that Pavement is the closest thing we’ve gotten to the Beatles in the last 40 years. While not nearly as popular, Pavement spearheaded an era in music, produced amazing album after amazing album, and are now regarded as “timeless.” They weren’t experimental (Radiohead), avant-garde (Sonic Youth), or flashy (Smashing Pumpkins). Like the Beatles, they were just a band comprised of a few normal dudes who just happened to be more talented than everyone else.

Per Matador Records

After years of speculation, the most important American band of the 1990’s is returning to the stage, with the lineup of Mark Ibold, Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, Stephen Malkmus, Bob Nastanovich and Steve West reuniting for dates around the world in 2010. Please be advised this tour is not a prelude to additional jaunts and/or a permanent reunion.

Described in their own Wikipedia entry as having experienced “moderate commercial success”, Pavement’s catalog for the Matador, Domino, Drag City and Treble Kicker imprints has come to define in the eyes of many the blueprint for independent rock over the past generation. In spite of this, the records are still pretty fantastic, and we’re fully prepared to remind you of such with a details-to-be-determined compilation album planned for release sometime in 2010.

The first show announced is a New York performance on September 21, 2010 at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. Things worked out really well when Diana Ross played Central Park in 1983, and we have no reason to suspect Pavement’s return to the live arena won’t generate similar headlines.

I’m so excited.


Read the rest after the jump...

Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs

Umpteen albums into Yo La Tengo’s nearly quarter-century of existence, it seems that they’ve finally hit on a spectacular balance. No, Popular Songs is not a compilation (though the band’s actual ‘best of,’ Prisoners of Love, is somewhat less satisfying than Popular Songs), but it might as well be. It finds the band smoothing out some of its rough edges without totally abandoning their rough-and-tumble approach to indie rock. The opener in particular, “Here to Fall,” sweeps the listener into the air with a strings-and-keyboard arrangement that’ll stir up wet dreams of Paul Buckmaster making love to Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan’s interpersonal-musical union with muted fire and momentum. This could easily be the sound of Yo La blowing their wad way too early, but as it turns out, it neatly sets up the rest of the record to roll through ‘60s homages like the Farfisa fun-time “Periodically Double or Triple” and the Lovin’ Spoonful-esque “I’m On My Way” (try singing “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It” over the verses), and on into three lengthy drones that could easily be the perfect soundtrack to getting stoned. (Matador 2009)

Yo La Tengo MySpace page

The Features: Some Kind of Salvation

From the back woods of Sparta, Tennessee come eclectic indie-rockers the Features. Their latest release, Some Kind of Salvation, was recorded without the help of a major label, and boasts a hodgepodge of songs with inventive lyrics and infectious melodies. Opening track “The Drawing Board” sets the tone of the record with a barrage of funky horns, and “The Temporary Blues” makes a statement about that shit job you just can’t stand but really can’t live without. Other standouts on the record include “GMF” – about zombie vegetables that take their non-conformist farmer hostage – and “Wooden Heart,” a post-break up/rebound anthem about putting the shine back on that tarnished but most important blood-pumping organ. On the whole, the record is full of energy. It’s relevant yet different, with audible influences like the Kinks and Elvis Costello. Some King of Salvation is a bit of a departure from the wild psychedelic rock you may expect from the Features, but “Off Track” or not – this foursome is poised to make a bold statement in the world of rock music. (Loose Tooth 2009)

The Features MySpace page

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