Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February 15 Releases, 2012

By: Kevin Rutherford, Editorial Director

After a relatively slow start, we're finally starting to get some buzzworthy album releases for the new year. Let us waste no time in discussing this week's.

Worth first mention is a Texas band that has roots in our area.

Heartless Bastards are headed by Erika Wennerstrom, who formed the band in Cincinnati. The bluesy, garage-y rock quartet releases their fourth studio album on Tuesday, giving it the title Arrow. Spoon drummer Jim Eno is the album's producer, and given his own band's recent stab at mainstream success, it isn't much of a stretch to see the Bastards do the same. That said, this will be the band's first release on indie label Partisan Records. It's tough, therefore, to predict what kind of success Arrow might achieve.

English rockers Band of Skulls return this week with Sweet Sour, the band's first LP since 2009's acclaimed Baby Darling Doll Face Honey. The album's lead single, "The Devil Takes Care of His Own," has already reached No. 20 on the Canadian charts, and seems poised to break in both native England and in America.

Montreal's Islands return for the band's third release on ANTI- Records, and its first since 2009. A Sleep & a Forgetting is its name, and bandleader Nick Thorburn calls it "far more personal than any I’ve made before.” Exciting! Keep an eye out on for an interview with Islands, to be posted this weekend.

Punch Brothers are a progressive bluegrass act that I love very, very much. The band's style is not specifically bluegrass, having roots in classical music, which accentuates the quintet's quirkiness. Also setting the act apart from more conventional bluegrass bands is the vocal from mandolin player Chris Thile, whose voice is far departed from what one might expect from the genre. Check out the band's new record Who's Feeling Young Now? and enjoy the five-piece's unconventional take on rootsy Americana.

Last, but certainly not least, let's mention The Explorers Club. The six-man South Carolina band releases its second album, Grand Hotel, which is its first LP since 2008. Check out this band if you're into pop-rock and surf rock slightly in the vein of The Beach Boys -- which, I promise you, is not a poor comparison. At least, frequent Beach Boys collaborator Mark Linett doesn't think so -- he mixed Grand Hotel.

There's plenty more dropping next week, including new releases from Sleigh Bells, Cheap Girls, the Chieftains and more. Keep it locked to's Drop It Like It's Hot, and perhaps we'll talk a bit about them next week.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January 31 Releases, 2012

By: Scott Smith, Album Reviews Editor

It’s the first big week in music releases, but apparently no one told me. January is typically the slowest month for new albums—nobody wants to be forgotten about at the end of the year when it’s time for the Grammy nominations and end of the year picks and lists—but this last Tuesday of the month marks the first set of releases anticipated by more than just the band’s parents. Thing is, from a personal standpoint, I’ve either missed the bus, was never exposed to, or simply don’t care about any of these supposed “big releases” this week. So I figured I would delve deeper into what these releases really are, why I don’t know about them and if I really should.

The best place to start would be the artist I seem to have the most knowledge on, and because I get most of my information these days on the internet like most of you, that artist is of course Lana Del Rey and her much anticipated major label debut Born to Die.

Lana hit the internet last year with her single “Video Games” which can be found on the album along with the new single “Born to Die.” She’s been in the news recently for stinking it up on Saturday Night Live, but we’re concerned with her album here, not how much she can’t sing live (or really, to her defense, how poor the sound equipment at Saturday Night Live is.)

Lana is a new persona of Elizabeth Grant who released some material to little fanfare in previous years, went into hiding, and re-emerged with a new marketing strategy and possibly some new lips.

Her songs rely pretty heavily on nostalgia, something that can bore me, quite frankly, when not handled appropriately. Her songs feature lush instrumentation and strings with Lana singing a sort of half-seductive half-hazy middle register, sort of like a more traditional version of Victoria Legrand of Beach House. Unfortunately, unlike Beach House, Lana’s songs tend to float around for three or four minutes without going anywhere before quietly fading back out of existence. There’s such a lack of presence that a song could be over for 10 or 15 minutes without you evening noticing.

From the trendiest, trend-setting, trending thing on Twitter to the oldest of old-school songwriters still pumping out material, we move to Leonard Cohen. 2012 marks the 45th year that the man has been recording music, a feat very few people will ever achieve, and the fact that his music has remained relevant to some sort of fan-base the whole time is nothing short of astonishing. Old Ideas marks his twelfth studio album, and you can find the entire thing streaming over at NPR right now if you’d like.

This is one of those guys I missed out on. Music from the ‘60s and ‘70s are easy to miss out on primarily because most of the music we hear from this era comes from our parents, and Leonard Cohen wasn’t in the Zeppelin, or Floyd categories dad was into nor the Beatles or Bowie of my mother.

Leonard is different from all these in that he’s a singular artist and lyrical content is without a shred of doubt the most important aspect of his music much like a James Taylor or Paul Simon. It’s a style that came right out of Bob Dylan and the folk movement of the late ‘60s, and while it’s not a style I’m well-versed in (I prefer Dylan after he went electric and got a full band), it’s nevertheless an important and meaningful way to make art and music to share with the world.

Next is the new import from overseas, Gotye. Don’t ask me how to pronounce his name, I go with “got-ya,” completely disregarding my knowledge of the English language. Anyway, this guy seems to be gaining steam with his duet “Somebody That I Used To Know” featuring Kimbra, and by gaining steam I mean it has over 57 million hits on YouTube. Okay, so this guy is more-or-less an internet sensation, but what’s his music about? And more importantly, should I care?

Well his lyrics are rather ambiguous and his melodies soft and beautiful. It’s music that can definitely take one on an introspective journey through their own subconscious, which is good if you’re asking me. It might even be labeled as music to fall asleep to, which to me really isn’t a bad thing, there’s a place and a time for music like that, and it just so happens to be when you’re trying to fall asleep (go figure). I think of all the releases, Gotye’s is the most polarizing. He has the least to lose (Lana by comparison, has the most) and the most to gain (what more can Leonard Cohen really achieve?). Safe to say we should keep our eyes on the Belgian-Australian multi-instrumentalist; his path looks to be the most intriguing.

Finally, Ringo Starr is putting out a solo record this week. Some of you are now finding out that Ringo Starr has a solo career, seeing as how he’s never been known for being a songwriter with The Beatles (he wasn’t even known as the best drummer in The Beatles), this can most likely be chalked up to Ringo Starr being bored with retirement and wanting to jam, and no one's having the nuts to tell a Beatle “no.”