The Antlers

Review: Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

After the experimentalism and bombast of The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens has returned with the stripped-down, heartbreakingly beautiful Carrie & Lowell, a nakedly intimate album that is possibly his greatest work yet.  Stevens attempts to come to terms with the myriad emotions resulting from the death of his birth mother (the “Carrie” in the title), with whom he had an unusual relationship; present-day stabs at attempting to comprehend their relationship are intertwined with memories of childhood summer visits to Oregon, often accompanied by only a delicately finger-picked guitar and Stevens’s soft cooing voice.  It is easy to get wrapped up in the emotional turmoil of the lyrical content, but despite the often dark subject matter, the record never succumbs to the potential to overwhelm the listener, because Stevens preserves a delicate balance through his carefully constructed arrangements and beautiful melodies.

For the most part, the easiest reference points to Carrie & Lowell are to early-Elliott Smith/late-Nick Drake records, a fair comparison because of the shared connection of hushed vocals and acoustic guitars.  However, the high points of the album are when Stevens channels other influences.  One can hear shades of The Antlers in the album’s finale “Blue Bucket of Gold” and especially in “Fourth of July”, with its soundscapes providing an elegiac ambiance and its simple keyboard chords delivered in a brisk eighth-note rhythm; the shift in musical style also complements the shift in the narrative, as “Fourth of July” details the events of his mother’s death in painstaking detail.  The song builds to an agonizing climax, with the dramatic haunting line “we’re all gonna die” lingering in the air as the music drops out.

“The Only Thing” follows, switching back to the soft treble tones of a finger-picked guitar but maintaining the same devastating narrative; if it was backed by heavily distorted lead guitar, it would be a perfect siren song for a Victory Records band, especially with lyrics like “Should I tear my eyes out now before I see too much?  Should I tear my arms out now?  I want to feel your touch.”  The difference is that Stevens delivers these nakedly personal lines with such a deft touch that it only invokes empathy in the listener, and avoids the possibility of falling into self-caricature.  This adroitness extends to other brilliant sonic details, such as the end of “John My Beloved”–as Stevens ends the song with the line “in a manner of speaking, I’m dead”, the tape keeps rolling for a few moments, and one can hear a short breath before the tape is cut, creating an extremely powerful moment.

While Stevens abandoned the “Fifty States” project, the subtitle for Carrie & Lowell could easily be “Oregon”, as references to state landmarks and historical events are peppered throughout the album.  Hearing mentions of The Dalles, Spencer’s Butte, and the Tillamook burn, among others, helps ground the album to a specific time and place, as well as provide a personal touch to the universal emotions explored throughout the record (and as an Oregonian, it definitely keeps my attention as a listener as I keep trying to spot the different references with each listen).  The album is an often harrowing listen, but Carrie & Lowell is never a slog; with the aid of his gorgeous and elegant musical arrangements, Stevens is able to probe difficult questions about love and relationships without leaving the listener in a depressed and miserable state.  It may be Sufjan’s best work to date, and possibly the most beautiful album you will hear this year.


Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2014

Today is April 15, and while the rest of the nation celebrates Tax Day, we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to release our Best Albums of the Year list.  We follow this unusual schedule for a few reasons: 1) It allows some of the albums that are released at the end of the calendar year to get some recognition, since they usually get swallowed up in the attention of the flurry of year-end lists; 2) We get the chance to analyze other lists to pick up on albums that somehow escaped our attention during the course of the year; and 3) It provides a handy consumer guide for people to focus where to spend their tax refund/gives them an added checklist when they head out to their local record stores this weekend for Record Store Day.

The process that is used to determine this list is highly rigorous and hardly scientific.  However, we are still in the process of attempting to patent and trademark The Process, which if you may recall, is simply tallying up the play counts on iTunes for each album.  It has served us well in years past, and a quick glance at our list this year proves that it has worked once again.

Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because we don’t like breaking ties for the same play count.  If you’re really intent on focusing on only 10, I guess take the 10 highest performing albums from the list, but you really shouldn’t limit yourself like that if you can help it.  Also, we have reviews for all of these albums, so for those of you seeking a more detailed analysis all you need to do is click the appropriate tag above.

10. Alvvays – Alvvays; Aphex Twin – Syro; Nothing – Guilty of Everything; Real Estate – Atlas (8 plays)

Alvvays and Nothing edge themselves onto the list with fantastic debut albums, the former being a sublime beach-pop record and the latter finding an intriguing mix between shoegaze and metal.  Real Estate’s latest would make a great companion album to the Alvvays record on any future trip to the coast, with the band further refining their laid-back, easy-going vibe with some of their most tightly-constructed songs of their career, like “Talking Backwards” and “Crimes”.  The only reason why Aphex Twin’s fantastic comeback effort is so low on the list is that we in general do not spend much time listening to electronica; otherwise, it would have ended up much higher on our list.

9. Beck – Morning Phase; Ought – More Than Any Other Day; Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal; Solids – Blame Confusion (9 plays)

We never grew to love Sunbathing Animal in the same way that we did Light Up Gold, so its inclusion on the list is mainly due to our insistence on trying to gain a greater appreciation through repeated listens; that said, it did have its moments, like “Dear Ramona” and “Instant Disassembly”, that we would love to hear the next time they roll through the Northwest.  Ought’s debut album is the perfect example of why we delay the publication of our list, since their fascinating debut did not come onto our radar until after we saw it on another year-end list, and it soon became one of our favorites with its intriguing take on garage rock and post-punk.  We jumped in early on the Solids bandwagon, and were pleased to see that the duo’s fuzz-rock had some staying power over the course of the year.  And we hope that Beck is as proud of his showing on our list as he is of the Grammy that he got for his gorgeous new album.

8. The Antlers – Familiars; Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else; Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE (10 plays)

Cymbals Eat Guitars surprised a lot of people with the leap forward that they took on LOSE, an ambitious, anthemic guitar rock masterpiece.  Cloud Nothings somehow came back with an even rawer record than Attack on Memory, and in the process became more of a cohesive group, with the furious drumming being a noteworthy highlight.  As for The Antlers, this is becoming old hat for them, because they once again delivered an incredible record, this time meditating on reconciling the internal struggle, dressed up in hauntingly gorgeous hooks.

7. Fucked Up – Glass Boys; Sharon Van Etten – Are We There? (11 plays)

We may have been in the minority with our disappointment in David Comes to Life, but Fucked Up more than made up for it with the punchy Glass Boys.  As for Sharon Van Etten, she continues to find the perfect balance between the pain and sadness of her lyrics and the beauty of her music.

6. The Black Keys – Turn Blue (13 plays)

Though there is probably a sizable contingent of people who are tired of The Black Keys at this point, we are not in that subset.  Turn Blue was the right step after the arena-rock of El Camino, and we love it when they collaborate with Danger Mouse.  Also, the guitar solos in “The Weight of Love” were probably the year’s best.

5. Interpol – El Pintor; Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 (14 plays)

After their disappointing self-titled album and the polarizing Our Love to Admire, Interpol gave itself a needed shot in the arm with El Pintor.  Though on paper it seems that dropping the band’s “secret weapon” Carlos D. was a bad idea, Paul Banks comfortably assumed those duties and seemed to reinvigorate the rest of the band with their strongest effort since Antics.  Run The Jewels proved that sequels can improve upon the originals, with Killer Mike throwing down some of the best verses of his career.

4. TV on the Radio – Seeds; The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream (15 plays)

A lot of critics seemed to have slept on Seeds, but any visit to see TV on the Radio on their latest tour should quiet any doubts that people had about the band.  It is an album about finding strength through loss, and the band crafted some of its best songs in the wake of the loss of bass player Gerard Smith.  The War on Drugs improved upon their initial breakthrough Slave Ambient by shaping their soundscapes into more cohesive “songs”, but the album is still a delight to listen to with the headphones cranked up to listen to all the different sonic details.

3. Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours; Peter Matthew Bauer – Liberation!; Spoon – They Want My Soul (17 plays)

It is fitting that two of the solo albums from one of our favorite bands would end up in a tie; though we mourn the apparent loss of The Walkmen, we should rejoice that we have been blessed with multiple excellent albums already.  Each captured distinct parts of their previous band’s sound–Hamilton’s penchant for vintage sounds, Peter with the charming raggedness of their music.  Spoon once again proved that they are the most consistently brilliant band in indie rock for the past 15 years, as They Want My Soul effectively captures the band’s past sound as well as finds new ways to innovate, with songs like “New York Kiss” and “Outlier”.

2. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits (19 plays)

This is perhaps the best example of the peculiarities of The Process, as the placement of Tomorrow’s Hits was partially inflated by just how much fun it is to drive around playing this record.  The band looked backwards for inspiration, re-configuring the sound of a bar band from the 70’s to create one of the most entertaining records of the year.  The Men have been busy throughout their career, releasing five records and five years, so we should probably be expecting a sixth record soon.

1. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World (23 plays)

We have been in love with this album since the second we heard the opening notes of “Trainwreck 1979”.  Death From Above 1979 made the most of the ten years off since their debut, finding the perfect balance between recreating the magic of their early work while moving ahead into new and exciting directions.  You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine still holds up hundreds of years later, and The Physical World looks like it will repeat the same feat.  The band still has the same ferocious energy as when they first burst on the scene, but it is clear that both Sebastien and Jesse have improved as musicians, finding new ways to create original music through the simple tools of bass and drums (with the occasional synth).  Hopefully we do not have to wait another ten years for the next step.

The Antlers, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

You might not expect it, but The Antlers can really bring the thunder live.  The band may be famous for its delicately gorgeous ballads, but they certainly know how to build to a climax and drop the hammer, and it makes for an excellent show.  I was excited to see the band headline the Crystal Ballroom last night, since I was finally getting to see them play a full set–previously, I had only seen them play a quick SXSW showcase event and half of a shortened set at MusicFestNW, and each time they had left me wanting more.  It turns out that even ninety-plus minutes is not enough either.

Up close and personal with The Antlers

Up close and personal with The Antlers

The crowd was disappointingly sparse, though those who did show up were often enthusiastic in their response.  Previously the band had played the Doug Fir, and the jump up to the cavernous Crystal Ballroom may have been a bit overzealous; if they booked the show at the Wonder Ballroom, it would have been much closer to a sellout.  The good news is that the acoustics and sound system of the Crystal, which often frustrate and stymie even the most experienced acts, proved to be a good fit for the band’s haunting chords and gorgeous melodies.  Occasionally Peter’s guitar would find itself buried in the mix or a trumpet would pop a bit too much, but these were very minor concerns.

The band overall played brilliantly, with Darby and Tim mesmerizing the crowd with their ability to simultaneously play keys and horn parts, and Michael Lerner serving up some bombast with his work behind the kit.  The drums are often overshadowed on the album by the other instrumental parts, but they help the songs take on a whole new dimension live, giving real weight to the low end and providing unexpected rhythmic kicks–for example, in their stunning performance of “I Don’t Want Love” from their previous album Burst Apart, Lerner would add an extra beat on the kick drum leading into the chorus that helped drive the anticipation for its big release, and helped create some great tension by utilizing a snare pattern that danced around the expected beat with the final chorus.  Peter also showed signs that he is an underrated guitarist with some sneaky displays of his chops, ranging from a couple of excellent and tasteful guitar solos to a one-handed pull-off chord technique that helped spark even more intensity from their performance of “Putting the Dog to Sleep”.

The Antlers up on the big board.

The Antlers up on the big board.

The band took an intriguing approach to their setlist, primarily running through their latest album Familiars front-to-back, with older songs filtered in on occasion.  There were murmurs in the crowd for older material, namely from their classic album Hospice, but they still showed their appreciation for the newer material.  As the night went on, the band gradually loosened up in their interactions with the crowd, including a memorable exchange where Peter acknowledged the “holiday” and pulled an April Fool’s Day prank by signalling that they were about to play a new song, before quickly correcting the record.  What made this simple joke even better was Darby’s confession soon after that he had panicked a bit, wondering what it could possibly be that they were playing since they had not written any new material yet, as well as Peter’s suggestion that the audience come up with better stories of the “prank” the band had pulled.

Though The Antlers never played “Two” or “Bear” as some members of the crowd requested, the show did feature intense performances of “Kettering” and the heart-wrenching “Epilogue”, and the arrangements of the newer songs also infused them with an extra vitality.  Perhaps word of mouth will lead to a better turnout the next time the band plays Portland.

I didn’t get a chance to see the first band, but the second openers Shaprece was pleasantly delightful.  She had a wonderful voice, and the use of a cello helped add an extra dimension to the glitch-pop R&B that other artists like fka Twigs are popularizing.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 22 Edition)

Kicking off the official beginning of fall (even if it begins a day later this year) with some new music and videos…

Jeff Tweedy is set to release the album (Sukierae) he recorded with his son Spencer tomorrow, and the duo stopped by the NPR offices to perform as a part of their “Tiny Desk Concerts” series.

The Antlers have another gorgeous, dreamy video from Familiars, this time for the song “Refuge”.  Not much actually happens, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying all the pretty colors.

If you’re in the mood for a little more action in your music videos, and don’t mind handling a bit of the bizarre, then check out the video for the Suicide-inspired track “Grid” by Perfume Genius, whose new album Too Bright is also set to come out tomorrow.

King Tuff’s new album “Black Moon Spell” is also set to be released on the 23rd, and if you’re quick you can listen to a stream of the glam-rock album on NPR right now.  The title track is the best song that T. Rex never released, if you ask me.

Kele Okereke from Bloc Party will be releasing his second solo album on October 13, and today released the second single from Trick.  Listen to “Coasting” here.

On Friday we linked to Pitchfork’s extensive interview with Richard D. James, but we we wanted to make sure that you saw this video that was linked to in the article of an early performance of “Aisatsana”, featuring a piano swung across the stage as if it were a pendulum.  That should be enough of a signal for you to watch:

And finally, Carl Newman and Neko Case from the New Pornographers talked to NPR about what it takes to write a good pop song, and the piece includes video of their performance at the Brill Building which gave their new album its name.  Unfortunately, the piece also didn’t include Neko’s cover of the Squidbillies theme song, but we got you covered.

MusicFestNW 2014

Portland celebrated MusicFestNW this past weekend, and it looked a little different than it had in past years.  Instead of a colder, wetter version of SXSW (with a city more equipped to handle the traffic), we got a Northwest version of the current incarnation of Lollapalooza and other similar festivals.  We didn’t have to buy tickets to multiple venues and plan across a whole week, but instead had a two-day festival in a specific part of the gorgeous Waterfront Park, soaking in that last bit of summer before the inevitable gloomy fall.

We decided to skip the first day since there were no acts that seemed worthy of shelling out the extra money for another day of tickets (with all apologies to Run the Jewels, for whom it would probably be worth to pay a full-day’s admission to see on their own).  I’m going to avoid the opportunity to talk smack about bands for whom I don’t particularly care, because we here at Rust Is Just Right try to set ourselves apart by not indulging in condescending snark and instead promote what we enjoy.  But in private, let’s just say there were a lot of good burns that were shared.

Portland's Waterfront Park, on a non-MusicFest day.

Portland’s Waterfront Park, on a non-MusicFest day.

Our plan on Sunday was to catch the lineup starting from The Antlers until the end, but thanks to several accidents on I-5 our ETA was delayed by about an hour.  Luckily, we still caught the last few songs of The Antlers’ set, a circumstance which mimicked my previous limited encounter with their live show when they only performed a short showcase at SXSW.   One would think that their delicate and fragile songs would not be ideal for a live show, especially in a large festival setting, but once again I came away extremely impressed with their performance.  We were caught wandering around the backside of the cordoned-off grounds for “I Don’t Want Love” (mistaking beliving that there would be entrances on the bridge side), but we were still able to hear the devastating power of the song even filtered through the backstage equipment.

The Antlers: "Music Band Northeast, glad to play Music Fest Northwest."

The Antlers: “Music Band Northeast, glad to play Music Fest Northwest.”

Once we finally settled in to the proper area, we heard a couple of songs from their latest album Familiars.  I haven’t yet internalized the nuances of those songs, but I can assure you that they come off very well in a live setting.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was their last song, “Putting The Dog To Sleep”.  It’s a great closer on Burst Apart, but given the specific nature of the song, it wouldn’t appear to be the most natural way to end a set.  The song was as cathartic as expected, but the band added an additional musical twist: first they began the natural breakdown of the song, taking pains to stretch out the chord progression while keeping the resolution slightly out of reach, but then building the song back up with an extended instrumental section that dazzled the crowd.

You know this was from early in the set because Damian Abraham's shirt is still on.

You know this was from early in the set because Damian Abraham’s shirt is still on.

We then made our way to the other end of the park, where Fucked Up was set to perform next–a transition that ranks among the most jarring ever scheduled at a music festival.  Here is a great opportunity for praising the new setup of the festival, as this allowed minimal time wasted between different acts as they had the necessary amount of time to setup without holding the crowd hostage, and the distance between the two sets was both short enough for the walk to not be burdensome while long enough so that there was not any bleedthrough between the two stages.  Someone deserves some extra kudos for that solid planning.

We’ve shown our love before with our glowing review of Glass Boys, but even we were taken aback at just how awesome Fucked Up’s set was at MusicFest.  I’m willing to claim that their hour-long set alone was worth the price of admission for the full day’s lineup.   There’s really nothing quite like seeing the giant hulking mass of positive energy that is Damian Abraham working his way through the crowd, giving hugs to folks passing by, climbing on top of the fence to sing out to the people on the river, and high-fiving a baby as the band ferociously kept up and played in lockstep.  Seriously, Pink Eyes high-fived a baby–that immediately became an all-time top-five concert moment for me personally.

Pink Eyes, now sans shirt.

Pink Eyes, now sans shirt.

I believe most of the set was from Glass Boys and David Comes To Life, though I will admit that sometimes it can be difficult to tell certain songs apart.  At least none of my personal favorites from The Chemistry of Common Life came up, though the rarity “I Hate Summer” made a welcome appearance, with a thoughtful introduction from Abraham on how one shouldn’t listen to personal attacks from others who are merely trying to shame people for no good reason.  He also at other times mentioned the healthful benefits of weed and the terrible events occurring in Ferguson, MO, with each speech receiving thunderous applause.  The band was tight, as I mentioned, but also could have benefited from an extra volume boost to help compete with Abraham’s sharp bellow, and also to help distinguish between the various components of their three-guitar attack.  Unfortunately, it seemed that the raucous set eventually drove the crowd away, as it seemed after their initial welcome that many people grew tired of listening to an hour of hardcore, and eventually made their way back to the other end of the park.  Then again, perhaps it was the heat finally getting to a few people, and the need to stock up on food.  I hope it was the latter, because Fucked Up deserved a new wave of fans after that performance.

A glimpse of the color of tUnE-yArDs

A glimpse of the color of tUnE-yArDs

We had previously seen tUnE-yArDs when they opened up for The National only a few months ago, and in between it seems the set morphed from less a capella and looped percussion to more synths and live percussion.  That’s not to say that the music was any more conventional–there is still a dominant left-of-center sensibility.  For those who are unfamiiliar, the music of tUnE-yArDs is filled with complicated rhythms and tribal influences with world music type lyrics.  In other words, at many points through the set I thought I was living through a real-life Portlandia sketch.  Despite this vague feeling of uneasiness, I still really enjoyed the tUnE-yArDs set, as did the hundreds of other people that packed the listening area.

I ate a lamb gyros.

I ate a lamb gyros.

We ate dinner during HAIM.  Mine was delicious.

I save my worst photography for last.

I save my worst photography for last.

Spoon closed out the festival with a fantastic headlining performance, with a setlist that went deep into their catalog.  You may have noticed that we here at this site love the band quite a bit, and let’s just say that we loved every minute of their show.  Britt Daniel, former Portland resident (who gave a shoutout to SE during “Black Like Me”), remarked that it had been a long time since their last show in the city, back when they performed at the Crystal Ballroom in 2009; as an attendee of that concert, I could only shout out “too long!”

Just to show that the festivities extended into the night.

Just to show that the festivities extended into the night.

In their live show, Spoon manages to perfectly balance between precision and spontaneity, as the band can maintain both a perfect verisimilitude of their albums and allow for individual players to freak out and revel in the moment.  The band mixed in a healthy amount of their stellar new album They Want My Soul, and even some of the more experimental tracks like “Outlier” and “Inside Out” sounded perfectly at home within the set.  The crowd roared when they heard old favorites like “Small Stakes” and “I Turn My Camera On”, but saved their most appreciative response for the hits from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga like “Don’t You Evah” and “The Underdog”.  Personally, I was glad to finally hear some of Transference live, including an extremely passionate performance of “Got Nuffin'”, and to witness at least one Girls Can Tell song, the sublime “Anything You Want”.  The only odd part was that besides Britt there seemed to be several band members that wanted to get out of the show in a hurry–the band ended up doing two encores, which seemed to be partly the result of some poor time budgeting.  It may have been the result of getting used to one-hour slots on various festivals and not properly adjusting to a headlining 90-minute slot, but from a distance I could see the look on some of the faces of the band members that they were hoping to cut things shot.  Despite this, Spoon more than justified taking the top spot on the bill; I’m just hoping for a proper show at some point from these guys in the near future.

Over the Weekend (Aug. 4 Edition)

Kicking off the week with some videos and various other fun ephemera…

Janelle Monáe released the music video for the title track of last year’s brilliant release, The Electric Lady.  Pitchfork gives a rundown of the various cameos in the video, as well as some notes about how both Michelle and Barack Obama are big fans of Janelle.  I personally would love to see the “dancing” video that is apparently in Janelle’s possession.

Mark Lanegan sits down for an interview with The Quietus, and it’s always interesting to hear what the former frontman for the Screaming Trees/one of the greatest voices in rock from the past three decades has to say.

The AV Club Inventory this week is various songs that essentially declare the mission statement of the band–which involves stating the name of the band in the title at some point.  Elsewhere on the site, they have Andrew Jackson Jihad doing a piss-take of Stone Temple Pilot’s “Plush”, turning it into a type of early-80’s nervy punk tune, a la Devo.

The Antlers stop by WFUV for a performance, and you should check it out because they also have links to previous sessions that the band did for the studio.

And finally, Vulture takes a look at all the different movie soundtracks that hit the top of the Billboard charts since Purple Rain, with the exact amount of snark you should expect.

Review: The Antlers – Familiars

It’s probably hard to discuss an album from The Antlers without comparing it to their previous work at this point, at least for me.  Familiars is an absolutely gorgeous album, one that’s well worth exploring for hours on end with headphones cranked as high as you can stomach, which should be enough to recommend it on its own merits.  But from a critical perspective, it begs to be analyzed in comparison with the band’s previous work.  Fortunately, in my opinion, that only enhances the excellence of the album, though I wonder how useful this perspective is for the novice.

The good news is that this should be easy to fix.  To those of you who are new to The Antlers, I recommend that you stop whatever it is that you’re doing and you immediately go and purchase a copy of Hospice, their breakthrough album (at least among the music critic intelligentsia; while it made several Top 10 lists in 2009, I would highly doubt that it sold more than a hundred thousand copies, much less went Gold or above).  I would prefer that you get in the car and drive to your closest independent record store, but I understand that may be a significant demand of some of our readers, so I will let a quick purchase online slide…this time.  It’s not a difficult listen, like most critics’ faves are; in fact, it’s filled with huge melodic hooks and incredibly moving instrumentals, all hanging on an easily digestible allegorical storyline of a disintegrating relationship between a nurse and a terminally ill cancer patient.  Though the subject matter is bleak (and the lyrics often make this abundantly clear–if you don’t feel at least the beginning of tears when listening to the bridge of “Two” or the end of “Wake”, then it is possibly that you are an android), The Antlers are able to provide enough hope through their music that the listener knows that just because these are the worst emotions you can deal with, that does not mean that this is the end; there is still the possibility of triumph, the chance that redemption is still possible.

Burst Apart dealt with similar emotions, this time substituting the dying patient narrative with a more conventional analysis of the end of a romantic relationship, while also expanding the band’s sonic palette.  Hospice often relied on toy instruments or thin sounds, but Burst Apart was built on expanding the sonic depth of each instrument.  It’s this path that The Antlers continue on with Familiars.  The musical exploration is not necessarily with chord progressions or melodies, but instead on textures and deepening the general sound.  Think of playing a piano, where instead of relying on three notes to determine the shape of a chord, instead the entirety of both hands is used to give the maximum amount of color with each chord.  It’s in this regard where we see the evolution of the band’s sound.  For example, the single “Hotels” in many ways would sound like it could easily fit on Burst Apart (in fact, it shares many melodic similarities with “I Don’t Want Love”), but there are enough nuances in the song that distinguish it from its predecessors.

There are numerous slight subtle musical touches that reveal themselves after multiple listens, especially on the second half of the album.  The upright bass on “Revisited” is a particularly striking example: the particular tone of the upright as opposed to the typical electrical bass provides an excellent counterpoint to the melodies occurring simultaneously over the top.  This is typical of the areas where The Antlers are content with exploring throughout Familiars, and rarely does the band attempt the big hooks found in either Hospice or Burst Apart.  All the choruses and climaxes are the result of slow burning builds instead of sudden explosions; that is to say there are no counterparts to say the fiery refrain of “Bear” or the catchy jangle of “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”.  This can make it a disappointing listen at first, but hopefully it’s apparent that there is more lurking below the surface that’s worth exploring.  The band takes its time with each track, furthering the process the band began with the stop-gap Undersea EP, with nearly every track clocking in above the five-minute mark (with the two below it coming in at 4:59 and 4:56).  That said, the songs rarely lose focus and should hold the listener’s attention throughout.

I haven’t been able to deduce whether there is a coherent story or theme throughout Familiars, but it’s probably worth noting that the lyric sheet has alternating lyrics in italicized and normal print, indicating multiple viewpoints at the very least.  The good news is that the music underneath seems to be worthy enough of continued exploration that it’s still probably a productive use of time to determine the overarching story.  It’s hard for a band to continue to impress after an artistic triumph like Hospice, but The Antlers are providing a good roadmap on how it can be done.

Catching Up On The Week (June 13 Edition)

For those of you who survive Friday the 13th and the full moon, here are some #longreads to get around to on your weekend.

Earlier this week, we had our review of Hamilton Leithauser’s solo debut, but for those of you who need an additional fix of The Walkmen, Drowned in Sound has the stream for Peter Matthew Bauer’s solo record Liberation! available on their site.  The stream wasn’t working for me when I checked, but maybe it will for you; at the very least, you can read Bauer’s track-by-track guide to the album.

Next week also sees the release of Familiars from the Antlers, and Pitchfork caught up with them for an interview.  The band talks about a couple of unexpected inspirations for the new album, including Twin Peaks and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Johnny Greenwood recently announced that Radiohead is taking a year off, which I guess counts as news if you were looking around and noticed, hey, it’s been…over a year since The King of Limbs, but people are reporting this anyway.  Read up to see what adventures Johnny has gone on in the meantime, and while you do that, be sure to check out these pictures that fifth graders drew after being subjected to Hail to the Thief.

Stereogum has a look back at Hot Fuss, since we celebrate the ten year anniversary of every decent album that we at the very least half-way remember/are likely to sing a couple songs while drunk at karaoke.  (Everybody thinks that they can sing “All These Things That I’ve Done”, but it’s tougher than it seems–they could probably do “Mr. Brightside” however, since the vocal melody is basically the same pitch throughout the song (that said, I still enjoy the album)).  However, this provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look in the days before their breakthrough release, and is worth checking out.

AV Club finishes up their “Fear of a Punk Decade” feature with a look at 1999 and…Jimmy Eat World, because that pretty much says everything you need to remember about punk in 1999.  Granted, there’s a much more in-depth discussion of a lot of other bands, but let it be known that was the hook to get you reading.

Normally we tend to keep things strictly music-related on this site, but considering the subject’s connection to music, we’ll say that you should take a look at The Hollywood Reporter’s quest  for answers to the suicide of Searching for Sugarman director Malik Bendjelloul.

And finally, SPIN interviews Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings about his recent collaboration with Wavves.  We’re pretty excited to see what the final result of that combination will be.

Over the Weekend (June 9 Edition)

Let’s kick off the week with some fun videos and some new music, shall we?

Probably the best thing that I saw this weekend (aside from the news that Bill Watterson made a surprise return to the comics page) was this video of Sir Mix-a-Lot performing his classic hit “Baby Got Back” with the Seattle Symphony.  The last time we saw this kind of synergy between the classical music and hip-hop worlds was back at the ’96 Hullabalooza Festival, when the London Symphony Orchestra performed “Insane in the Brain” with Cypress Hill.

It’s definitely worth checking out the Oral History of the song as well.

That was not the only salacious thing to happen this weekend–it appears that Neil Young’s Twitter account was hacked, and followers ended up receiving a bunch of porn suggestions.  Apparently, all is well now, so you’ll need to check in with another classic rock legend for your porn fix (as a commenter pointed out, David Crosby would probably be a great bet).

The biggest news from this morning (or late last night, if you were up) was the surprise release of the first half of the new double-LP from Death Grips, the powers that b (though they do have a penchant for this sort of thing).  It’s available for free from their Facebook, and after a couple of listens this afternoon, I can say it’s actually a less-rambunctious release than you might expect (I do love that the automatic genre tag that appears when you load into iTunes is “Pop”, though).  And you’ll see a lot of mention that Björk does guest vocals on each track, though her appearance shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

A couple of links to check out from NPR–first, there’s Spoon performing the brand new track “Rent I Pay” live in New York; and speaking of New York, they also have the early stream of Familiars from NYC’s The Antlers.  In the email sent to fans about the stream, The Antlers mentioned that there will be limited edition white label copies of the LP available at some of the band’s favorite independent record stores.

Pitchfork has Father John Misty performing a cover of recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Cat Stevens’s “Trouble”, released as part of the soundtrack to a documentary on Hal Ashby.  The site also has news that Steven Drozd and Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips are releasing an album as “Electric Würms”, with Steven assuming more traditional front-man duties and Wayne backing on bass.

And finally, because we’re always fans of what our favorite Portland heavy metal band is up to, check out Red Fang discussing their influences in this interview with Loudwire.  A few of their choices may surprise you.

Catching Up On The Week (May 23 Edition)

We hope everyone has an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend, and if you find yourself with some time on your hands, here are a few handy #longreads.

We’ve had previous coverage on the Will Ferrell/Chad Smith drum-off before, and last night the two finally battled it out to see who is the superior look-alike.  Rolling Stone has a write-up and video of their joint appearance on The Tonight Show, and yes cowbell is involved.  For those who want to minimize their exposure to Jimmy Fallon, here’s the footage of the face-off.

Jack White is doing the rounds in preparation for the release of his newest solo effort, and a wide-ranging interview with Rolling Stone is getting some attention.  Since I got the news secondhand, I’m linking to the SPIN article discussing some of the highlights, such as his relationship these days with Meg White and the fact that he doesn’t use a cell phone.

SPIN got their own scoop when they interviewed The Antlers for their upcoming album, and the band discusses their different approach for Familiars.

The Quietus talked to Joey Santiago of the Pixies and he discussed his 13 favorite albums with the magazine.

And so that you’re all caught up when you’re back at work next week, here’s the article discussing Tupac’s last words before he died.