Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Black Watch - The End of When (2013)

We've finally reached the end of the 2013 reviews, and we've saved one of the best for last.

I'm not sure how this happened, but this release was not on my radar in 2013 at all.  My everlasting love of The Black Watch is best articulated here, here, or, most descriptively, here.  (The latter post can give you the band's entire sordid history.)

Before we get started, there are two things you need to do when you listen to this album:  1) listen to it with good headphones, and 2) (since you're likely a bit dim like myself) LISTEN TO IT WITH GOOD HEADPHONES.  Case in point:  I initially tried this album in the car and it didn't work.  (Please note:  when you convert this album to crappy, lowest common denominator mp3s, then listen to it with your iPod earbuds and complain "it doesn't sound great," I'm going to hit you over the head with a tire iron, as that is not even close to following instructions.  You've been warned.)

The album opens with "I Don't Feel the Same," a fuzz rock anthem that's worth the price of admission alone.  The guitar tone alone makes me feel happy to be alive to appreciate it.  From the get-go, the band sounds super tight -- it's a lush, rich, fully cohesive sound.

Then they go straight into "Meg" -- a dreampop contrast, a classic Black Watch offering with a freshness I can't quite define but definitely appreciate.  It's relaxed, confident, and unhurried; a conspicuously languid counterbalance undercuts the song's unrest, and the "Hey!" background vocal punctuation somehow propels the song to the next level.  By "Hardly Nothing Never Ending," it's clear that this album is a precisely produced, expertly arranged masterpiece.  And by "Oh Oh" I was texting and emailing music pals to pick up this album.  So damn good.

The Black Watch - "Meg"

It's dreamy rock that's smooth and smart, emotional and poppy.  It's a rare "album," complete from front to back.  It's a must pickup:  my immediate thought (based on pure speculation, not on any sort of a factual basis) is that this is the culmination of the long road back from the sudden departure of J'Anna Jacoby a decade ago.  It's not as if John Andrew Fredrick has failed to produce great albums in the intervening years; this is just the best, most fully realized expression of the group since that time.  Simply great.

As a bonus for fans who don't know the band, there's a bonus disc that gives some highlights from their previous albums (although I do have an issue with some of the songs that were left off).  So quit procrastinating and go get the CD.

CD Placement rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Curt Smith - Deceptively Heavy (2013)

Following Curt Smith's excellent 2008 album Halfway Pleased, I anxiously awaited a next album... but given Tears for Fears recent uptick in activity, it looked like the band would release something first.

To my surprise, I discovered last week that Curt had actually released an album... in 2013.  Always on top of it, clearly.

In any case, it's new to me and likely to you.

From the opening notes of "Beautiful Failure," this sounds like Halfway Pleased 2.0 -- the same beautiful and dreamy music, shimmering vocals, and twisted dark lyrics.  I settled in for more of the same of what the first album gave us.

Then "Suffer" happens.  Then "Hold It Together" happens.  It's enough of a change in terms of musical texture that the charge here is clear:  capture the brilliance of the last album, but expand on it without losing the plot.

The result?  I love it.  I love it, I love it, I love it.  Smith plays to his strengths without being held captive by them.  There still is plenty of mellow here, but there's also experimentation.  

In the end what comes through is the combination of confident experience with the restless energy of an artist.  It's just another amazing offering from a great musician.

CD Placement Rating: You want to guess? Car iPod.

- Snilch

Monday, December 29, 2014

NYPC - The Numbers (2013)

In 2007, New Young Pony Club released Fantastic Playroom, which was a great start for a young band, and included the epic song "The Bomb."  They were a young five-piece indie rock dance band from the UK on their way up, and with ridiculous upside.

Flash forward to 2013.  They've changed their name to NYPC, are on the third album... but now they're a two-piece band, and sound kind of tired.

What happened?  I wish they could go back to 2007... well, why describe it.  I know this is the wrong album, but check this jam out:

Then:  New Young Pony Club, 2007 - "The Bomb."  NOT on this album.

Here's NYPC, 2013:

Now:  New Young Pony Club, 2013 - "Hard Knocks."  This IS on this album.

Instant analysis:  just not good.  What happened?

CD Placement rating:  Sell-back 1.  Only "Overtime" (which may or may not make it anyways) gives this one a reprieve from the Pile of Death.

- Snilch

Sunday, December 28, 2014

CSS - Planta (2013)

For their fourth album, CSS is back without their songwriter, producer, and drummer.  (They're all one person... and the only guy who was in the band.)  Without him, they lean more towards the light dance/poppy sound, but retain some of their edge as well.  This album sounds like a poppy/super excited Suzanne Vega over electronica. It's more polished than their debut, less indie rock than their previous couple of offerings.

But ultimately... it's a little thin and one-note-ish on the whole.  It's a great note, mind you; it's just a lot of the same throughout.

CSS - "Dynamite" (My favorite song from the album)

Overall:  pleasant but not ground breaking. It's a fine, fine soundtrack for a sunny afternoon.  Well, most of it, at least.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case... as the album drags on, it slides into the CD Rack. 

- Snilch

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cage the Elephant - Melophobia (2013)

It took an appearance on Later... With Jools Holland (hmmmm... I wonder where I am catching new music these days) to more thoroughly investigate this band.  They've been on the periphery of my radar for quite a while.

This album, their third, is great. Think quirky, edgy, alternative/indie pop.  For a band from Kenutucky, the vocals are actually are most reminiscent of the English band Arctic Monkeys.

It's a snapshot of a band still growing into their sound, which is scary as this is already really good.  Their sensibility in layering sounds changing tempo are both already at an expert level.  The band meanders purposely throughout.  It's a listen that will satisfy pretentious snobs (like me) and "I like what sounds good" lunchpail joes (oddly enough, also like me).  "Spiderhead" and "Halo" are my personal favorites here.

Cage the Elephant - "Come a Little Closer"

This is a very good album, but I suspect their next one will be epic.  Get on board now.

CD Placement rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch

Friday, December 26, 2014

Thalia Zedek Band - Via (2013)

Thalia Zedek has a way of softly lulling you into a comfort zone, just to pull the rug out from under you to get your attention.  Her voice sounds 1,000 times better than her last effort on Via -- she's put a lot of effort into recovering both her voice and her range, and it shows.

And (not surprisingly) the songs really benefit from this.  The strings complement her voice very well, and it's a great, uplifting (musically at least) album she never would have been physically able to pull off five years ago.

Highlights for me include "Winning Hand," "Straight and Strong," and "Lucky One."

Ultimately, this is laid back without being lazy, and an excellent low to mid tempo listen.

CD Placement rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages - Dig Thy Savage Soul (2013)

I wasn't even aware that Barrence Whitfield and the Savages had a new album until I saw their blistering performance on Later... With Jools Holland.  Normally, I'd blame the lack of 120 Minutes, alternative radio, and my general avoidance of the music press, but I find it makes me feel much better to blame others. Therefore, I am blaming Andrew for not making me aware of this.  (Even though it's possible he did and I forgot.)  But that's neither here nor there -- ultimately, the only conclusion we can draw is that Andrew is just very disappointing.

First, let me just say that it's actually refreshing to hear a band with sax in this century.  (I said "sax," you pervert.)  It's enough distance from the 80s where they are allowed back in rock again.  And in general, the album does feel like a great 80s throwback rock n roll attack.

For those of you who saw "throwback," groaned, and crossed this off your list, STOP.  This album is what I always hoped The Stray Cats would turn in some day -- a blues-based rockabilly stomp.  And Barrence... well, he's got the voice of an angel and a devil, all rolled into one.  Simply ridiculous. That is worth the price of admission alone.

This is an album that is fun, has legs, and plenty of sax.  (Creep.)  I'll have to check out some of their back catalog for sure.

CD Placement rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch