Album Review: My Wild West – Lissie

My Wild West opens with a kind of maudlin reminiscence of California in Hollywood. I feel like this entire album is a forlorn breakup album with LA or California…I’m not exactly sure which.

Not that it means My Wild West is a bad album. It’s just a little self-absorbed at times. Lissie is a good song writer, with a taste for pretty straightforward pop, and occasionally something more folk-inflected. He voice is always a little husky, a little gravely. It’s just that sometimes, she a little too slick for her own good.

In any event, the album starts out with a breakup song for  some part of her life, and ends up with a love song for some new part of her life, in Ojai, which is clearly a about her retreat and rejuvenation in the moderately remote Ojai, California. In between, she has some chargier stuff (My Wild West, Hero, Daughters) and some stuff that’s a little more reflective and introspective (Stay, Go For a Walk).

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I Have a Playlist For: Don’t You Give Up On Me, Together or Apart, Hollywood

Clunkers I Will Thumbs Down: Hero

Album Review: Cardinal – Pinegrove

 

Cardinal is the first album by Montclair, NJ indie folk-rock band Pinegrove.  Opening with Old Friends, a song that’s equal parts of nostalgia and self-reflection, and closing with New Friends, forward-looking and expansive. The album moves in this direction, gradually moving from looking back, to looking forward.

This band’s influences seem to be all over the place from alt-rock bands to straight up folk acts and everything in between. I can hear strains like Sufjan Stevens and the Avett Brothers, Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire, all echoing through intimate, rough guitar and the pleasant vocal twang from frontman Evan Stephens Hall.

Their bandcamp site says they are a ” five-piece rock hard at work in the promotion of introspective partying!” Cardinal leads me to believe that they are about figuring out how to navigate being people having relationships to other people.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Old Friends, Aphasia, New Friends

Clunkers I will thumbs down: There aren’t any terrible tracks on this album.

Album Review: Synesthetica by Radiation City

Yeah, I know what you are thinking…who is Radiation City? That’s what I was thinking when I started listening to this album. I mean, I’d read a few reviews here and there, so I knew Synesthetica was their third studio album, the creation of which was done in fits and starts, and was threatend with the break-up of the bands and the breakup of core members singer/keyboardist Lizzie Ellison and guitarist Cameron Spies.
The album itself is a shortish 9 tracks and 39 minutes. It’s filled with lush songs reminiscent of a lot of late 60s/early 70s pop (think The Mamas and the Papas or the Beach Boys) mixed with the dream pop sensibilities of the 2010s, and a healthy dose of synth-pop sounds and latin beats.

While the record is a confident, well-realized pop album, it does suffer a bit from the modern malaise I’ve been seeing in records this year – an overall sense of sameness. There is a lot of similarity in the overall feel of each track on Synesthetica. From a fan standpoint, this might not be an actual issue, but it kind of reduced my desire to spend a lot of time invested in the album over time. I will pick out some favorite tracks, of course, but this album as a whole won’t be broken out as much.

Recommendation: Stream It

Song I have a Playlist for:Oil Show,Come and Go,Futures
Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Didn’t really have one.

Album Review – All I Need – Foxes

All I Need is a quintesessital 2010’s pop album. From big, dance-friendly pop singles like Body Talk to open-hearted ballads like If You Leave Me Now to big throated numbers like Wicked LoveAll I Need delivers radio-friendly modern pop that’s enjoyable and easy to listen to.

By the same token, that is its greatest fault, as well. While Louisa Rose Allen has crafted an album that is lyrically more personal than her first out, it is musically less varied. It’s easy to lose All I Need to the background when you want to be more invested in what you’re listening to.

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Better LoveWicked LoveLose My Cool

Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Devil Side

Album Review: Don’t You by Wet

Every once in a while, you come across an album that is almost entirely dependent upon your desire for songs about love set against a backdrop of slow licks and soft jams. Don’t You is just such an album.

To be honest, I’d be hard pressed to call even it’s most up tempo number, All The Ways, upbeat. It’s a little too laid back for that. Even at it’s loudest, this album is soft in a kind of Berlin in the bedroom way.

And, for the most part, this album works. Not completely, but it does work. The almost tentative voice of frontwoman Kelly Zutrau floats over the sonic clouds by bandmates Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow that wrap and carry their singer’s voice to the place she so plaintively seems to want to reach.

Still, I’m not decided yet as to how to recommend this album. I think I want to buy it,  but I might have to listen to it another dozen times to really decide

Recommendation: Stream it (or buy it, if this is the kind of sound you live for)

Songs that I have a playlist for: Deadwater, Don’t Want to Be Your Girl, Weak, Move Me

Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Island

Album Review: Jet Plane and Oxbow by Shearwater

Honestly, I didn’t think bands were making albums like this much anymore. Jet Plane and Oxbow is Shearwater’s 9th studio album. I’ve not listened to any of their other albums, but I will probably start working my way backwards through their catalog.

Jet Plane and Oxbow is a quiet, focused album that reminds me of nothing so much as Steve Hogarth-helmed Marillion, from the period around Blind to about Marbles. Late 70s Peter Gabriel would also be an apt comparison. I like the admittedly throwback feeling sound.

This album feels instrumentally lush, but the focus is squarely on supporting and lifting the confident vocals of frontman Jonathan Meiburg. Not every song is a homerun, like the percussive Filaments where the vocals can feel a little overwhelmed, but even at it’s least impressive, this new Shearwater album is still pretty impressive. It makes me want to dig out some late era prog rock to compare and contrast.

Recommendation: Buy it

Songs I have a Play list for: Quiet Americans, Pale Kings, Wildlife in America, Stray Light at Clouds Hill

Clunkers I will thumbs down: Nada…I honestly like every song on this album.

Album Review: Confessions of a Romance Novelist by The Anchoress

I want to say I liked Confessions of a Romance Novelist a lot more than I think I probably really did. So I’ll say I really wanted to like the solo debut of Catherine Anne Davies a lot more than I did.

With a husky voice, an alt-pop sensibility, and a sound that is reminds me of a cross between Kate Bush and Tori Amos, there’s a lot to like with The Anchoress’ album. There’s some decent song writing, strong musicianship, and wonderful singing on this album.

What then is my problem? Well, really, it comes down to the fact that it’s just not an album that I am inclined to sit down and just listen to. I found I enjoyed it most when I had it on as background music to doing random tasks. I played it while loading servers. I played it while playing computer games. I played it while reading. And when I played it, it fit my mood and make the task more enjoyable. All good things.

But when I sat down to just listen to the album, I often found my attention wandering in other directions. Still, it’s well made and I really do like Catherine Anne Davies’ voice. And there weren’t any songs that I really didn’t like. No songs that made me instantly hit the skip button.

Recommendation: Stream it

Songs I have a playlist for: You and Only You, Chip on Your Shoulder, Rivers of Ice

Clunkers I will thumbs down: There weren’t any.

Album Review: Not To Disappear by Daughter

I’ll admit it. Everyone once in a while, there comes along an album that isn’t just okay, an album that I don’t just like, but rather an album that I unabashedly love. For a lot of people, albums like this are usually pretty peppy with upbeat songs and messages. Well, I love Not To Disappear by Daughter, and it is not peppy and upbeat.  Still, it is wonderful and beautiful and mesmerizing.

Daughter is a London based trio comprised of Elena Tonra, Igor Haefeli, and Remi Aguilella. Their first album, If You Leave, was one of my favorite ten albums on 2013, and has been in steady rotation in my playlist since then. This follow-up had, in my mind, a lot to live up to, and it does so magnificently.

It amazes me that this trio can get such variation in their sound, at once punchy and ethereal. Their lyrical storytelling is more certain this time around, and though their songs probe a number of dismal subjects – dementia, disconnection, loneliness – the music behind them buoys you through the storm. I have seen others review this album as dream pop, and I understand why though they have a hardened edge to them that can always threaten to burst the bubble that seems to come with that label.

Recommendation: BUY IT!

Songs that I have a playlist for: New Ways, Numbers, Alone/With You, Fossa, Made of Stone

Clunkers I will thumbs down – there is no such thing on this album. N/A

Album Review: Ron Pope & The Nighthawks – Ron Pope & The Nighthawks

I’ve listened to Ron Pope off and on for several years. I like his Americana roots sound and I think he’s at his best singing over a single guitar in front of a crowd.

Ron Pope & The Nighthawks was released on January 8, 2016. It’s his first album with his new band, after a decade long solo career. Ain’t No Angel is the first single off the album. Videos for Bad Intentions and Hotel Room have been released as well.

I wanted to like this album a lot more than I did. There is some really nice Americana/folk pop on this album . I loved tracks like Hotel Room and Lies and Cigarettes. But then I get hit with songs that I really don’t like, like Bad Intentions.

Also, I felt like Pope hit kind of a rut at some point when writing this album. It felt like there were too many references to cocaine, to the point where I started wondering if this was a Johnny Paycheck album.

Overall, this is a stream it album for me. I’m going to take the songs I like and put them in a playlist and revisit the ones I don’t like again in six months to a year and see if I still feel that way.

 

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I have a Playlist For: Hotel Room, Lies and Cigarettes, Leave You Behind, Take Me Home

Clunkers I will thumbs down: Bad Intentions, Ain’t No Angel

Album Review: Blackstar by David Bowie

Blackstar (the album just uses a black star symbol) is the latest album by David Bowie. The 69 year-old rocker is still or maybe, more accurately, once again doing some decidedly experimental work. The album is relatively short, at 41 minutes, and only has seven tracks.

The title track starts off with what, to me, feels like a heavily jazz-influenced approach that carries all the way through the album. On the stronger tracks, Bowie’s vocals stand up to the strength of the occasionally frilly instrumental performances behind him. On the weaker tracks, it is a reminder that sometimes you lose a little voice as you age.

I think this is his most experimental album since probably “Heroes”. Only science fictions are likely to understand this reference, but I feel like much of this album could be playing in a middle Eastern cafe in a George Alec Effinger novel.  It feels futuristic in a way that I haven’t heard much outside of EDM lately.

That’s not to say that I don’t think this album has weaknesses – I feel like some of the music is a little overwhelming to Bowie’s vocals in places, and I had trouble understanding the lyrics from Bowie’s strained tenor in places. But this has always been true of me for Bowie’s music.

I think it is a testament to Bowie that he would write something like Blackstar at this point in his career. Blackstar doesn’t feel like an album of a musician looking to rest on his laurels. Fans of Bowie in his prime might be heartened of his return to greater experimentation.

After considerable thought, I would recommend this album as a buy. Certainly, if it’s available on your favorite streaming service give it a listen, but I think there’s more to this album that deserves to be discovered on regular relisten.

Recommendation: Buy it

Tracks I think I have a playlist for: Blackstar, Lazarus, Sue (Or a Season of Crime)

Clunkers I would thumbs down: Dollar Days