Recs

Reviews: Quick Hits (Part 2)

Though we here at Rust Is Just Right try as hard as we can, it simply is not possible for us to review all the great new albums that come across our way.  However, since our goal is to highlight great music that you may have not discovered yet, we feel obligated to at least give a brief mention to some of the records that we have accumulated over the past few months that are worthy of your consideration.  With that in mind, we present another slate of albums.

Frog Eyes – Pickpocket’s Locket With their previous albums Tears of the Valedictorian and Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph, Frog Eyes showed a certain flair for the dramatic, delivering cracked indie rock epics that can overwhelm listeners with their passion and intensity while challenging their preconceived musical sensibilities.  For this album, Casey Mercer has pulled back a bit and offered a more stripped-down version of his group’s bombastic sound, but delivered with a similar fervor.  You still get Mercer’s unique voice, but this time it is often accompanied by strings.

HEALTH – Death Magic For their long-awaited follow-up to Get Color, noise-rockers HEALTH have decided to throw on the most depressing dance party ever.  Industrial affectations adorn slow, slinky beats, creating a menacing if alluring album.  The only downside is a tendency early in the album to borrow a melody from Vampire Weekend’s “Giving Up The Gun”, but that might be a problem that does not afflict everyone equally.

Lou Barlow – Brace the Wave It is really strange that two of the members of probably the loudest fucking band on the planet, Dinosaur Jr., enjoy making gorgeous acoustic music in their spare time, but such is the case for J Mascis and Lou Barlow.  To be fair, Barlow has shown this side for years, even on a handful of Dino songs, but Brace the Wave is an especially gorgeous collection of songs.  Recorded after the dissolution of a long marriage, there is the expected melancholic element, but it is balanced with several moments of fragile beauty.

Wire – Wire The old punks are still kicking, and they are as restless as ever.  Not content to rehash their early work that has inspired countless modern bands, Wire instead dives into a dour post-punk take on shoegaze.  That is probably a poor characterization of their sound, but goes to show how the band has always managed to defy description.

Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool The band got some airplay with the aggro-indie track “Moaning Lisa Smile”, but the album as a whole exhibits far greater diversity than one might expect.  Wolf Alice shows a bit of love to multiple 90’s subgenres and trends, but avoids sounding like a rehash of that decade.  My Love Is Cool does not quite work as a cohesive album, but there should be plenty of stray tracks that fans will love.

Advertisements

Reviews: Quick Hits (Part 1)

Though we here at Rust Is Just Right try as hard as we can, it simply is not possible for us to review all the great new albums that come across our way.  However, since our goal is to highlight great music that you may have not discovered yet, we feel obligated to at least give a brief mention to some of the records that we have accumulated over the past few months that are worthy of your consideration.

Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man This album sounds like a lost collection of Joy Division/early New Order B-Sides, and I mean that with absolutely no snark at all.  That should come as no surprise, considering the band is named after the song that served as a bridge between the two bands, but this actually represents a shift in sound for a group that previously trafficked in a style closer to hardcore.  In other words, take every smartass remark made about Interpol and apply it to these guys, but we suggest that you refrain from over-intellectualizing and instead embrace the gloomy grooves.

Deradoorian – The Expanding Flower Planet Fans of the Dirty Projectors are well-acquainted with the beautiful, ethereal voice of former member Angel Deradoorian, and they should be delighted with her solo debut.  It is easy to get lost in the trippy, psychedelic journey that Deradoorian takes on this record, though at times it can make for a frustrating listen, despite the abundance of talent on display.

Ducktails – St. Catherine The side project of Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile shares many of the qualities that led fans to appreciate his main gig, namely easy-going vibes and slick, pretty leads.  However, Mondanile does get to indulge a bit and explore other sounds, venturing towards the synthpop side of the music spectrum.

Ratatat – Magnifique There is nothing quite like this distinctive instrumental duo, who blend electronic beats and catchy inventive guitar riffs.  For this go around, Ratatat shows off their sunnier side, incorporating elements of surf music into their trademark sound.  The album seems to drag on a bit longer than it should, but it would be hard to cut out any specific track, because that would mean missing out on some excellent hooks.

The Sonics – The Is The Sonics The garage-rock pioneers have returned with a vengeance, proving that the old guys still have the energy to blow the young folks out of the water, so to speak.  In other words, this is not your typical embarrassing reunion of fogies who are long past their sell-by date–there is some serious verve and passion to this record.

Titus Andronicus, Live at Mississippi Studios

It may have taken a few years longer than we would have liked, but Titus Andronicus finally returned to Portland as headliners on Friday night for a thrilling set in the intimate confines of Mississippi Studios.  Fresh off the heels of the release of their sprawling rock-opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Patrick Stickles & Co. delivered a spirited set to an energetic crowd, seamlessly weaving songs from across their four albums into a series of mini-epics.  The band left the audience so amped up by the end that a trip to one of Oregon’s brand new legal dispensaries was probably necessary, though there were probably only a few that needed such an excuse to indulge.

Classy marquee inside the venue

Classy marquee inside the venue.

After a brief explanation as to why the group made an exception to their policy of performing all-ages show, frontman Patrick Stickles began the night with a solemn version of “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'” backed by a mournful keyboard, then effortlessly segued into a spirited full-band version of the similarly-titled and locale-appropriate “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”, setting the tone for the rest of the night.  Perhaps inspired by the format of their most recent release, the group blended songs from throughout their career into unpredictable but brilliant suites.  Stickles made sure to spotlight guitarist Adam Reich and give him kudos for his “Pearl Jam-like” ability in constructing the setlist.  For those unfamiliar with the reference, it is heady praise indeed.

The band found the right mix between professional and loose, able to knock out such difficult maneuvers as a dual tapping-solo guitar attack for “A More Perfect Union” while also avoiding any stiffness from attempting to pull off these complex tricks, and just letting mistakes slide by–as referenced by Stickles, who said he didn’t need to hear any more of his guitar in the monitors so he could ignore any flubs.  The audience ate up both the old and new material, with many singing along to songs from Tragedy, though the response to early tracks like “Albert Camus” and “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” generated the fiercest reaction.  The recent legalization of commercial sale of marijuana also prompted a short speech on the “evils” of pot, and spurred a spirited take on “Tried to Quit Smoking”–only to pull a fast one a couple of songs later by throwing in a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35”, to which everyone sang along to the memorable chorus of “Everybody must get stoned.”

Deciding on an encore song.

Deciding on an encore song.

After a furious finish with “Dimed Out”, the crowd was able to goad the band into a quick encore, despite the show pushing well past midnight at this point.  Eventually, as a nod to both the baseball playoffs and their upcoming trip into the Great White North, the crew indulged the crowd with an enthusiastic take on Neil Young’s “Walk On”, before ending the night with “I Saw Her Standing There” from The Beatles.  Though it would be difficult to beat what we witnessed, here’s a suggestion for the guys if they need a Portland-specific cover for their next trip into town (which will hopefully be as soon as possible): you can’t go wrong with anything from the Wipers.

My Morning Jacket, Live at the Keller Auditorium

Over the years, My Morning Jacket has built a reputation as one of the best live acts in the world, an assertion with which I would emphatically agree, based on the several MMJ concerts I have witnessed over the years.  Though there were a few moments that came close to reaching the peaks of past shows, the overall experience from Wednesday night was more of a mixed bag, with a generally tentative performance that saw the band attempting to shake off some rust in kicking off the fall leg of their tour.  Then again, that may be merely the complaints of an overly pessimistic critic/spoiled fan; it is hard to come away disappointed when you get to hear beautiful rarities like “Bermuda Highway” or rock out to “Mahgeetah” and “One Big Holiday”.

An attempt to capture one of the more spectacular lighting effects.

An attempt to capture one of the more spectacular lighting effects.

Perhaps we are speaking from a mild case of bitterness, since as a part of “My Morning Jacket Week” we highlighted the song “Lay Low” and the group’s ability to rip out some amazing covers, and ended the night with neither.  But it does speak to the depth of the band’s catalog that they could leave out staples like “Steam Engine”, “Phone Went West”, or “Dondante” and still construct a solid setlist.  The show was heavy on material from their latest album, The Waterfall, and while there is still a lot to that record that feels underwhelming, the songs do gain an additional spark in a live setting.  The album’s best tracks, “Tropics (Erase Traces)” and “Only Memories Remain”, sound even better live, with the former exploding with energy and the latter stretched to an epic length and augmented by some excellent solos.

The band did not say a word to the crowd the entire night, and frontman Jim James was cautious with his movements, with a slowed-down version of the duckwalk being his sole bit of showmanship (aside from the traditional donning of the cloak for “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2”).  There were a couple of moments where different members missed a line or added a beat, or even failing to figure out when a song should end, and the soundboard had problems with the mix for most of the night.  But there were several moments where everything synced up perfectly, such as the dazzling light display for “At Dawn” or the dip into crowd favorites from the Z era with “Wordless Chorus” and “Off the Record”.  And once again, the band showed their knack for reworking their older material, with thrilling renditions of “Master Plan” and “Knot Comes Loose”.

A view of "At Dawn" from approximately Hillsboro.

A view of “At Dawn” from approximately Hillsboro.

Opener Strand of Oaks impressed the early crowd and made several new fans that night.  They initially impressed with some excellent metal-leaning chops, and then won over the audience with their tale of driving 31 hours from Champaign, Illinois to make the gig that night to play with their heroes.  They took a risk with some of their more downbeat material that followed, but finished up with a fantastic slow-building closer that had the crowd amped for the main event.

Review: Low – Ones and Sixes

What Low has accomplished over the course of their two-decade-plus career is truly astonishing.  Not only have they never come close to releasing a mediocre album, but they still sound as vibrant as ever, with their creative spark still burning bright.  Though as pioneers of the “slowcore” genre they are known for their minimalist tendencies, Low still is finding new sounds to explore and ideas to develop, which makes Ones and Sixes an excellent addition to their brilliant discography.

Ones and Sixes is an excellent summation of the different paths the band has pursued since the release of Things We Lost In The Fire.  The band alternates between the warmer milieu of their recent work (C’mon and The Invisible Way) with a dip back into the icier moods of albums like Drums and Guns. The influence of that often-overlooked album really shines through with the incorporation of electronic drums on tracks like “Congregation” and “Gentle”, the latter of which evokes a more downbeat version of With Teeth-era Nine Inch Nails.

These dark, mysterious tracks fit perfectly alongside soaring guitar-based ballads, like the dazzling “Lies”, which may have one of the most gorgeous climaxes that the band has ever recorded.  This sublime moment is immediately followed by the epic “Landslide”, which is possibly Low’s heaviest work to date.  With its heavy distortion and extended dissonant outro, it is sure to be a highlight of the group’s upcoming live show.

There are other intriguing subtle production touches on Ones and Sixes, most notably the use of some natural distortion in the recording and mixing process that gives a rawer feel to certain moments, providing a nice contrast to the otherwise pristine tone found throughout the record.  In addition to their inspired instrumental experimentation, Low once again makes great use of the harmonies of the husband-and-wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, with each also given their own time to shine.  Their hauntingly alluring vocals are perfect complements to the exquisitely constructed melodies, and that combination together should be more than enough to draw in new listeners.  Of course, this should come as no surprise to old fans, since Low has been consistently excellent for a number of years, but they will certainly be pleased to hear that the band has created an excellent capstone for their fine work of the past decade.

Random note: I have not seen an explanation of the title, but my guess is that “Ones and Sixes” is a reference to dice, and the minimum/maximum that one can get; therefore, the record might be seen as an exploration of highs and lows.  Just a theory.

Tokyo Police Club, Live at the Doug Fir

Last night’s Tokyo Police Club show at the Doug Fir captured the vibe of being packed into a basement for a house party, except for the fact that floors were not nearly as sticky and the band was way more professional and polished than whomever Dave could bribe to play for a case of cheap domestic.  The devoted showed up in full force last night, ready to sing along to to tracks that date back to the group’s first EP, and the group complied with an enthusiastic and lively set.

David Monks mid-rock-out maneuver

David Monks mid-rock-out maneuver

The band kicked off the show with a modification to their recent setlist by opening with “Breakneck Speed”, slightly altering the lyrics to say “it’s good to be back in Portland” in a nice bit of showmanship.  “Hot Tonight”, an effervescent highlight from their most recent album Forcefield soon followed, and set the mood for the evening.  The new material mixed in well with the old material, with the group focusing heavily on songs from the Champ era in filling out a twenty song set.

We were even treated to a couple of new songs, with bassist/singer David Monks giving a bit of the backstory for “PCH”, noting that the events of the romance took place on that highway that was, to paraphrase, not that far off from here.  Another highlight was fan-favorite “Bambi”, complete with an extended intro that did a great job in disguising what was to come, as well as early cuts like “Nature of the Experiment” and the infectious “Your English Is Good”.  For the encore, we were even treated to a cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”, which managed to accomplish the difficult task of captivating this crowd packed with hipsters.

A good look at the friendly fellows

A good look at the friendly fellows

Openers The Domestics did a great job with their pop-rock set, effectively setting the mood for the rest of the night.  The local act kept the audience’s attention with a varied setup, switching between instruments and vocalists, all the while delivering punchy and engaging songs.  They will definitely be a highlight on many bills around town.

Review: Foals – What Went Down

Few bands are as underappreciated stateside as Foals.  Since the release of Total Life Forever, the band has cultivated an intriguing niche that blends an innovative take on groovy math-rock with aggressive conventional rock elements, all with plenty of hooks to spare (see: “This Orient”; “My Number”).  Though the group has developed into a touring force, that success has not translated into record sales or buzz for their latest release.  In all likelihood, What Went Down will not mark the band’s breakthrough into the mainstream, which is a damn shame because it is an excellent record.

What Went Down serves as a crystallization of many of the musical ideas of their previous album, Holy Fire, with the band hitting harder with their attacks and crafting bigger choruses.  The energetic opening title track and the epic closer “A Knife In The Ocean” are two of the best songs that Foals have written in their career, and serve as the perfect bookends to the album.  In between, the band finds some fascinating detours to explore, most notably “Snake Oil”, which does a fantastic job of alternating between motorik and half-time rhythms.

Frontman Yannis Philippakis sounds especially great, and he seems more comfortable than ever with his unique voice.  In addition to crafting excellent melodies, Philippakis also effectively shifts between different timbres to evoke a wide variety of emotions, making What Went Down a truly affecting work.  The rest of the band does not slack off either, and each member engages in interesting textural experimentation with the group’s signature sound.

It is amazing that Foals are still able to find new avenues to explore within their unique style, and that the band can continue to top themselves with each successive release.  Maybe What Went Down will provide the spark for the rest of the American music scene to begin to pay attention to the guys from Oxford.

Review: Beach House – Depression Cherry

As pleasurable as it is to listen to the soothing strains of a Beach House record, it is equally frustrating to assess their work in a critical manner.  In their eleven years together, the band has created a signature dreampop aesthetic built on a handful of recognizable fundamental elements, and has rarely deviated from that blueprint over the course of their five albums: Victoria Legrand’s smoky vocals float above Alex Scally’s delicate guitar lines, and their combined melodies are layered atop minimalist keyboards and bare-bones drum beats.  But it is a fool’s errand to spend much time deconstructing the music when the results are this beautiful.

It is extremely difficult to draw out the differences between Beach House albums, except to note how the production quality has improved over time with better equipment and a bigger budget.  Aside from a few standout singles, audiences at a Beach House show would be hard-pressed to determine if a specific song came from the Devotion or Bloom era.  To the band’s credit, however, they manage to hit upon the perfect melodic combination for three songs per album, and those moments can be as close to transcendence as indie rock can get.  Any musician would kill for that kind of ratio.

Though Depression Cherry offers many of the usual delights that one has come to expect from Beach House, the album’s best moments are found in the few instances when the band subtly tweaks their standard formula.  Lead single “Sparks” is a prime example, with its use of a rougher guitar tone that gives a nice edge to the melody and complements Legrand’s breathy voice.  The same can be said with the album’s other highlights, the gorgeous “PPP” and the sublime “Days of Candy”–epic ballads that not only show that the band is still capable of inducing goosebumps, but also hint at subsequent new musical directions for the future.  The changes are modest (exploring different keyboard tones and chord structures, the addition of choral voices, and playing with the underlying compositional structure a bit), but they at least indicate a willingness to break from the usual template a bit.

Longtime fans will find that Desperation Cherry has its own particular charms, and they grow with each subsequent listen.  For the neophyte, the album is an excellent showcase for the band’s trademark melancholic synthpop, and features plenty of hooks that will draw in listeners.  In either case, the record is likely to inspire a trip into the band’s sparkling back catalog, so as to enjoy the duo’s ability to capture that beautifully melancholic spirit so well.

Review: Deaf Wish – Pain

Listening to Pain is a lot like hearing a sampler of the major underground rock movements from the late-70’s to the early-90’s; over the course of ten tracks, Deaf Wish dabbles in gloomy post-punk, aggressive hardcore, and abrasive no-wave, all in a quest to overwhelm the listener with the power of noise.  For most people, the band’s name is wonderfully apropos–the persistent onslaught of pure cacophony the group manages to generate would cause many to hope that their ears would cease functioning.  However, for that certain audience that desires that sort of grating noise, Pain has what they crave in spades.

Though Pain lacks a consistent thematic trajectory, as Deaf Wish jumps between different styles from track to track, the album certainly improves as it goes along, making it a backloaded affair.  Each member gets a stab at the mic, and the different vocal approaches help create a truly diverse record, even as they work within the narrow confines of this particular subgenre.  One song will feature an aggressive bark, another a soft coo, and yet another will have a longing drone, all with walls of guitars and drums bashing around in the background.

As one might expect, it can be fairly easy to spot the band’s significant influences, especially that of Sonic Youth–Sarah Hardiman’s voice is such a dead ringer for Kim Gordon that when I listen to “Sex Witch” it prompts an instinctual response to chant along “spirit desire”.  Deaf Wish does benefit from the fact that few other bands digging through those same records for inspiration, setting them apart from current trends, but the group also proves that there is enough room even within these narrow styles to create something original.  There is subtlety to be found even amid all that noise.

Pain really hits its stride in its last three songs, beginning with the driving and catchy single “On”.  In an album filled with noisy freakouts, the instrumental “Dead Air” is easily the best, with its Krautrock-like bass that pushes the beat underneath walls of feedback-drenched guitars.  The real surprise is the closer “Calypso”, which manages to show a more delicate side of the band–even with its dissonant chords and melodies, the band nearly manages to make noise sound “pretty”.

Review: White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again

Summer still has a few weeks remaining, so there is plenty of time for you to enjoy the debut album from White Reaper in its proper setting.  White Reaper Does It Again is energetic, carefree garage rock delivered at a breakneck pace, which makes it perfect for blasting at full volume with the windows rolled down/pulled up/smashed open.  The music is unlikely to leave any lasting impact on the listener, but sometimes life is about the journey and not the destination, ya know, and why not make that journey as packed with adrenaline as possible?

White Reaper offers a simpler and more streamlined version of the garage rock that is currently enjoying its moment once again.  The guitars pound out simple riffs and chord changes, taking a backseat to the thunderous drums of Nick Wilkerson on most tracks who pushes the tempo and thrills with rollicking fills.  Tony Esposito’s vocals are processed to hell and back in a way that recalls Jay Reatard, and his melodies are often similarly pop-influenced.  White Reaper distinguish themselves from their brethren with the often over-the-top use of keyboards, but Ryan Hater’s contributions help add some much needed color to a formula that has the danger of otherwise feeling flat.

White Reaper Does It Again is an album whose sole focus is making sure the listener is having as much fun as can be packed into a half hour.  There is a disposable nature to the music, but even if its significance is merely ephemeral, there is still something to be said for enjoying the moment.  Just crank it up, bop your head, and revel in the folly/glory of youth.