Category Archives: Reviews

Mini-Beats – September 2011 – Edition 50



The Submarines
Love Notes/Letter Bombs (2011, Nettwerk) ♥♥½
:I’ll admit that there are hooks and choruses galore here but the ultra-glossy production saps all the charm out of these Apple-commercial-ready pop songs; you had a sense they were moving in this direction after ’08’s mildly successful Honeysuckle Weeks: (buy vinyl)
Spirit SpineGlossolalia (2011, self-released) ♥♥♥
:chill, reverb-soaked psychedelia definitely inspired by Kraut legends and Panda Bear alike but it only works well if your mood allows this to soak in, otherwise it might sound a little same-y if you’re paying too much attention…I do dig the complete package of ‘Ocean Of Sand’ though:
COOLRUNNINGSDracula Is Only The Beginning (2011, Dracula Horse) ♥♥♥½
:insidiously catchy even though this strays more on the experimental side of pop with its wiry, post-punk underbelly; dig the inclusion of Burnout from the Buffalo EP as well as the strangely mellow Fort Kid; a nice followup to their self-released freEP’s of the past few years…you can also grab this on a donation basis here:
AstronautalisThis Is Our Science (2011, Fake Four, Inc.) ♥♥♥½
:Andy Bothwell’s finally taken the disparate styles he’s touched upon over the course of his catalog and rolled them up into one complete package but I’m not convinced there isn’t TOO much going on; Andy’s beats are still a warm splash of water on a just-shaven face and there are a few signature Astronautalis cuts that will keep me coming back to this and future releases: (buy vinyl)
Kelli SchaeferGhost Of The Beast (2011, Amigo/Amiga) ♥♥♥♥
:Kelli gives the world her best Polly Jean Harvey imitation and mostly succeeds; a few numbers wander off course here but tracks 5-8 are about as good as any EP’s I’ve heard all year, displaying Kelli’s impressive vocal range, that of honey (Gone In Love) to vermouth (Sister K); press release throws out ambiguous but simple descriptors like ‘rock’, ‘pop’, ‘soul’ etc. and I guess that makes sense as Ghost should appeal to anyone interested in quality songwriting in general; RIYL Kristin Hersh, PJ Harvey: (buy vinyl)
Sea OleenaSleeplessness (2011, self-released) ♥♥♥
:charming, sleepy-eyed folk delicately sung and arranged by Canada’s Charlotte Oleena (oh, I see what you did there!); the sparse arrangements help keep her breathy voice in the forefront and that’s a magic carpet I hope she continues to glide on with her new gig, Holobody; available as a name-your-price download here:
VA – Sing For Your Meat: A Tribute To Guided By Voices (2011, No More Fake Labels) ♥♥♥½
:a very capable and entertaining tribute, buoyed mostly by the fact I love each and every one of these songs as if they were my own…especially enjoyed the Lou Barlow, La Sera and Jason Isbell versions:
I Hate You Just KiddingDays Grew Longer (2011, self-released) ♥♥♥
:I’m sure the name Jeremy and Jessi decided to choose for their mellow dream-folk-pop project will yield more than a fair share of snarky commentary (in jest, of course) but the music itself is worthy of a few spins regardless of the lack of variety; RIYL Snowblink:
Wooden ShjipsWest (2011, Thrill Jockey) ♥♥♥½
:my first foray into WS is a positive one; dig the squalling, psychedelic garage guitar sounds (+ Farfisa!) and overall trippy feel; ‘Lazy Bones’ sounds like a runaway train about to fly off the tracks and the closing track ‘Rising’ was actually recorded backwards but it sounds great!; need to investigate more of their storied catalog as well as Ripley’s other project, Moon Duo; RIYL Tame Impala, War On Drugs, the noisier side of Yo La Tengo: (buy vinyl)
Gold-BearsAre You Falling In Love? (2011, Slumberland) ♥♥♥♥
:these guys mix elements of all things good like bristling C-86 pop, subtle twee melodicism, a GBV-like penchant for brief, yet potent hooks and a slight coating of shoegaze; found out there’s a few members from Plastic Mastery in GB which might explain why I loved this so much! Slumberland is str8 up knocking it out of the park this year! RIYL The Wedding Present, Boyracer: (buy vinyl)
Will JohnsonLittle Raider EP (2011, self-released) ♥♥♥½
:always a treat when Will steps out from (the confines?) of his main gig Centro-matic to serenade us with just his golden pipes, a guitar and a sizeable serving of melancholy sadness:
William Elliott WhitmoreField Songs (2011, Anti) ♥♥♥
:this is classic Whitmore and, although each track is indecipherable from the next, it’s hard to find fault with his bare-bones, banjo-driven blues-folk for the proletariat; all of his albums would make for perfect company on a long road trip through the countryside: (buy vinyl)

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Night Birds – The Other Side Of Darkness

There’s not much more to be said about Night Birds. Over the last couple years they’ve released a slew of 80’s inspired surf punk 7″s, and their debut album on Grave Mistake is more of the same. However, just because they are mining the same territory, doesn’t mean I can’t dig in there with ’em. I suppose instead of saying things like “Adolescents meets Agent Orange!” I can come up with new comparisons like “State of Alert meets Man Or Astro-Man?!” Heck, I might even be justified to name drop For Science, Pysched To Die, Hunchback, and the Ergs! since the band is comprised of members of those groups. But nay, I’ll attempt to be above such drivel. Time to delve in a little deeper and see if I can’t do an old-school follow-the-tracks review!

The album starts off with “Demon Haunted World,” a pummeling pile of hardcore, surf riffs, and a bit of melody that feels like the soundtrack to a punk rock nightmare. It shoots seamlessly into “Neon Gray” which is slightly more straightforward and catchy, and that leads us to “Born of Man and Woman,” which inspires even more of a dark-basement-sing-along. It’s a song from Mike H., and it’s reminiscent of old Hunchback went they leaned more toward memorable horror punk than towards straight up weird. The climax of catchiness concludes with “Landfill Land.” Perfectly simple (the kind of song you can hear once and shout and bounce along with before it’s even over), perfectly dreadful.

“One Eye” and the title track are both solid, but plateau at the “more 80s hardcore/surf” level. The instrumental “Day After Trinity” picks things up again, giving us more evidence of the band’s musical prowess. They play fast, hard, and leave no ounce of energy out of the performance. That might go without saying considering they charge through 13 tracks in 22 minutes, but I’ll include it just in case. I consider it a good sign when a band can rip through an album faster than I can type about it.

The second half of the album starts off with “Hoffman Lens” which again has all the cylinders of influences working overtime and “Sex Tape,” which surprisingly is the closest thing to a love song on the album. The speed (even compared to the rest of this adrenaline blast it’s moving) of “Failed Species” is impressive and captivating. They bring it to a slower chug with “Can’t Get Clean,” but end everything on the best notes possible with their old “hit” “Paranoid Times” and “Oblivious” which I’m sure will be their next one. Will this album end up on my year-end best-of list? My magic 8-Ball says “Of course, don’t be stupid.”

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Mini-Beats – August 2011 – Edition 49


Natural Child
1971 (2011, Infinity Cat) ♥♥♥
:lots of vintage Stonesy blues ‘n roll for the enthusiasts but I don’t think this has enough character to extend itself beyond that audience; that said, this album could serve as a suitable backdrop for a party involving rednecks, cheap beer/drugs and the confederate flag: (buy vinyl)
The War On DrugsSlave Ambient (2011, Secretly Canadian) ♥♥♥♥
:the full album experience didn’t stray too far from the general feeling one got after listening to the first couple of singles for weeks on end; picture Bruce Springsteen cooing/howling into a steady, swirling stream of guitar atmospheres and then point it through a prism of current-day indie rock somebodies = the exact opposite of a sophomore slump; RIYL Kurt Vile: (buy vinyl)
Paul SimonSo Beautiful Or So What (2011, Hear) ♥♥♥½
:Simon can still write the occasional brilliant song and while this will not add up to his work with Garfunkel or Graceland, it manages to incorporate enough charm, personality and depth to propel this on to many writer’s year-end lists: (buy vinyl)
The Michael J. Epstein Memorial LibraryVolume One (2011, self-released) ♥♥♥½
:buoyant, ‘intelligent’ indie-pop not unlike anything you’d have heard on the Magic Marker label over the years… features members of Neutral Uke Hotel and The Motion Sickness:
Wugazi
13 Chambers (2011, self-released) ♥♥♥♥
:I am no fan of mashups in general but this combo brought me much pleasure and not just for nostalgic purposes; these beats, rhymes and grooves go together like chocolate & peanut butter & my mouth; mountains better than The Grey Album:
Young Buffalo
– Young Von Prettylips EP (2011, Cantora) ♥♥♥½
:somehow this Mississippi collective has flown under the big indie blog radars; I say this because their sound is very in – a culmination of 90’s indie rock moves blended up with quirky newcomers like Fanfarlo, Local Natives and Cloud Cult; lots of big choruses and call-and-response vocals to please the ‘now’ indie crowd:
Christine OwmanThrowing Knives (2011, River Jones) ♥♥♥♥
:Christine is a Swedish-born multi-instrumentalist infatuated with the burlesque; as her press sheet and several live videos will attest, she is known for her spontaneous actions and homemade video projections during live performances but on record you’ll find very capable songwriting with lots of cello, uke and dimly-lit undertones…kind of like the female counterpart to Nick Cave..this also has a bit of an early Liz Phair feel to it:
Sad AccordionsThe Colors and The Kill EP (2011, Rainboot) ♥♥♥½
:it’s kind of weird, almost every track here immediately reminded me of another band that I love whether it be GBV, Wolf Parade, Clap Your Hands or The Antlers so the EP was a little difficult to pin down to just one sound but, hey, quality songs are quality songs, right?:
JoasihnoYou Say: Oh Well (2011, Red Can) ♥♥♥♥
:Joasihno is really just Germany’s Cico Beck (great name, if I do say) and he likes arranging pretty songs that run the gamut from quiet/hushed folk to sparkling chillwave type numbers; one of the many great discoveries from the monthly Musical Alliance Pact mixes:
Oscar & MartinFor You (2011, Two Bright Lakes) ♥♥♥♥
:I tried really hard to not like this for it calls upon the recently-trendy R&B/dubstep school-of-thought but there’s an adorable geek element to these songs that made me want to keep playing it over and over again; Sean from StG got it right when he described this as a combination of James Blake and Dirty Projectors…I’d throw house favorites CocoRosie in there as well; best thing I’ve heard from Oz in a few years; formerly known as Psuche (Ensemble) to their fellow countrymen:
Gem TrailsTimeshares EP (2011, The Curatorial Club) ♥♥
:this is basically the soundtrack to any number of ‘life on earth’ Discovery channel shows you stumble across while fumbling through your TV guide; I expected something a little more scintillating from the Woodsman frontman…good news is he’s giving it away:
The Gifted ChildrenThe Portable Sun EP (2011, Tinhorn Planet) ♥♥♥♥
:another classic entry into the seemingly endless TGC catalog; much like recent releases Jeff & the gang have perfected the art of minimalist dream-pop focused around piano ballads and, in the case of this EP, pessimism:
Big Spider’s BackMemory Man (2011, Circle Into Square) ♥♥♥
:a swirly, yet gentle, concoction of tempered bliss-pop and ambience from Seattle’s Yair Rubenstein; there’s a couple of real gems here (like whoa, Black Chow) but not enough stimulation to make me recommend the album as a whole: (buy vinyl)
Unknown Mortal OrchestraUnknown Mortal Orchestra (2011, Fat Possum) ♥♥♥
:shortly after sitting down with this I realized I had heard half of these songs many times over from my travels on turntable.fm ‘indie’ rooms; for those unfamiliar you’ll be greeted with an amalgation of 60’s psyche, soul and funk all awash with reverb and wrapped up into something the kids can dance along to; RIYL Peter Bjorn & John, Foster The People, Dungen: (buy vinyl)
The Japanese War EffortSurrender To Summer EP (2011, Song, By Toad) ♥♥♥♥
:see front-page review: (buy vinyl)
Turf WarYears Of Living Dangerously (2011, Old Flame) ♥♥♥
:mid-fi, meat-and-potatoes garage-punk-rock from the bowels of Atlanta, GA; couple of nice party jams to be extracted from this release:
Y La BambaLupon (2010, Tender Loving Empire) ♥♥♥½
:it takes a few listens to get over Luzelena Mendoza’s sweetly irresistible voice and reveal all the charm and eccentricity strewn about this album’s 11 tracks like the downright depressing ‘Monster’ or the haunting backdrop of ‘Juniper’; love love love the tracks with multi-part harmonies (Fasting In San Francisco); also see their poignant Tiny Desk Concert: (buy vinyl)
BeirutThe Rip Tide (2011, Pompeii) ♥♥♥½
:admittedly, I’ve not been a huge supporter of Zach’s endeavors since the unstoppable duo of albums from ’06/’07 (Gulag Orkestar & Lon Gisland EP) but this has struck a favorable chord with my scrutinous earholes even though the formula is quite basic – brass, marching band drums, Zach’s sleepy-eyed croon and a batch of quality songs: (buy vinyl)

 

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{WAX ECSTATIC} The Japanese War Effort – Surrender To Summer 10″


The Japanese War EffortSurrender To Summer 10″ (Song, By Toad)

It would appear that the internet has had only a minimal effect on America’s isolationist attitude toward music. I know this for a fact because Edinburgh-based label Song, By Toad Records has not been featured on any American blogs I’m following. This is a shame – not only because I’ve enjoyed almost every release I’ve heard from the catalog (Meursault’s All Creatures Will Make Merry was my very favorite album of 2010) – but because SBT’s modus operandi is very much in tune with why I continue to do what I do with this website and record label. This undeserved lack of attention is why I decided to kick off a new BTID feature with one of the label’s most recent releases.

 The Japanese War Effort is not a collective of any sort nor does it have anything to do with Nippon’s nationalistic battle cry to arms – it’s merely a side project for Martin Moog (or James Scott, to his mother), one half of Glasgow’s electronic duo Conquering Animal Sound. Surrender To Summer clocks in at less than 15 minutes but Moog accomplishes quite the lot of hazy, pop pyrotechnics within that short span. Remember chillwave? ‘Pool Attendant’ has the same lo-fi recording approach deployed by the thousands of PBR-soaked post-graduates with samplers/synths/gadgets in their parents basements. The crystalline squall of noise opening Beach Buddies gave me a warm, fuzzy Washed Out/Houses vibe. However, Moog’s end result, while it can be tagged ‘bedroom electronica’, is comprised moreso of quirky substance and hypnotic grooves rather than geek chic and Barbary pants-on-too-tight dance offs. Lead-off track and, undoubtedly, one of my favorite singles of the year, Summer Sun Skateboard glides along on a bossa nova beat, stringy guitar basslines and a tasteful collage of electro-adornments. Moog’s vocals might be acquired taste for some though his accent isn’t nearly as thick as some of his fellow Scottish contemporaries. I like his style (a lot) and although he loves hip-hop and claims to not be able to rhyme himself out of a paper bag, I could see supporters of Why?, Emperor X or Dosh spooning this up right quick.

You can pick up the 10″ on the Song, By Toad website for a fair price (considering the int’l shipping!). As you can see, the record was pressed on eye-popping funfetti vinyl. A visit to TJWE’s Bandcamp will yield more pleasantries for those looking to hear more.

Summer Sun Skateboard

Yr Tanlines (Le Metrohead Version)

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A Kick In The Pants # 8 – Army Coach


While I suppose I could open with a line like “From the ashes of Team Stray” I don’t think that’s appropriate (albeit complimentary, as Team Stray released albums in my Top Tens of 2007 and 2008, respectively). The previous band never burned out, and Army Coach is already way beyond the flickering flames of a new act. Musically the group is rooted in 90s indie rock. Crunchy and amped to Dinosaur Jr./Superchunk levels, but catchy and accessible enough for college radio airplay. At various points Tom (singer and bassist) and Eric (drummer) nod to their past outfit, as the songs sometimes reach levels of speedy/poppy punk, but that’s just one facet of the overall sound. Take into account Andrew’s ripping mini-solos, the Steve Malkmus-esque lyrics with a John K. Samson delivery, and the production wash reminiscent of Hum and you’ve got a whole new beast. Ironically, the song that best encompasses what the band can accomplish is “I Am A Failure.” It’s off their digital EP which can be had for a mere 2 bucks via paypal direct from the band (armycoachband@gmail.com) – Mark H.

I Am A Failure

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Mini-Beats – July 2011 – Edition 47

Gray YoungStaysail (2011, 307 Knox) ♥♥♥½
:very melodic, atmospheric post-rock that relies heavily on sounds pioneered by The Appleseed Cast; while not the most unique showing, Staysail still struck me as solid songwriting, especially in a genre that rarely moves me anymore: (buy vinyl)
Trouble Books & Mark McGuireTrouble Books & Mark McGuire (2011, Bark and Hiss) ♥♥♥
:combine TB’s warm folktronica and McGuire’s ambient guitar drones and this will be exactly what you think that marriage would sound like: (buy vinyl)
O’DeathOutside (2011, Ernest Jenning Recording Co.) ♥♥½
:I just can’t seem to latch onto what these guys have been doing; there’s even less of that darkside, Gothic Americana/folk than previous records and the production is sleek and flawless; I think at this point the band seems like an Okkervil River knockoff moreso than the potential pioneers of their own sub-genre: (buy vinyl)
By SurpriseMountain Smashers (2011, Topshelf) ♥♥♥½
:these bespectacled Jersey boys have put together an unorthodox, but welcoming combination of 90’s slacker indie-rock, youthful Promise Ring energy and every English professor’s dusty bookshelves; come for the hyper numbers, stay for the variety: (buy vinyl)
My Morning JacketCircuital (2011, ATO) ♥♥½
:I can’t really say why this band has never done anything for me other than ‘they’re boring’; nothing really sticks in your head or forces your eyebrows north: (buy vinyl)
Hospital ShipsLonely Twin (2011, Graveface) ♥♥♥
:Jordan Geiger has built up quite a resume with a few excellent Minus Story records, part-time gigs with Appleseed Cast and Shearwater and this, his ‘solo’ venture that exhibits many of the same as all of the above; wasn’t as keen on this as I was the debut but there’s enough quality to give it few spins: (buy vinyl)
KindercastleNumber B (2011, Yewknee) ♥♥♥½
:this baby is all over the pop rainbow with samples and nods to free-form Parisian pop or the (dare I say) chillwavin’ Pale Noon; these 2 lads are heavily influenced by ELO and it shows; you might know one half of the duo as Uncle Skeleton; an entertaining listen with endless twists and turns: (buy vinyl)
Alexa WoodwardIt’s A Good Life Honey If You Don’t Grow Weary (2011, self-released) ♥♥♥♥
:I’ve been a fan of Alexa’s for a few years now, slowly catching up on her previous releases and I’m always smitten by her affecting, world-weary vocals and minimal, folk accompaniment (most notably the banjo); It’s A Good Life is unquestionably a charmer from start to finish and it’s available as a name-your-price download (free if you pass it along to friends!); RIYL Sharon van Etten, Joanna Newsom:
The KillsBlood Pressures (2011, Domino) ♥♥♥½
:it had just been brought to my attention that Alison Mosshart was the former lead singer for Discount which explains why I unashamedly like this; this is a very minimal, bare-bones variety of garage-pop that bands like Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and The Raveonettes have been making a living off of; it seems a lot of critics disagree but I prefer this to their semi-heralded Midnight Boom LP a few years back: (buy vinyl)
TanlinesVolume On (2010, self-released) ♥♥♥
:hard to believe a former member of Don Caballero comprises 1/2 of this duo as this is ready-made tropical beats that ride a not-quite-chill wave (too much open space and minimalism) but close enough to get the hipsteros sweatin’ up a storm at the Barbary; really dig Real Life and the Glasser-assisted Z but this sound is best left to short singles and EP’s:
The Capstan ShaftsKind Empires (2011, self-released) ♥♥♥½
:it would appear that Dean felt it was time for a return to form after a virtually ignored release on venerable Rainbow Quartz; this is classic Shafts – snappy lo-fi bursts of pop noise with Dean’s signature voice jockeying for attention:
DaybreakerThe Northbound Trains EP (2011, Pure Noise) ♥♥½
:this is a case of maturing punks branching out to melodic punk rock ‘n roll with slightly dramatic vocals and ooh-ooh’s; s’ok but there’s not much that’ll make me come back to this in the future; features former(?) members of Ambitions and With Honor: (buy vinyl)
DolfishYour Love Is Bumming Me Out EP (2011, Indiecater) ♥♥♥½
:a handful of heartbreak songs (released on Valentines Day, actually) but coated in humor rather than whining and mulling about; I’d be curious to hear more from Max Sollisch (sole member) as his voice and approach are rather unique:
Kids On A Crime SpreeWe Love You So Bad (2011, Slumberland) ♥♥♥½
:above-average Jesus & Mary Chain worship featuring the dude behind twee folks’ faves Ciao Bella & From Bubblegum To Sky (Mario Hernandez) and Becky from #poundsign# & Scrabbel note…certainly not unique in any way but it’s on Slumberland so you know it’s worth your time and I dare you to pry some of these tracks from out of your head; RIYL The Raveonettes, The Big Pink: (buy vinyl)
The SwordWarp Riders (2010, Kemado) ♥♥
:a few decent metal virtuoso instrumentals but when the vocals kick in it’s waaaayyy too much 70’s ‘hard rock’ influence for me to get into this: (buy vinyl)
Panda BearTomboy (2011, Paw Tracks) ♥♥½
:remember that Justin Bieber song slowed down like 10,000x that went viral about 6 months ago? this is about 50 minutes of that – hollowed out shells of Animal Collective songs that might serve you well as mood music (ya know, what record shop owners play to prove to you how above you they are) but I can’t see myself reaching for this much in the future; I did, however, enjoy the slight dub influences on a few songs and Sonic Boom’s (obvious) contributions: (buy vinyl)
SerynThis Is Where We Are (2011, Velvet Blue) ♥♥♥½
:fans of fragile/delicate melodies, multi-part harmonies, clean/crisp production and folk instrumentation (banjo, uke, ‘mouth sounds’, etc.) will be pleased with this Denton collective’s debut; the rather articulate mix of uplifting and melancholic moments help this to stand out from all the one-dimensional artists in this category: (buy vinyl)
Lil DaggersKing Corpse EP (2011, Song, By Toad) ♥♥♥
:melodic garage in the Dirtnap vein from the swamps of Florida; this serves as a prelude to their upcoming debut full-length on Limited I Fanfare; RIYL Marked Men, Cloud Nothings: (buy vinyl)

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