Category Archives: Album Review

Album Review: Static Jacks – In Blue

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New Jersey’s Static Jacks released their debut LP If You’re Young in 2011. Garnering a few solid reviews, it was overall a straightforward garage rock album that was easy to enjoy and acted mostly as a straight blast of adrenaline. Their live show backed it up, and it wasn’t a stretch the call them the best band to come out of the Garden State in quite some time. Unfortunately, the genre itself had been on the commercial decline for a while at that point and is still even now, so it’s no surprise that a great debut from a ‘rock’ band didn’t make the impact it should have.

In 2013, they make a point of growing up a bit with new record In Blue, and their slightly tweaked sound might suit them even better than the indie punk outfit they wore on their debut. For one, this album sounds far fuller then their LP prior, and honestly makes it sound ‘scrappy’ in comparison. That’s likely on account of Andrew Maury (RAC, Tegan and Sara, Ra Ra Riot) handling production duties, as he did on the excellent Spray Tan EP they released last year.

There’s a sonic comparison to be made with Cage the Elephant here, but instead I’ll say that they’ve definitely taken a few Pixies cues in terms of tone and dynamics. “Wallflowers” makes the best use of the loud-soft structure, and was an obvious choice for a lead-off single. The best thing about these songs compared to older tracks is that the band seems more comfortable in slowing down the pace and letting the music breathe a bit. “Home Again” is a nice example of this, keeping a brisk tempo yet still coming off as nothing but relaxed, even during its big (mostly) instrumental chorus.

While If You’re Young had a fair share of British indie rock comparisons, they aren’t really present here. “Ninety Salt” makes good on the opening track’s hook, coming off as the most epic song the band’s recorded and another obvious choice for a single. “Katie Said” is another standout cut, and feels like the 80’s without necessarily sounding like the decade itself. They’ve gone for that reverb-drenched effect before, but this might be the most well-written song they’ve done in the style and really shows off some range in terms of what the Jacks can pull off. Penultimate track “People Don’t Forget” even has some piano laced through it, and another catchy chorus to get stuck in your head before “Greensleeves” closes the record, sounding like a shinier Titus Andronicus with a better sense of melody.

Now it’s time for the big questions. Will this record be commercially noticed in an electropop filled 2014? Will rock and roll be reignited and overtake dubstep? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great album from a band that deserves to be listened to by far more people. The Static Jacks found their sound a while ago, and they still just keep improving on it. Let’s see where they go next…

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Album Review: Saint Motel – Voyeur

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Saint Motel knows how to not overuse a piano, which these days is truly a gift for any newer indie pop band. I just got around to listening to their excellent debut LP Voyeur, and I have to say it’s one of the most consistent releases I’ve heard in quite some time. The entire album is brimming with life and has enough energy to make even the shyest of dinner-party guests start to move. Either as background music or on a purposed playlist, the songs are extremely listenable and it’s obvious that time and consideration was put into each individual track.

‘Puzzle Pieces’ is based around an exuberant, irresistible piano line that just doesn’t quit, and it’s just about one of the easiest things to get stuck in your head ever. ‘Benny Goodman’ is the other track that really blows out their sound to add fiery horns and a bit of sampling, both done in the best way possible. Honestly, listening to these two tracks will make you quite inclined to investigate the rest of their work, and you’ll find every song is satisfying to equal degrees. Saint Motel is consistent, and are smart to have some very diverse songs packed together on Voyeur.

Comparison-wise, I’d say the group could fall in rank with bands like Cheers Elephant and Izabo (an Israeli indie rock band who are equally  incredible and bolster my hipster cred). What’s cool is that Saint Motel isn’t scared to adopt a bit of a 70s pastiche on some songs, combining their signature sound with the past and making the album have a bit of a classic feel despite being so new. Overall, the band is fun, enjoyable, and in need of more fans like yourself. Enjoy!

Album Review: Boxed Wine – Cheap, Fun EP

Seems I haven’t posted on here for a ‘bit.’ I’ve been a tad busy with the real world, but I figured if I liked something enough, then I should probably write about it.

Boxed Wine just put out their second EP last week, as a preview of an album that should be out in the Spring. They describe themselves as ‘indie party pop,’ and this looks to be just that. In a time when so many bands are afraid of the term ‘pop’ on account of it sounding mainstream, the band bats a blind eye and throws their cards in. The results are exactly what one would expect; catchy, simple songs about having a good time.

The first track is “Bones,” and has a bit of a rockier sound than the other two, and might remind fans of their first EP. Still, it’s sonically bigger than what they’ve done before and is more along the lines of Young the Giant than Two Door Cinema Club.

“Boomerang” is next, and that’s where they find a pop groove that could legitimately get people dancing. If you don’t get the damn title stuck in your head, there may just be something wrong with you, with the band coming off a bit like the child of Hot Hot Heat and MGMT. Weird, I know.

It’s on the last track, “Dayglow,” where they start to really stray from their formula. It’s still poppy, but the dance element sticks through more than anything else. The beat sounds like a Pitbull b-side more than an indie rock band from New Jersey, but somehow Boxed Wine makes it work. This might be where they’re going with their sound, but all three tracks could point to a possible direction change.

Overall, the band gets to the point, and maybe that’s what we really need in 2013?  With the indie scene how it is, it’s kind of refreshing to hear a band honestly describe themselves and not come off as pretentious. Hopefully this EP doesn’t have the best songs from their album, but being how different their songs have been up until now, I don’t even know what to expect. All I know is that it might be cool, and will definitely be fun.

Album Review: Arctic Death – Arctic Death

I can’t believe I forgot to write about Arctic Death. The East Aurora band’s self-titled record came out last July and I immediately fell in love with it. When you only have three instruments in a band, it can be a bit difficult to sound completely original.  This is especially true when the instruments are bass, guitar, and drums (aka ‘the basics’).  For Arctic Death, they solved the problem with inventive song structures, enough hooks to kill a whale, and an incredibly unique lead singer.  Their music can be placed under a general indie rock banner, but I honestly haven’t heard a band that sounds anything like them. Ever.

“Bathe My Heart” is the perfect album opener, slowly growing more anthemic as it goes on and turning into a full on sing along by the end. “Sisters” is another standout, having quite a few different sections to it, all of which are memorable (like this sentence). The song is a pretty much the album in a nutshell, so it’s definitely recommended.

“Basement Stars slows things down, but quickly turnes into a bouncing stomper, wile “Over” is the closest the band gets to straight up garage rock. “Trivial Honesty,” on the other hand, is full of angular guitars and might be a tad jarring at first.  In fact, the whole album might be jarring at first, particularly if one is not well versed in the scene it comes from. Bands like the Thermals and the Hold Steady might be prerequisite listenings, though I’m not sure how much the band is influenced by either.

The only negative thing I could find to say about Arctic Death is that it tends to blend together if you aren’t paying attention. This isn’t the fault of poor songwriting, but comes down to the tonal quality of the record. Only having three instruments that sound and are mixed exactly the same on almost every song can lead to this effect, no matter how individual the sound is itself. Hysterically, the one song that sounds sonically different is “One Throat to Choke,” and it’s last. Overall, this really is a great record when it comes right down to it, and you would be a fool to disregard it.

Album Review: Cheers Elephant – Like Wind Blows Fire

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How did I miss Cheers Elephant til now? The Philadelphia band is great and their just released third album, Like Wind Blows Fire, is better.  That doesn’t make sense, but I don’t need it to. You should be listening to this band.

“Peoples” has a Fitz and the Tantrums verse that flows into a Foster the People chorus. “Leaves” mantric vibe sounds like it could easily fit onto a Bombay Bicycle Club album, and Of Montreal mixes with Born Ruffians on “Party on Darwin.” Yes, I hear a lot of good bands in Cheers Elephant, and even Elvis’s spirit make an appearance in “Thought and Commonsense.”  The whole record is packed with memorable, and most importantly, unique songs. They form a great whole and a fantastic experience. The group even have a french chanson meets 70s AM radio hybrid. Ok this review is over, I’m going to get their other albums and see when they’re playing. Here’s a song:

Black Nash – Pleasure EP (Review at ESBM.com)

Pleasure Cover Art

I’ve got a review of Black Nash’s EP ‘Pleasure‘ over at Eat Sleep Breathe Music if anybody is interested in reading it!  CLICK HERE

Racecar Spacecar’s Top 50 Albums of 2011

Up until compiling this list, I was pretty sure 2011 was not a fantastic year for music.  Well, I may have been completely wrong.  There might not have been giant releases from the most prominent artists of our generation, but this is only because there are no more prominent artists of our generation.  The internet and availability of music has made anybody a contender for making a great record, and I believe it has become a complete toss up as to who makes a future classic in any given year.  Relax, for this is a good thing.  Here’s my big list of favorites in 2011.

50.  Miles Kane – Colour of the Trap  So this is why he is such good friends with Alex Turner (being an excellent songwriter).

49.  Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne  A perfect career move for the two friends (releasing a lighthearted ‘good-times’ album to stay relevant in a year you aren’t releasing major albums).

48.  Waters – Out in the Light  As much as I liked Port O’Brien, the band that’s risen from their ashes makes me not miss them much at all.

47.  Elanor Friedberger – Last Summer  Half of the Fiery Furnaces makes the best summertime pop album of this decade (also trounces anything made by her main band).

46.  Cults – Cults  I’m all for cuteness, but this might be the absolute limit.  Still, the songs are timeless, and that’s not an easy thing to do.

45.  Foster the People – Torches As per the excellent Hipster Runoff, this is the current definition of ‘mindie.’  It doesn’t mean it’s not great, but they left off “Chin Music for the Unsuspecting Hero,” and that was my favorite song.

44.  Foo Fighters – Waking Light  The realest hard rock album of the year, Foo Fighters prevail once again.  They haven’t made one wrong move in their whole career, and that is no easy feat.  Also, Dave Grohl is the coolest person alive.

43.  Jeff the Brotherhood – We are the Champions  A solid followup to Heavy Days, with improvements in literally every area.

42.  Hanni El Khatib – Will the Guns Come Out Jack White is a fan.  How could this not be great?

41.  Brick Mower – Under the Sink  The New Brunswick garage punks follow a promising EP with an album of possible singles.  Being how much they’ve toured, it’s surprising you haven’t seen them yet.

40.  Hair Rocket – Punishment Cookie  Pennsylvania’s answer to Spoon.  Catchy, minimalistic, and memorable.

39.  Bright Eyes – The People’s Key  Mr. Oberst gives us another solid collection of songs, pays homage to Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” and generally has a good year.

38.  Wild Flag – Wild Flag  I was never into Sleater-Kinney, but this album makes me curious to say the least.

37.  Cloud Nothings – Cloud Nothings  Dylan Baldi should have a very good 2012 if his constant betterment is any indication.

36.  Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto  Yes, I still like Coldplay.  I’m not ashamed; they are indeed talented.  As for this album, it’s pretty damn good and better than their last two.

35.  Destroyer – Kaputt  The best member of the New Pornographers releases yet another solo album.  Unsurprisingly, it is incredibly good while simultaneously sounding like nothing he’s done previously.

34.  Sondre Lerche – Sondre Lerche  Sondre Lerche finally has a record everyone wants to hear!  It’s not my favorite (Two Way Monolouge), but it’s got hits and that’s what counts.  And his live show is completely fantastic!

33.  Ruby Coast – Whatever This Is  Are we sure this isn’t Dave Monks in disguise?  Canada sure does produce great indie rock, that’s for sure.

32.  The Airborne Toxic Event – All At Once This is a well-rounded record that completely equals their debut. Brooding indie rock that flairs into Springsteen territory when the tempo picks up.

31.  Library Voices – Summer of Lust  If “Generation Handclap” doesn’t become a hit, I renounce my ability to predict hits.  I need to spend more time with this record, but propects look good.

30.  The Front Bottoms – The Front Bottoms  The most honest and confessional album of the year, by far.  It’s from some Jersey boys, too!

29.  Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix  While there are a few absolutely great songs (“Shuffle”), I had really high expectations for BBC on this album. It’s not bad in anyway, just a bit too electronic and experimental for somebody who loved their first album so much.  It’s still cool that the band hasn’t slowed down their growth in any way whatsoever, though.

28.  Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical  The best album yet from the rightfully backlashed original buzzband.  “Maniac” is one of the best songs of the year, hand down.

27.  Deer Tick – Divine Providence  The best good time party band gets the closest to recording their good time party sound yet.

26.  Cage the Elephant – Thank You Happy Birthday Frank Black was the producer/cowriter/joined the band for this album, right?  Seriously though, it isn’t even funny how much TYHB owes to the Pixies.  That’s quite a good thing, though.

25.  Mason Jennings – Minnesota  I’m biased toward Mason, but only because he’s the most consistently great singer songwriter I can think of.  His new album does nothing to tarnish this.

24.  Black Keys – El Camino  This is a powerhouse of an ‘blues’ album, and would probably be higher on the list if there were a few more weeks left in the year to warm up to it.

23.  Bosco Delrey – Everybody Wah  If rockabilly becomes an indie trend (let’s hope!), Bosco will be one of the main reasons for its resurgence.

22.  The Kooks – Junk of the Heart  With songwriting like Luke Pritchard’s, it’s hard to not make a good album.  I didn’t like this one at first, but separated from its two predecessors there is more than enough beauty to put it in this list.

21.  Ezra Furman and the Harpoons – Mysterious Power  I adore everything Ezra does.  He’s a Dylanesue genius and holds literally nothing back.  I don’t know why he’s not more famous, but it’s bound to happen sooner or later.  His band is also unbelievably solid and deserves their name after his.

20.  Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost  If you remove the background story, the hype, and the slowly developing myth, you have a bunch of great songs from a timeless kind of songwriter.  That’s what counts, Mr. Owens.

19. Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You  For a band that has been through as much as the Peppers, replacing their guitarist isn’t that big of a deal at this point.  Even if he is/was considered one of the best in the world, Mr. Keidis, Mr. Flea, and Mr. Smith still found a way to make one more incredible album to add to the resume.  Why so many people backlash against RHCP is something i’ll never understand, but probably comes from something other than the music itself.

18.  Tom Waits – Bad As Me  Nobody is as bad as Mr. Waits, and that is certainly the best thing about him.  The less experimental album is everything most fans could want at this point in his career.  The songs, are short, memorable, and of course brimming with the trademarks that have made so many people love him.  Then there’s the list of other greats he had the sway to have contribute (Richards, Claypool, Flea).

17.  Peter Bjorn and John – Gimme Some  Who thought PB&J could make an album as catchy and all killer, no filler?  Not me, that’s for sure.  But they did, and it’s sunny vibe ended up soundtracking my whole year.  It turns out we don’t care about the “Young Folks” after all…

16.  Black Lips – Arabia Mountain More of the same from the Black Lips, though it now sounds better than ever thanks to Mark Ronson.  The Black Lips don’t always come up on my playlist, but when they do I listen to nothing but them for a week.  Plus, their live show is the best thing ever.

15.  Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues  Nothing on Earth is as pretty as Robin Pecknold’s voice; this is a fact.  The first album was perfect, the second is more of the same but a bit more streched out and experimental.  Sonically, it might be better, but “Ragged Wood” is still their pinnacle for me so and I fell in love with other albums more than this.  It’s still the most beautiful thing released this year, along with…

14.  Bon Iver – Bon Iver  There really isn’t anything to say here that hasn’t already been said. It’s on everybody’s list, it’s gorgeous and beaming with intensity, and the world loves the first nine tracks.  This wasn’t a folkie year for me, otherwise it would have been higher.

13.  Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde  Dropping their lo-fi sound was the best thing Smith Westerns could have done, and adding such slick production greatly benefitted them when it fails so many others.  The best guitar line of the year is in “Weekend,” but “All Die Young” is the beating heart of the record.

12.  Wilco – The Whole Love  Everything Wilco does is now gold, and Jeff Tweedy’s voice will be of the ones that define this musical era of uncertainty.  The band is the standard by which the ;idea of being a great band’ is now measured.  My favorite song is “Dawned On Me,” because it sounds like something I’ve heard before.  I just can’t figure out what…

11.  The Drums – Portamento  The Drums do not put anything into their songs that doesn’t stay with you.  Whether it’s surk rock or aping the 80’s, the group’s sound is irresistably fun and endlessly catchy.  This is in humorous comparison to their gloom filled lyrics and mopey lead singer.  The band really hit a formula that works with their debut, and Portamento just adds to it and has way less filler.

10.  The Static Jacks – If You’re Young  British garage rock by way of New Jersey, The Static Jacks made one of the most consistent albums of the year and not nearly enough people have heard it.  That’s about it.

09.  Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See  Alex Turner must have had the realization that writing blisteringly fast garage rock would eventually cause his band to implode from shear intensity. It also wouldn’t let them play two hour long sets, which seems to be the Monkey’s goal at this point.  Being a musical institution is certainly better than being a flickering garage rock flame, and the band has now taken a stab at making what could easily be considered ‘classic’ rock and roll.  They’ve since succeeded tremendously.

08.  Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines  How do you followup one of the more promising debuts of the last five years?  Why, you just improve upon it of course.  Michael Benjamin Lerner did just that with the help of Chris Walla, taking the sound of Telekinesis! and diversifying it slightly.  They also figured out how to cram even more sugary melodies into the easy listening indie pop sound, which must have been no easy task in itself.  Throwing in a Paul Simon reference makes for a winner in my book.

07.  St. Vincent – Strange Mercy  It seems Annie Clark has had quite the year.  She’s gone from being a semi-unknown artist to being one of the leading taste makers in the indie scene.  Honestly, it’s about time.  Nobody does what she does, and if they try, it never comes out quite as good.  Plus, she can shred guitar!

06.  Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song  Quite the backstory, and more than enough songs to prove their sunny demeanor on this debut.  Grouplove seem to be quite content taking the happiest elements of the last fifty years and smashing them together into bright pop songs to be enjoyed by the masses.  I’m pretty sure the masses will actually start listening this year if given the chance.

05.  Little Comets – In Search Of Elusive Little Comets  This band probably has the coolest new sound of the year, in my opinion.  The songs are superbly melodic and honestly addictive, especially in the first half of this debut.  I have the highest expectations for Little Comets, and fully expect you will as well.

04.  The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?  Famously mysterious, infamously hyped by the British press, and a year later the Vaccines have come through the media blitz relatively victorious.  They survived the backlash, wrote some instantly simple and fantastic songs, and made a serious name for themselves in the declining world of guitar rock.  Well done, lads!
03.  The Postelles – The Postelles  Wait, this came out in 2010? Well, if Mumford and Sons can get nominated for a 2011 Grammy, then I can say this album is in my top 50 of the year.  Nothing was as packed with singles and fun vibes as much as the long delayed debut from this New York group, and they put on a fantastic live show to boot.

02.  The Strokes – Angles  My favorite band, their most underrated album, and I felt biased putting it here.  That is, until I went back and listened to its best songs.  Sure, not every tune is as stellar as the last 40 songs the group has released, but the few that are more than make up for it.  I’ve listened to my favorite five tracks more than enough to qualify this album for such a high spot, and I implore you to give the album a few more tries if it didn’t originally meet your fancy.

01.  Mister Heavenly – Out of Love  No, this isn’t me throwing a curve ball to make my list more interesting and cause controversy.  I was completely obsessed with this album for more than a month and it makes sense only if you can understand my personal love of drunk-crooner voices, doo-wop melodies, and Scott Pilgrim. Out of love really did it for me in 2011, and I hope this one off side project becomes a permanent fixture in the indiesphere.

 

Well, there it is.  Did I miss any?  Not enough dubstep?  Yeah, you’re right.  Well, here’s a few more to listen to…

Honorable Mentions:

Givers – Givers  Nowhere near as good as the EP, but still too fun to completely leave out.

Adam Taylor – No Poet  If this was an album instead of an EP, it would have easily been in the top ten.

Guards – Resolution of One EP  Prediction: Guards will be bigger than Cults.

The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love  “Miss You” will be in quite a few of my future playlists.  This is fact.

Beirut – The Rip Tide  It’s just as good as his previous albums, but Mr. Condon has fallen into a bit of a rut sonically.  This doesn’t mean he isn’t still a great songwriter.

Yuck – Yuck  I simply didn’t listen to this enough, and Jeff the Brotherhood really have me covered on dirty 90’s alt rock throwback bands.