Tag Archives: Album Reviews

RF Shannon — Jaguar Palace (Album Review)

RF Shannon's Jaguar Palace

RF Shannon’s Jaguar Palace

The working description of Texans RF Shannon’s music is “South West R&B and psychedelic trail ballads.” The R&B side may be a bit difficult to unpack, but the “psychedelic trail ballads” part is particularly spot on when characterizing the six songs on the Jaguar Palace album.

Jaguar Palace doesn’t work because of its individual songs — hazy, languid and often clocking in at over six minutes apiece, they’re winding snapshots of moderate sonic intrigue. Taken as a full collection, however, Jaguar Palace is a panorama, a sprawling 360 degree exploration of twilight desert night skies, lonely roads and railroads, and the end-of-the-line one-gas station towns inhabiting those edges.

It’s the smaller moments in this musical universe that make you feel like you’ve just stumbled upon a long lost ghost town. “Tell My Horse” may be the dark inverse to America’s “A Horse With No Name,” with its foreboding keys, otherworldly slide and chaotic shoegaze touches. “Had a Revelation,” the relative peppiest track on the album, ends up being less about RF Shannon leader Shane Renfro’s revelations and more about one’s own epiphanies that take place while listening. “Hottevilla,” meanwhile, provides the most headphone fodder to get lost in. The slow draw of its beginning recalling the more discreet moments on Godspeed You! Black Emperor albums and its dizzying flute parts add dangerous firefly flare-ups for the mind to chase.

This carefully crafted world created by RF Shannon triangulates the swirling cosmology of A Storm In Heaven-era Verve, the hypnotic guitar lines of Neil Young’s “On The Beach” and some of Calexico’s more downtempo moments to create something of meditative, lasting beauty.

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The Besnard Lakes — A Coliseum Complex Museum (Album Review)

The Besnard Lakes' fifth album 'A Coliseum Complex Museum'

The Besnard Lakes’ fifth album ‘A Coliseum Complex Museum’

The best way to quantify The Besnard Lakes’ fifth album is A Coliseum Complex Museum is to realize that they’ve distilled their sound down to its most Besnardian essence. A casual observer might misinterpret this as more of the same — and in many ways A Coliseum Complex Museum *is* similar to pass Besnard efforts, the band once again holding steady to their distinctly gauzy space rock sonic palette — but dismissing the record in this way ignores the sharper focus and refinements in The Besnard Lakes’ game. All of the band’s hallmarks are there: the pristine textures, the deliberate build-ups that pay off in explosive, technicolour crescendoes, and the dark, often otherwordly song subjects (this album appears to revolve around magic and mythical beasts, see “Necronomicon,” “The Bray Road Beast”).

It’s in the fine details, though, where The Besnards exceed the stiffer previous record, Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO. Primary vocalist Jace Lasek seems, improbably, to be singing even higher than previously, which works to great effect when paired against the deliberate mechanical chug of standouts “Golden Lion” and “Towers Sent Her to Sheets of Sound.” The Besnards near-defiant devotion to the classic rock guitar solo also yields wonderful results on “Pressure of Our Plans” and the dramatically good closer “Tungsten 4: The Refugee.” The revelation on A Coliseum Complex Museum, though, just may be the use of Olga Goreas’ bass. Deployed with strategic effectiveness on “Nightengale,” “The Plain Moon” and “Golden Lion,” these insistent pulsing thrums magnificently set up the band’s most melodramatic moments.

All that said, what might be most intriguing about A Coliseum Complex Museum is its air of craftsmanship. The album feels like something pieced together thoughtfully and methodically, all with the grand intention of blowing our minds.

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Tim Gilbert — Tim Sings! The Hits! (Album Review)

Tim Gilbert

Tim Gilbert

Looking to expand my “following” list beyond bikini tramps and people who I may or may not be professionally jealous of, I recently started following NASA on Instagram. It’s a follow that’s provided me with a wonderful supply of cosmological magic. Every day these space voyageurs capture some exotic new slice of our universe and place it right in our hands like technological Zeuses doling out mind-thunderbolts.

Just the other day I learned about NGC 3610, an elliptical galaxy roughly four billion years old.

Young Elliptical Galaxy: At the center of this amazing image is an elliptical galaxy. Surrounding the galaxy and visible in the background are a wealth of other galaxies of all shapes. The reason for the peculiar shape of this galaxy stems from its formation history. When galaxies form, they usually resemble our galaxy, the Milky Way, with flat disks and spiral arms where star formation rates are high and which are therefore very bright. An elliptical galaxy is a much more disordered object which results from the merging of two or more disk galaxies. During these violent mergers most of the internal structure of the original galaxies is destroyed. The fact that NGC 3610 still shows some structure in the form of a bright disk implies that it formed only a short time ago. The galaxy's age has been put at around four billion years and it is an important object for studying the early stages of evolution in elliptical galaxies. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt #nasa #hubble #space #galaxy #astronomy #universe #nasabeyond #science

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My mind is still trying to process the photo of the Veil Nebula published a few weeks back. They call it “delicate, draped filamentary structures,” but I’m convinced this is really what Geddy Lee sees when he closes his eyes.

This is the expanding remains of a massive star that exploded about 8,000 years ago. Called the Veil Nebula, the debris is one of the best-known supernova remnants, deriving its name from its delicate, draped filamentary structures. The entire nebula is 110 light-years across, covering six full moons on the sky as seen from Earth, and resides about 2,100 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. This view is a mosaic of six pictures from our Hubble Space Telescope of a small area roughly two light-years across, covering only a tiny fraction of the nebula's vast structure. This close-up look unveils wisps of gas, which are all that remain of what was once a star 20 times more massive than our sun. The fast-moving blast wave from the ancient explosion is plowing into a wall of cool, denser interstellar gas, emitting light. The nebula lies along the edge of a large bubble of low-density gas that was blown into space by the dying star prior to its self-detonation. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team #nasa #hubble #hst #hubble25 #space #astronomy #nebular #star #nasabeyond #science

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The point I’m trying to make in all this is that, yes, sometimes the stars are within our reach. They’re out there. Shining. Sparkling. All you have to do is be strong enough to stretch your arm out and grab them.

Rarely has such bravery, such indomitable spirit been committed to the recorded form as when Tim sings the hits on Tim Sings! The Hits! Weaving his way through 44 of the greatest songs of all-time from Aerosmith’s space exploration epic “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” to Wilson Phillips’ iconic “Hold On” Tim always pushes forward, resolutely overcoming his condition to capture the very soul of each song.

In many ways Tim Sings! The Hits! is just like those NASA probes and telescopes that are continually monitoring our skies. Can they explain all the mysteries of the universe? No. Can they unravel the science behind dianetics? Not likely. Do they need someone to help cut up their dinner so they don’t accidentally choke on their ham? Sure, but needing a little help won’t stop Tim from from pursuing his dream: To bring us back little pieces of stardust each and every day in the form of song.

That is the true journey of Tim Sings! The Hits!

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Martin Carr — The Breaks (Album Review)

Martin Carr's The Breaks

Martin Carr’s The Breaks

Perhaps it’s because music writers are starting to realize its far too vainglorious to pick on the music teenage girls like (One Direction, Justin Bieber), or maybe it’s because vindictive Gen Y bloggers are using it as an opportunity to slam old media artists who no longer have the forum to fight back, for whatever reason one of 2014’s big punching bags has been an amorphous catchall called “dad rock.”

Urban Dictionary calls dad rock, “The standard set of albums from the ’60s and ’70s that every boomer likes… Dad rockers have no desire to listen to recent music and are stuck in the past.”

There is, however, more to dad rock than Jason Segel and Paul Rudd’s I Love You, Man Rush jam outs in the man cave. Take, for example, the new album The Breaks by former Boo Radleys/Bravecaptain frontman Martin Carr.

Jason Segel and Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man

Jason Segel and Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man

It’s definingly “dad rock.”

“I wrote the songs when I was spending most of my days dealing with babies and young children,” the 46-year-old father of two said in the album’s bio. “The period that seems to last forever and you start to wonder of things will ever be normal again, or less normal anyway. Stifled, the hours move like mountains, the days speed like bullets.”

Though not quite an existential parenting crisis concept album, there’s clearly been a lot of self-searching on The Breaks. This is perhaps best exemplified by the escapist track “Mountains.” A shimmery pop plea, “Mountains” is Carr looking to get away from something. What that is, he doesn’t explicitly say, but a suspicious mind could easily come up with any number of uncomfortable notions.

“Senseless Apprentice” perhaps most approaches Carr’s Boo Radleys past with its hearty groove and series of sha-la-la-la-las, but its more of an evolution-from than a return to his white noisier past. What this song and insidiously melodious opener “Santa Fe Skyway” most reveal is a Carr whose years of experience have made him a master pop craftsman.

Where Carr’s higher profile former Creation Records colleagues’ mystique has deteriorated over time — Oasis have imploded, Primal Scream’s constant sonic adventuring’s getting desperate, My Bloody Valentine have beaten their paralysis only through repetition, and Jesus And Mary Chain have become a nostalgia act — the nagging listlessness Carr taps into on The Breaks is essential to the vibrancy of his new songs. Paradoxically, getting old and having kids is keeping Carr sharp. And the songs on The Breaks are just as relatable as “Wishing I Was Skinny” or “Wake Up Boo!’ were some 20 years ago.

On The Breaks Martin Carr directly confronts his slow descent into adulthood — something we all have to do — and if that makes this album “dad rock,” then there may be some worth to dad rock after all.

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My Brightest Diamond — This Is My Hand (Album Review)

My Brightest Diamond's This Is My Hand

My Brightest Diamond’s This Is My Hand

My Brightest Diamond
This Is My Hand
Paper Bag Records

The fourth My Brightest Diamond album This Is My Hand is being positioned as something of an anthropological quest. Shara Worden, the operatic voiced force behind MBD says the 10 songs on the album were about a need to connect with a more primal musical world through the collective experience of marching band drums, the inclusive rhythm of handclaps and simple coos and phrases that allow others to sing along. Listening to This Is My Hand through that lens risks viewing it only as a technical experiment, though, when the best and warmest moments on the album feel like they’re about something far more human — a hunt for joy.

My Brightest Diamond’s work has never been particularly light. The brilliant 2006 debut album Bring Me The Workhorse was an incredibly intense, sometimes soaring, sometimes somber rumination on death, loss and youthful melancholy. Even in that dark place, though, Worden left clues there was something — perhaps best expressed by that album’s cathartic dance track “Freak Out” — that showed there was more to life.

That MBD have already commissioned two full remix albums (Tear It Down and Shark Remixes) for past albums Workhorse and A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, respectively, only further suggests a restless spirit at work. In all of these cases it felt like Worden created her songs then took a step back and went, “This is me. But there’s nothing here to dance to…”

This Is My Hand will at least solve that dilemma. “Pressure,” the album’s first track, pays out exactly what Worden promises with dizzying rhythms and a cleansing “I tried to do it all right!” shout-along. “Before The Words” follows this up with an urgent pace and an array of oo-oo-OO-oo-oo-OOs to string you along before reaching what might be the real gold on the album, fourth track “Lover Killer.” An able approximation of Feist’s finger-snapping disco phase, “Lover Killer” just might achieve that notion of a genuinely joyful Worden song… if it wasn’t a harsh, mirrored look at the duality of love, that is.

And that’s when you realize that joy is perhaps something that’s outside of Worden’s work.

“I Am Not The Bad Guy” tugs Worden further back to her comfortable place, a territory of well-trod personal reflection on the choices one makes in life. Meanwhile, “Looking At The Sun,” “Resonance” and “Apparition” remind us of that version of Worden as the mesmeric singing elemental, something so otherworldly that its link to humanity sometimes feels tenuous.

And perhaps that’s what This Is My Hand is all about. Poking and pressing, combating one’s own nature and pursuing a new sound probably isn’t a particularly joyful experience  so much as it’s an uncomfortable one. It’s also a very human experience. And if trying to find a rhythm to this world through an army of drums is what helps Worden find her path there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Daft Punk ‘Random Access Memories’ Album Review

Random Access Memories

Random Access Memories

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The Highest Order — If It’s Real (Album Review)

The Highest Order If It’s Real (Idee Fixe)

This is how I feel about the new Highest Order album.

Flying Eagle gif by RejectedBot

Flying Eagle gif by RejectedBot

 

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