Nada Surf: If I Had a Hi-Fi


RIYL: Josh Rouse, Rogue Wave, The Silver Seas

The cool thing about alt-pop band Nada Surf is that they appear to always do things their own way. For whatever reason, though, they stayed together all these years and broke through in 2005 with The Weight Is a Gift, which was produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla. The band continued some of that magic with 2008’s Lucky, and instead of lying low as they had planned, decided to release an album of cover tunes. Fast-forward to today, and If I Had a Hi-Fi. While it’s a set of songs that varies widely from the known (Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and The Moody Blues’ “Question”) to the currently hip (The Go Betweens’ “Love Goes On” and Spoon’s “Agony of Lafitte”) to the mostly obscure (Bill Fox’s “Electrocution” and Macromina’s “Evolucion”), the base of this is Nada Surf’s signature sound, which is akin to Josh Rouse or Ben Folds fronting a modern version of the Beatles. And it’s that sound that is so endearing. That said, there is something about this album that, while nice enough, may leave you wanting more. That could be because Nada Surf’s original material is that good, or it could be that they just chose these songs on a whim based on what they were listening to at the moment. Surely we can’t fault them for taking chances, because they even covered Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger.” But one or two covers on a new Nada Surf record would have worked just as well. (Mardev 2010)

Nada Surf MySpace page

  

Aqualung: Magnetic North


RIYL: Beck, Bright Eyes, Ben Folds

Aqualung, a group that is essentially one man, Matt Hales, flirted with retirement before realizing that his gift for songwriting needed to continue being shared by the masses. His/their latest, Magnetic North, is Aqualung’s second album on Verve and first set of new material since 2007’s Memory Man. Following a move from his native England to Los Angeles, Aqualung’s new material is slightly more upbeat and inspired in spots than some of his previous work, which tended to be mostly dark, moody and melodic. Right from the start, Magnetic North kicks off with “New Friend,” a super catchy ditty that features, for lack of a better term, a psychedelic piano riff. “Reel Me In” is like a cross between Ben Folds and Death Cab for Cutie, and it’s another upbeat anthem.

There are more melodic-as-hell tracks in “Fingertip” and “Hummingbird,” but that doesn’t mean Aqualung forgot where he came from. Some of the best numbers are the haunting and falsetto-laced “Lost,” which sounds like it could have come from 2004’s Strange and Beautiful; the powerful “36 Hours;” or the quirky and dark title track, a fitting closer to this unique batch of songs. If you’re a fan of alt-pop that has more alt than pop, chances are good you’ll love this new one from Aqualung – and as an added bonus, it’s the kind of record that will make your significant other think you’re cool and sensitive. And what could be wrong with that? (Verve 2010)

Aqualung MySpace page

  

Rogue Wave: Permalight


RIYL: Nada Surf, Death Cab For Cutie, The Shins

Fans of alternative pop/rock band Rogue Wave know that their music can be somewhat of an acquired taste, just like the Shins or Death Cab for Cutie. But therein lies a big reason for their success. The music won’t instantly grow on you nor make you instantly tired of it. Instead, Zach Rogue (who has a soft tenor a la Josh Rouse) and his band mates make the kind of music that should have staying power on your master play list. Rogue Wave’s latest, Permalight, is a departure from previous work, though it’s not exactly easy to pinpoint just why. Maybe it’s because Rogue suffered a couple of slipped discs in his neck in late 2008, which rendered him unable to move and scared him into believing he had a life-threatening illness. Eventually the swelling went down, and he regained enough feeling in his hand to be able to play the guitar. Many of the songs on Permalight are noticeably bouncier and happier than what one would expect from Rogue Wave, but the quality of songwriting is definitely still there.

Rogue_Wave_01

If you like upbeat alt-pop, you’ll find the jangly “Solitary Gun” or “Stars and Stripes” to your liking. But if you favor the darker side of what made you love Rogue Wave, “Sleepwalker” or the acoustic driven “Fear Itself” will suit you more. Then there is the total oddity of the title track or the robotic “We Will Make a Song Destroy,” which shows Rogue Wave becoming more experimental. One thing is for sure, though; many of us are glad that Rogue is okay and that Rogue Wave is still making music. (Brushfire/Universal 2010)

Rogue Wave MySpace page

  

The Album Leaf: A Chorus of Storytellers


RIYL: Hammock, Death Cab for Cutie, Pink Floyd

It’s hard to believe this is the Album Leaf’s fifth album release, and that the group, led by mastermind Jimmy LaValle, is celebrating 10 years of existence. But here it is, A Chorus of Storytellers, the group’s new one, and it’s the same dreamy alt-pop LaValle and company has become known for – but even more polished, if that’s at all possible. Only four of the ten tracks on A Chorus of Storytellers have vocals, but it’s not like you expect an album from these guys to be full of vocal music anyway. In fact, some of their instrumental material is their best, the kind of music that takes you away to a far-off euphoric island and lets you forget about everything going on around you. Of course, it’s also incredibly pleasant music to work to or play in the background of a hipster party. The ten tracks on here flow nicely together, but some of the standouts are the melancholy instrumentals “Within Dreams” and “Stand Still,” and the dark yet strangely uplifting “Until the Last.” But LaValle really shines on the vocal number, “We Are,” which has a beautiful melody and subtly awesome harmonies against a stunning musical backdrop. Too many adjectives? Maybe, but The Album Leaf’s music continues to be adjective-inspiring. (Sub Pop 2010)

The Album Leaf MySpace Page

  

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: The Twilight Saga: New Moon


RIYL: Vampires, werewolves, everlasting love

Say this for soundtrack supervisor extraordinaire Alexandra Patsavas: with the soundtrack to “New Moon,” the second installment in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, she leaves nothing in the bag, as it were. With a lineup chock full of megastars and indie darlings, New Moon is the most ambitious soundtrack to come down the pipe in a while. It’s also decidedly more grown-up than its predecessor, forsaking teen angst poster children Paramore and Linkin Park for the moody stylings of Bon Iver (teamed up with St. Vincent here), Sea Wolf, and Grizzly Bear. Muse is the only returning act – expect them to appear on the soundtrack for every “Twilight” movie, as Meyer is a devout fan – and it’s a doozy, as “I Belong to You,” from their latest album The Resistance, is punched up and, more imporantly, edited down (no piano break, woo hoo!). Thom Yorke delivers the wonderfully minimalist electro brooder “Hearing Damage,” and Patsavas scores a massive coup by securing the first new song by OK Go in four years, the endearingly oddball “Shooting the Moon.”

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON

The biggest problem with the soundtrack is the sequencing. It will surely make sense in context with the movie, but as a straight-through listen sans visuals, it’s awfully up and down. All quibbling aside, New Moon is far better than anyone had a right to expect it to be, growing up along with its audience. Bravo, Alex. (Chop Shop/Atlantic 2009)

Twilight: New Moon MySpace page
Click to buy New Moon from Amazon

  

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