Yeah Yeah Yeahs

yeah yeah yeahs

YEAH YEAH YEAHS

MOSQUITO

INTERSCOPE

3/5  STARS

Of all the New York bands that got their start in the early aughts (The Strokes, Interpol, TV on the Radio), the Yeah Yeah Yeahs stood out. Karen O was the ultimate rock and roll frontwoman: visually striking, emotive and totally original. Along with band mates Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, the trio was hell bent on pushing rock and roll somewhere new rather than exploring where it had already been.

On their fourth record, we hear flashes of their former selves (the taut dance beats of It’s Blitz and raucous anthems of Fever to Tell), but they’ve gone in a more ambient direction this time. The eerie minimalism on “Subway” sounds more like a movie soundtrack than a rock song. Aside from “Sacrilege”, with its gospel-choir climax, the album comes across as bloodless. There’s imagination here, but the songs don’t always connect on a visceral, gut level.

Footnote:

The YYY’s recently released a video for “Despair” and it’s kind of lovely – especially the ending where Karen O dances giddily on top of the Empire State Building as the sun comes up over Manhattan. Makes me want to go back to NYC as soon as possible.

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Blogging Hiatus

Hey everyone! Apologies for the dearth of posts lately but my day job (coupled with a long commute) is keeping me busy. I’ve taken a break from reviewing albums for prairie dog magazine until my schedule settles down a bit. In the meantime, I’ll rustle up a few short posts about what I’m listing to this summer. If you’re heard something amazing in the past few months, drop me a line and give me your recommendation. Don’t be shy people! I won’t judge you. If Miley Cyrus is really doin’ it for you, that’s cool. I have some pretty whack music on my iPod too. But that’s another post for another time.

Shout Out Louds

Shout Out Louds 3

SHOUT OUT LOUDS

OPTICA

MERGE RECORDS

3/5

You can always count on Sweden to export confusingly named furniture, terrifying metal bands and adorable indie-pop musicians who churn out effin’ great choruses like it’s as simple as breathing. Stockholm quintet Shout Out Louds fall into the latter camp and their fourth studio album boasts at least three standout singles (“Walking In Your Footsteps”, “Illusions” and “14 Of July”). But the trouble with Optica is how much it will remind you of other records in your collection. The delay, chorus and flanger-flecked guitar tones used liberally here were all over the last two albums by French shoegaze artist M83. And by now, the dance floor drumming paired with surging synth lines are well-worn. (New Order and Tears for Fears were plying their electro anthems back when the Shouties and their peers were still in kindergarten, so this sound has been with us a helluva long time.)

No one would argue that the Shout Out Louds aren’t a fun or capable band, but there’s nothing here that’s particularly novel or surprising.

Review – Local Natives

Local Natives

LOCAL NATIVES

HUMMINGBIRD

(FRENCHKISS)

I’m sure it won’t be long before we hear a Local Natives song on the HBO series Girls. The L.A. indie-rock band writes lush, dreamy music that’s the perfect backdrop for 20-somethings lusting after each other and having profound realizations. Local Natives’ sophomore album (co-produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner) is full of beautiful, sweeping arrangements (“Breakers”, “Heavy Feet”, “Wooly Mammoth”) but the band’s sound is too predictably 2013 for me to get ecstatic about. When you hear the flawless harmonies and guitars twinkling like lights in the distance, you think, ah yes, Grizzly Bear. The nervy drumming is very Vampire Weekend. The tremulous lead vocals scream “I listened to Jeff Buckley’s Grace a gazillion times in high school but probably won’t cop to it now.” Local Natives are talented guys who are technically doing everything right. I just wish it didn’t feel so familiar.

Best Music of 2012

purity-ring-shrines

Corin Roddick and Megan James of Purity Ring

Discovering awesome albums was not a problem this year. But when it came time to assemble a mix CD for a friend living overseas, I had a hell of a time finding an energetic track to kick off the compilation. Truth is, most of what appealed to me this year was on the down tempo side of the musical spectrum – songs that emphasized texture and small details over revved up rhythms. Even metal band Baroness, who can usually be counted on for roaring riffs start to finish, spent a big chunk of their new record playing delicate, noodle-y guitar lines. The upside to all of this restraint is the re-playability factor; my favourite albums of 2012 were the ones that gave me something new to focus on every time I put them on, whether it was a cool harmony buried low in the mix or a weird guitar effect.

Then there’s the story of R&B, a genre that appears to be having a creative renaissance at the moment. What’s going on exactly? Well, it’s clear the new guard are interested in looking outside the genre’s traditions and borrowing from other scenes and musical movements. Last year, we had The Weeknd sampling Beach House and Siouxsie and the Banshees; in 2012, we have Miguel re-imagining the 60’s rock hit “Time of the Season” by the Zombies. (You can hear this tag on the end of his song “Don’t Look Back.”) I’d say youth and technology are a big factor in this spirit of open-mindedness. Guys like Frank Ocean (age 25) and Miguel (age 27) grew up with the Internet, so the pop culture they consumed as kids and up-and-coming musicians was undoubtedly more diverse than previous generations, who came up on the strict formats of commercial radio. This new generation of artists isn’t concerned with categorizing things into “rock”, “shoegaze” or “rap.” If it’s good music, it goes into the blender. You can also hear this anything goes attitude in the work of Purity Ring, a couple of prairie-bred Canadian kids with heavy hip-hop leanings.

When someone like Frank Ocean references the classics, he does so in a way that never comes across as retro. Take his song “Pyramids”: the synth groove in the second verse could be straight off of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, but the club beats and overall production are right here and now.

Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean

But enough of my pontificating. Let’s just say I haven’t enjoyed R&B this much since the 90’s, when Mary J. Blige was searchin’ for a real love and Aaliyah was confessing her goody-goody/naughty-naughty duality to the backdrop of some sweet Missy and Timbaland beats.

Without further ado, here are my favourite albums of 2012 (in no particular order):

1. Purity Ring, Shrines (Last Gang Records)

Key Tracks: Belispeak, Lofticries, Fineshrine

2. Frank Ocean, Channel ORANGE (Island Def Jam Music)

Key Tracks:  Bad Religion, Sweet Life, Pyramids

3. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA Records)

Key Tracks: Adorn, Use Me, Where’s The Fun in Forever?

4. Beach House, Bloom (Sub Pop)

Key Tracks: Wild, Myth, Lazuli

5. Santigold, Master of My Make Believe (Atlantic)

Key Tracks: Disparate Youth, The Riot’s Gone, Pirate in the Water

6. Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music (Williams Street Records)

Key Tracks: Untitled, Reagan, R.A.P. Music

7. Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur (MapleMusic)

Key Tracks: Change the Sheets, Empty Threat, A Soft Place to Land

8. Deftones, Koi No Yokan (Reprise Records)

Key Tracks: Entombed, Graphic Nature, Tempest

9. Baroness, Yellow and Green (Relapse Records)

Key Tracks: Board Up The House, Take My Bones Away, March To The Sea

10. Twin Shadow, Confess (4AD)

Key Tracks: Run My Heart, Five Seconds, Golden Light

Runners Up:

Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls  (ATO/Rough Trade)

Tame Impala, Lonerism (Modular Recordings)

 

New Artist Alert: Amara Samchinsky

BloomCover

Calgary singer/songwriter Amara Samchinsky is somewhat of an anomaly if you think about the current pop music climate. Her songs aren’t written by a committee of high-paid producers, her voice hasn’t been Auto-Tuned to android land, and she’s more interested in perfecting her already impressive piano chops than dominating social media. She’s a musician’s musician who cares about the craft and you can hear that on her debut album, Bloom. A track like “New Year’s Anthem” is a great example of what she does creatively and a timely topic, given that it’s the time of year for taking stock and reflecting on things.

[audio http://static.squarespace.com/static/5033262ae4b0dbdecd436986/t/5055464ae4b02b42cb2f83f4/1347765836892/New%20Year’s%20Clip.mp3/original/New+Year%27s+Clip.mp3]

Amara just played a packed CD release party in Regina this week and has another big show lined up for Calgary later this month. If you live in the area, I urge you to check it out. Full disclosure: I used to be in a band with this talented gal back in the early aughts and can attest to the fact that she’s a killer live performer.

Calgary CD Release Show
Saturday January 26, 2013
The Auburn (163 9th Ave SE, Calgary)
Doors open 6pm / Show starts 7pm
Ticket info to be announced in early January
With special guests Minerva

Hey Rosetta! : A Christmas Album That Won’t Drive You Insane

Hey Rosetta press photoHEY ROSETTA!

A CUP OF KINDNESS YET

SONIC RECORDS

4/5

Every holiday season, you can count on a couple of things. One: you’ll be inundated with T.V. commercials featuring blond moms with perfectly curl-ironed hair setting down juicy turkeys in front of their cherubic children, or husbands handing their wives the keys to a brand new Audi parked out in the driveway, a red bow wrapped around it. And two: in the music world, you can guarantee Rod Stewart will be pushing his latest Christmas schlock. Thankfully, we’ve got an antidote to all this relentless cheer courtesy of Hey Rosetta!’s new four-song EP of holiday music. Opening track “Carry Me Home” features a narrator who’s moved to the city with big dreams, but is now barely scraping by. (“This hotel is cheap/and the pillows stink/and there’s not a single thing/to say it’s Christmas Eve.”) The angst-y lyrics are tempered by a rollicking beat and luscious “ooohs” sending everything skyward. If you’re a traditionalist, check out “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and hear how these Newfoundland indie rockers have updated the classic hymn. It begins with Tim Baker’s haunting vocals and sparse strumming only to switch to a snarling, Neil Young-esque guitar breakdown. This EP’s definitely going on my Christmas playlist.