Jun 2014

Relief (CD)

Vacationer are described as a “Nu-Hula” band. What the hell is that, you might ask? It’s what you want to be listening to at the beach, on vacation, all summer basically—truthfully, Relief couldn’t be a more appropriate name for this album. Kenny Vasoli’s smooth vocals whisper sweet nothings float over the band’s cool, jangling riffs on songs like “Glimpse,” pillowy synths on “Heavenly” and funk bass on “In the Grass.” They’re kind of like a more laid-back Vampire Weekend or happier Tennis, writing immediately likeable songs with knotty little melodies on songs like “The Wild Life” that sneak into your head and stay there, even as they’re dressed up as islandy trifles. “There’s no point to making plans,” Vasoli sings on “The Wild Life” over a reggae-infused beat and chill vibraphones, and we couldn’t disagree. Here’s your summer soundtrack.

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SomeKindaWonderful (CD)

SomeKindaWonderful seemingly have come out of nowhere with a knockout first record of smart, radio-friendly pop rock that proves producing such music is easier said than done. The story goes that lead singer Jordy Towers left L.A. for the Midwest after a major label deal didn’t go so well (you may remember his almost-hit “Pretty Monsters,” with B.o.B.). While there, Towers hooked up with local musicians Ben Schigel and guitarist Matt Gibson, drunkenly jamming one night and coming up with future hit “Reverse,” which now can be found ruling rock radio with its “Be My Baby” Motown beat and Towers’ irresistible vocal hook. Good thing he made that move— Somekindawonderful aptly bounce between lust-fueled pub rock (“Cornbread,” “Honeymoon”) and soulful synth-pop (“Police,” “Hard for Days,” “Caveman”), somehow marrying the two in such a way that their songs wouldn’t sound out of place on just about any station. Led by Towers’ raspy croon, there doesn’t seem to be much that SomeKindaWonderful can’t (and don’t) do on their debut. Here’s to second chances.

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Speechless (CD)
Exceptionally talented 24 year old Swedish-Ethiopian singer and guitarist Sebastian Mikael is releasing his first full-length and it's something to get excited about. A true craftsman, Mikael migrated from a successful producing project in Sweden to start again in music school in America, honing his craft at the Musician's Institute in Los Angeles and the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Now, with an impressive series of collaborators including Rick Ross and Wale, Mikael is ready to show off his sophisticated and often inspirational R&B. Tending towards lyrics about life rather than just love, Mikael's sensuous love songs give off an intelligence and worldliness impressive for such a newcomer. Fans of Miguel should particularly take note. Read more
Fuego (CD)

Already, Fuego is being hailed as the best Phish album since Billy Breathes, which is a unique distinction. When BB came out in 1996, it was the band's most concise, pop-oriented album. Short songs and hooky focus that made a lot of new fans but potentially alienated some old ones who were looking for more long-form progressive folk-reggae-jazz-rock of the kind they were used to. After BB the band generally continued in that poppier direction, still turning those concise songs into lengthy workouts on stage but the studio-Phish was, from that point on, a different animal. Fuego is unique because it's a crossover more than a throwback. It incorporates the bands mature hookiness and focus as well as the live stretching out their fans follow them around the country for. Elements of classic progressive rock are everywhere here, so it's great to see Bob Ezrin, the legendary producer of Pink Floyd's The Wall and Lou Reed's Berlin, behind the boards here, acting also as studio adviser, encouraging the band to make the record a closer representation of their live show. This record should certainly grow a large garden of new Phish fans while supplying the die hards with more fodder for live improvisation and more classics to sing along to.

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Amour & Attrition (CD)

Casey Crescenzo is one of those uniquely active and ambitious musical minds who is also growing and challenging himself, usually beyond the confines of any one musical project. Getting his start in progressive post-hardcore/screamo outfit The Receiving End of Sirens, when his ambitions became too large to be contained by that group, he founded The Dear Hunter, an intense complex progressive rock band with folk and orchestral tendencies that crosses over with the Arcade Fire or Decemberists, albeit from a decidedly post-hxc background. Now, on this latest release under his own name, he's written an instrumental symphony which, on this recording, is being performed by the Brno Philharmonic. Recorded in Brno, Czech Republic, the album is decidedly American, with lilting Gershwinian melodies and a tender cinematic ambience that plant its roots firmly stateside. While it's unclear how fans of Crescenzo's other projects will respond, fans of The Dear Hunter are no strangers to his symphonic tendencies and I'd imagine there are more than a few who have been waiting for precisely something just like this. Those fans and any fans of thoughtful, emotional, melodic composition for symphony orchestra should be very pleased.

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Noise Vs. Beauty (CD)

Album ten from prolific and eclectic electronic music producer spans, as you might expect, dubstep, trap, IDM, bubblegum glitch, sampledelic hip hop, anthemic festival fistpumping EDM, etc. Each Bassnectar album gets a little more shiny and a little more diverse as Lorin Ashton spends more time refining his day-glo showmanship on the road, absorbing more textures and hearing new sounds to be incorporated into his neon gumbo. On the topic of this latest album he says it's "a 15 song journey which spans the spectrum of music from hardcore noise hysteria to lush, ethereal beauty - and many points in between. I collaborated with over 50 different human beings on this collection, and it is without a doubt my favorite album to date!"

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Time For Three (CD)

Effortlessly appealing pop-classical trio combines pop sensibilities and presentation with classical arrangements and a keen ear for a powerful melody. Their fourth album, and second self-titled release, finds the group continuing to expand and experiment within their niche sound with mostly quite beautiful results. Experimental production and percussion techniques takes the group's stringed approach from a strict chamber performance to something more enveloping, something atmospheric and inclusive like a pop record. Featuring lovely contributions from singer songwriter Joshua Radin, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, and virtuosic ukulele upstart Jake Shimabukuro.

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Reality Testing (CD)

Shimmering electronic beatiness courtesy of the Nottingham-based producer Matt Cutler. An exceptional craftsman, Cutler's lush excursions into nu-rave and garage helped him make a name as one of the most detail-oriented beauty-dealers in contemporary electronic music. Now, he has returned, two years down the line from his exquisite Galaxy Garden with a record more steeped in the chunky rhythms of American hip-hop and its crossovers with early Detroit and Chicago techno sounds. While the hip-hop often appears as soul-orchestral sampledelia or Chicago-housey jazz-piano stabs, Cutler's concern goes beyond mere texture or settling for a clean genre imitation. Never one to shy from melody, these songs are laced with Blade Runner synth-leads bouncing and swerving like a light-cycle or a particularly excellent screensaver. Every song on the album is packed with beautiful details, far away voices, momentary percussive rattles, odd filters at just the right time. Potentially less clubby than previous releases but still packed with enough bangers to please the heads on the dance floor.

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Noise (CD)

When a band like Boris releases an album called Noise, you’re expecting just that—piercing, screeching, glorious guitar noise from a difficult-to-pigeonhole band that trades in stoner rock, sludgey doom metal and shoegaze. And to an extent, that’s true, but Noise is actually one of the most traditional rock albums the band has produced, amidst its many releases and collaborations. The first song is called “Melody,” and true to that promise, it’s a melodic rocker in the vein of forefathers like Swervedriver or Smashing Pumpkins, full of searching, psychedelic verses and pummeling, volcanic choruses. Much of Noise can be tender, though. “Ghost of Romance” allows the band to explore spacious, moaning guitar tones, and singer/bassist Takeshi’s affecting falsetto makes the song feel a little like early Radiohead or Sigur Ros, before a pulverizing, fuzzed-out solo blows that comparison out of the water. Guitarist/singer Wata crawls through the creepy doomgaze of “Heavy Rain,” sounding like the last survivor in a Japanese horror film. But Boris are most shocking here when completely breaking rank with their previous work, on “Taiyo No Baka,” which begins with a lo-fi, thumping little tune before moving into what sounds like the follow-up to “1979” that the Pumpkins never wrote—surprise, surprise, Boris are great at writing pop songs. But not to worry, Boris fans—the band you’ve come to know and love still roars back on songs like “Quicksilver,” a pure melodic metal tune among the band’s best. Though Noise changes the game a bit for Boris, the band’s focus on tunefulness is welcome, especially since they still haven’t abandoned the destructive sound on which they’ve made their name.

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Forever Young (CD)

On his third release for ECM, the Norwegian guitarist leads a quintet of musicians rounded out by his old friend, saxophonist Trygve Seim, and the Marcin Wasilewski trio, a group of Polish players whose understated interplay between bass, piano, and drums is decidedly experimental while always remaining melodic, emotive, and relatively gentle. As a group, they produce a soft but not smooth and occasionally melancholic chamber jazz in a very ECM style. The ensemble can count themselves lucky to have ECM founder Manfred Eicher manning the boards on this release; it sounds stunning in its clarity and while Young's deft playing stands out, it's not mixed unreasonably high or given undue space. This is, after all, the music of a group, no matter whose name gets top billing. Young and Seim often come together in exquisite syncopation, embarking on snaking, dancing melodies like ribbons caught on the wind, ever so often propelling themselves off the peaks of the Wasilewski group's shuffling, tumbling rhythm section, experimental but always in time, providing a ground when it's needed and spreading out when there's room. Despite the tightness of the compositions, the players all improvise and it seems they have fun doing it, crafting lilting, swinging experiences out of the song structures variously owing themselves to the ECM of the '70s and Brazillian jazz.

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