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