Monday, February 7, 2011

Album Review: The Beets' Stay Home

Straight out of Queens, The Beets strive for a sound 50 years in the making. Taking cues from seminal British Invasion bands, '60s west coast surf-garage rock and more directly, New York icons such as The Velvets and Television, The Beets' vintage, garage rock is stripped down, back to the basics retro. The past year saw the band touring behind their 2009 release, Spit In The Face Of People Who Don't Want To Be Cool, and releasing several singles including, (just so you know where their heads are at) a drunken rendition of "The Locomotion" (yes, the one and only, but without the chart topping results earned by Little Eva, Grand Funk and Kylie). Needless to say, many weren't quite ready for a band with such a wry sense of humor and a recorded sound that was willfully underproduced.

The band's sophomore release, Stay Home, picks up where the trio's previous effort left off. The jangly hooks are still very raw and outweigh any notions of studio amateurism - oddly, it's what makes The Beets' sound so charming. "Cold Lips," kicks the album into full gear with its singalong qualities while "Dead" could be mistaken for a Stones b-side.

Spanning 13 songs with a running time under half an hour, the album isn't much to dissect. In fact, many songs are about staying home - go figure. "Watching TV" and "Pops N' Me" are pretty self explanatory. "Hens and Roasters," meanwhile, is a soft story about isolation: "Now I wanna go back to my head," sings guitarist/vocalist Juan Wauters and bass player Jose Garcia as they harmonize through the outro as they so often do on the record. When the duo aren't singing in unison, they often take a few bars to break down in psychedelic Velvets' inspired freakouts like the "Knock On Wood" outro or the second half of "Your Name Is On My Bones."

While The Beets approach their music with the type of inspiration that isn't new - the charm factor and overall sincerely has high appeal. As Spit In The Face... may have shown promise, its fidelity surely lacked, hiding the talent behind a wall of fuzz. Stay Home sheds a layer allowing the audience to hear what they've been missing - and they have been missing out - and allowing the band to step out of the cult-y, art-house world and into the clubs.

Published by Treble Magazine

Monday, January 17, 2011

Album Review: Smith Westerns' Dye It Blonde

Last year was a growing period for Smith Westerns, the Chicago garage pop quartet whose prior year's self-titled debut caught many by surprise with dreamy, innocent pop harmonies and overall maturity from a band who at the time, were still in high school. The band toured non-stop in 2010, honing their chops, learning to play tighter and ultimately working as a well-oiled machine. In doing so, they have expanded their audience exponentially, all the while gaining solid critical success. And with more experience comes a brand new stage for the band as they offer up an excellent sophomore set in Dye It Blonde.

In November, leading up to the album, the band released the first single, "Weekend," which naturally stirred up hype and anticipation, and with good reason. The song kicks things off with signature guitar jangle and three-minute power-pop structure, not to mention a memorable chorus of blissful falsetto harmonies. What stands out across this new set is the heightened level of maturity to the band's garage rock stylings -- "Imagine Pt.3" is an unabashedly catchy love pop song, with frontman Cullen Omori delivering lines like, "You've always got me coming back for more." Influences like T Rex shine through on tracks like "All Die Young" while the band sticks to their bread-and-butter lo-fi hooks on "End Of The Night" and "Dance Away."

It is hard to believe at times that the band is collectively around 19 years old - "Smile" ends with a prog-rock, singalong outro, revealing ambition and craftsmanship far beyond their years. With the jump to Fat Possum, the songs are crisp and better produced, but still remain lo-fi and often ooze a retro feel - something that carries over from the debut.

With a solid new set of material, Smith Westerns have returned to reveal how much creative growth they've undergone in such a short amount of time. Resurrecting all the right bits of T. Rex and The Replacements, while echoing contemporary sidekicks like Girls, Smith Westerns have released the first great album of 2011. The great thing, though, is that they have only just begun.

Published by Treble Magazine

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Album Review: Weekend's Sports

The term 'post-punk' could not be any more ambiguous - hell, it basically sums up everything ever recorded past 1977. But of course, labeling music gets more precise - 'shoegazer' and 'industrial' are more pedantic and help music listeners understand time and place rather than broad generalizations. We've come a long way since the birth of the punk, shoegaze and industrial nomenclatures and for many, these genres have been carved and copied endlessly, to the point of becoming completely cliché. However, every once in a while bands spring up resurrecting new sounds and styles and completely make it their own. If done right, those old sounds again sound fresh and restore faith in diehard music lovers - it is why what some people may call obsessive compulsive, we call religion.

San Francisco's Weekend have joined the ranks of few bands to shuffle up old sounding, '80s ambiance and give it a new twist. Their recent LP, Sports, is a unique flavor of, dare I say it, "post punk squall," It indeed embodies the strongest elements of noise pop ambiance, gloomy dream pop and a hard, garage-y guitar sound. Even better, it incorporates later versions of the same elements, such a No Wave era Sonic Youth, most notably the album's opener "Coma Summer." Clocking in at almost seven minutes, the song reveals Weekend to be ambitious songwriters, to say the least, yet sure to keep their listeners in rapt attention.

The heavily textured and semi-instrumental (weird backwards sounding vocals if you could call it that) " Monday Morning," is pure noise. Fans of No Age-esque interlude ambiance and power-drone can definitely get behind the weirdness of this track, which leads into the thunderous, Joy Division-inspired "Monongah, WV." Beginning with a watery and melodic bassline, this song encapsulates elements of dreamy shoegazer much to the tune of My Bloody Valentine and is easily one of the standout tracks of the album. Elements of Killing Joke can be heard on tracks such as "Landscape" and "Age Class," while "Veil" is a spiritually moving in its own right. Beginning slowly, the track builds momentum leading to a mind-blowing climax and one of many 'holy shit' moments on the album.

The album ends on a high note, with "Untitled," a powerful crescendo of straight ahead drumming and a loud guitar wale seeping in a long, far away vocal echo - another Weekend staple. Where many bands fail to deliver, Weekend nail the coffin shut with a rare and delightful twist to an old sound and, like few before it, restore my faith in trusting in post-punk generalizations.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PS I Love You's Meet Me At The Muster Station

Those familiar with Canada, or Canadian music for that matter, should already know that Kingston, Ontario, just outside the country's capital, is home to both the most arguably successful Canuck band, the Tragically Hip and the county's largest penitentiary. The city houses both a thriving artistic community and societal throwaways. It isn't the largest or well-known city either, much like its most recent export, PS I Love You, who have crafted their debut Meet Me At The Muster Station with a level of frustration and alienation that only manifests itself in a place like Kingston.

The odd pairing of Paul Saulnier (guitar/vocals) and Benjamin Nelson (drums) comprise the ability to both scorn and encapsulate a listener. Their sound is rooted in '80s college fuzz and Saulnier, much like those '80s college rock heroes, displays a monumental amount of emotion. His softer side translates into something in the realm of Black Francis-esque singing - throaty and filled with occasional yelps. Their go-to track, "Facelove" can vouch for that honest display of emotion, as Saulnier sings what sounds like a love-letter gone wrong before breaking down into a jam session instead for the remaining half of the song. What Saulnier isn't able to express lyrically, he leaves it for his guitar. The fret picking on "Butterflies and Boners" is a brilliant piece of axe-wielding, wailing like legendary guitar slayer J Mascis. I was lucky enough to catch the pair live and even their stage appearance is enjoyably off kilter. Nelson, a skinny, garage rock hipster-like figure plays second stage to the hefty Saulnier, who looks more like Tad or D. Boon.

PS I Love You's songs are often very epic - the apocalyptic undertones of "2012" are both unsettling, yet intriguing while the rawness of "Get Over" oozes the overall theme of being passive aggressive and unable to adequately pinpoint where things went wrong. Saulnier seems shy and weary about letting us into his world, which is lucky for us, because he is a unique talent. While Nelson's drumming is sometimes not the tightest, it is strong and the duo creates a sound much larger in comparison. Muster Station fuses teen angst and a lonely yearning with an untapped sense of male aggression and while PS I Love You might not be the toughest name on the block, don't let that mislead you. They show a commitment to rock from track one.

Published by Treble Magazine

Album Review: Demon's Claws' The Defrosting Of...

The Demon's Claws' influences range far and wide, spanning most of contemporary rock and roll. The Claws' sound is vast, fusing punk and garage rock sloppiness with '60s pop, and often as haunting as a ritual killing. Hailing from Montreal, the band have garnered a reputation for putting the pedal to the floor, playing harrowing and distorted classic rock and roll arrangements resurrecting some of the greats, such as The Rolling Stones, 13th Floor Elevators and the Kinks. Binging since 2004, the boys in Demon's Claws follow up their debut, 2007's Satan's Little Pet Pig, with The Defrosting Of... A title that has been left semi-censored and incomplete due to the referencing of a particular, well known animator rumored to be cryogenically frozen.

As you can tell by the titles, Demon's Claws approach their music with an intense level of rebellion and danger - the 'fuck you' attitude is all too apparent on the new record. The band continue to revel in the folk-psych, garage rock spectrum - the guitar sound of Jeff Clark remains rough around the edges (purposely) and jangles with a certain level of underproduction ("Laser Beams" and "Trip to the Clinic") that allows the raw emotion shine through; it is something very pure.

The lo-fi production is something that doesn't always work for bands, but for a band like Demon's Claws, who may constantly have alcohol running rampant through their veins, it brings full circle a sense of balance in equilibrium. The band talking amongst themselves in between songs could even confuse a listener into thinking they're listening to a live album, but one cannot deny the good-ol'-days-of-rock feel. A hard hit of nostalgia, "Anny Lou" could be confused as a Stones throwaway, while the album's opener, "Fed From Her Hand" is reminiscent of early Eric Burdon songs. Other times, the album is a firm push forward for contemporary music. "Weird Ways" and "You Will Always Be My Friend" sound a lot like something from fellow Canadian outfit The Sadies, while "At The Disco" leans toward labelmates Black Lips.

Rock and roll has continuously retreated underground to rebuild itself in the sixty years it has had an impact. While electronica is very prevalent in the indie circuit, Demon's Claws take a step back, turn the amps to 11 and explore the true roots of rock and roll. To ignore this record would be a complete folly for a true music lover. The only added effects (other than distortion) are minimal synth sounds ("All Three Eyes") and the echo-y vocal tracks from Clark, reminiscent of Roky Erickson. What the band lacks in fidelity is made up for in raw emotion and good fun. Keep dancing.

Published by Treble Magazine

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Album Review: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin's Let It Sway

When Someone Still Loves You Boris Yelsin recorded their second LP, Pershing, the band almost succumbed to the pressure of recording and the overwhelming inner tension that comes with self production. For their third release, however, the band decided to enlist Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla to help with finding a skilled producer. Walla had the perfect man for the job: himself, and accompanied by fellow producer Beau Sorenson, he helped ease the pressure of recording, allowing SSLYBY to focus solely on laying down the tracks.

Appropriately titled, Let it Sway, possibly a representation of the band's new approach to recording, finds SSLYBY going back to their roots. Their 2005 debut, Broom, was acclaimed for it's colorful pop jangles while Pershing wasn't so much, often criticized for it's overproduction. Let it Sway's songwriting is in the same vein as the peppy, breezy Broom, while mixing in a polished production sound as heard on Pershing.

The album begins with a strong opening; the folky "Back in the Saddle," could be interpreted as a new form of confidence the band has garnered over the past two years. "Sink/Let it Sway," is an interesting approach to what Vampire Weekend or the Shins are doing while "Banned (by the Man)" is pure indie pop, boasting the singalong qualities of Weezer, while embracing a New Pornographers-like glam-pop sound.

But before long, the album begins to lose steam. The repetitiveness of "In Paris" diminishes the momentum the album had built up in the first few songs. "Not all of God's creatures come in pairs y'know," sings vocalist Will Knauer, which signifies a sense of clever overachievement that SSLYBY constantly embraces. Sure, clever can be a great shtick when in an indie band, but at times they lose me with ostentation and weird attempts at progression ("Everlyn" and "Animalkind"). Ballad-wise, "Stuart Gets Lost Dans Le Metro," is a definite stand out track and some of the best SSLYBY songwriting to date, while "Phantomwise" evokes Blue Album nostalgia, if you can sit long enough.

SSLYBY have tried to recapture the essence of their first album, while continuing to embrace some of the more frustrating elements displayed on their second. As a whole, it is an interestingly odd way to go about sound progression. While the band may have the best interest of songwriting at heart, fans who fell in love with the warm home recording and honest sound of Broom, may end up feeling a tad alienated.

Published by Treble Magazine