ANCHOR & BRAILLE
The Quiet Life
(TOOTH & NAIL)
Airy electronica with plenty of soul
Anberlin frontman Stephen Christian returns with a follow-up to his 2009 side project, Anchor & Braille, presenting listeners with a confounding question: what happens when the side project is more interesting than the day job?
In 2009, Christian unveiled his electronic alter ego, Anchor & Braille, with the debut Felt, an elegant, melodic stroll through fields of jangly strings and pulsating beats, marking a wide step away from the sound of his primary gig. While Anberlin’s melodic brew is easily lost in the pop rock landscape, Christian’s solo project could not be so easily dismissed. In the vein of David Gray and Beth Orton, Christian rubbed stripped-down acoustic fare with the spices of pop and electronica and came out with something both innovative and supremely tasty.
Compelling though it was however, it seemed that A&B was doomed to oblivion. After all, Anberlin has kept Christian thoroughly occupied, releasing three albums (including a compilation) in as many years and the band are currently preparing for the release of their next full-length album, Vital, this fall. Nonetheless, over the course of three months at the front end of the year, Christian cobbled together a patchwork of A&B demos, working out of his home studio in Nashville along with keyboardist (and album co-producer/engineer) Kevin Dailey and guitarist Micah Tawlks. With admittedly no unifying lyrical theme and considering Christian’s sporadic attention to the project, any expectations beyond low would be laughably misguided, right?
Wrong. The Quiet Life is vastly superior to its impressive debut on all fronts, resplendent in hooks and bursting with lush sonic textures and soulful lyrics that are stunning in both charm and depth. The one-two punch of opener “Goes Without Saying” and “Knew Then Know Now” sparkle with piano-driven melodies, breezy verses and Christian’s soaring vocals. “Hymn for Her” and the meditative “Before I Start Dreaming” counterbalance the record’s peppier elements without feeling coincidental; Christian may have written The Quiet Life in spurts, but the result is a cohesive, blissed-out and immensely satisfying diversion from the bland synth pop clogging today’s mainstream. -Joe Daly
Key tracks: “Goes Without Saying,” “Knew Then Know Now,” “If Not Know When”
For fans of: Belle and Sebastian, The Decemberists, Broken Social Scene
The end of yellow fever?
In 1978, Dik Evans of The Hype fatefully walked offstage in the middle of a concert, inspiring the group to change their name to U2, who promptly skyrocketed to international fame, becoming one of the most successful bands on planet Earth. Though Deep Time’s name transition is not quite as dramatic, a legal spat has also spurred both a name change (the Austin, TX duo were formerly known as YellowFever), and greater success. Their new self-titled debut delivers sparse songwriting, chilling vocals by Jennifer Moore and pop beats from drummer Adam Jones—that gather and crest into a fuller, cleaner, and ultimately more mature take on surf-rock.
Both the name and sound alterations serve the pair well. Chillwave/surf-rock blasted indie rock wide open with bands like Grass Widow, Washed Out, and Graffiti Island, but pigeonholing Deep Time amounts to a tremendous disservice to band and listener. Their consummate musicianship transcends singular dimensions. Moore’s voice slinks and slithers over her guitar, sometimes with a perfect melody and at other times delivering a surprising twist. Listen as her fingers follow her vocal chords precisely on “Gilligan” then compare it to “Marathon,” where the stringed notes detach from the main ones to create a surprisingly complex melody before listeners realize what’s hit them.
Jones shines with rolling cymbals and powerful, tension-building bass drum on “Bermuda Triangle,” a revamped track from YellowFever days. He, like his bandmate, knows how to create musical levels that vary the instrumental focus, thus building an interesting and multifaceted sonic experience throughout the entire album. “You said it over and over: you’re done, you’re done, you’re done.” Moore declares on polka-inspired track “Gold.” YellowFever may be done, but Deep Time has just begun. -Tori Kerr
Key Tracks: “Gilligan,” “Marathon,” “Clouds”
For Fans Of: Weird Dreams, Graffiti Island, Ava Luna
Dazzling sounds from Easter Island
Full of shimmery guitars bathed in generous washes of reverb ,beneath wistful, lighter-than-air vocals, Frightened updates the shoegazing/dream-pop template with interesting results.Unlike many of the early shoegazers, though, the Payne brothers and crew don’t crank up the haze until it threatens to engulf everything in sight; the instruments retain definition, while vocals sit comfortably in the mix.
Befitting an album called Frightened, a palpable tension threads its way throughout the record―often created by big arrangements with surprisingly active percussion for otherwise mid-tempo songs, but just as often coming from the higher registers occupied by much of the vocals.
The instrumental “Laika” arguably stands as the album’s centerpiece, building from a whisper to an anthemic peak before gliding gently to an end. Its cinematic scope could signal an ambition to bigger things (think Radiohead or Coldplay), but this doesn’t diminish its visceral impact.
Masterfully-sequenced, Frightened approximates the experience of a concert in its pacing. If “Laika” is the show’s climax, then “The Light” is the set-ending cool-down, “Gray Tee” the kickass encore, and ‘Can’t Take You Anywhere” the mid-tempo show closer where the audience breaks out their lighters and cell phones. Quite a show. -Kevin J. O’Conner
Key Tracks: “Weekend,” “Frightened,” “Laika”, “Gray Tee”
For Fans of: shoegaze, dream-pop
A summer not as eternal as National Lampoon’s.
Eternal Summers master two genres with their latest album, Correct Behavior: dream-pop and post-punk. Each song perfectly fits into one of the two like puzzle pieces snapping into place. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with such easy classification, but this album is not the place to find groundbreaking, genre-busting stuff. In the mood for indie pop while also conveniently sick of Real Estate? Done. Nostalgic for 80’s post-punk? Done and done.
Formerly a duo comprised of Nicole Yun and Daniel Cundiff, Eternal Summers wisely round out their sound with the addition of bassist Jonathan Woods to the mix. His pumping rhythms elevate the tempos, keeping them from getting locked in another label, the “minimalist guy-girl band.” Yun’s sleepy vocals on “Disappear” and “Summerset” could be featured in a soundtrack of any Molly Ringwald film, probably in scenes of daydreams, lip-locks—or both. But the Roanoke, VA group also cranks the volume with heavier tunes like “Wonder” and “Heaven and Hell.” One notable track, “Girls in the City,” features Cundiff talk-singing, a combination of The Cure’s “A Forest” and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth—1980’s references abound.
Eternal Summers may find themselves lost in the mass of 80s revival indie bands. They have yet to find a unique niche, one that will differentiate from contemporaries Summer Camp, Youth Lagoon, and The Drums. If the Virginians add volume, they will become garage rock; if they become any softer, listeners will snub them for imitating Beach House. Where their future lies, no one knows. But Correct Behavior is good enough for now. -TK
Key Tracks: “You Kill,” “Girls in the City”
For Fans Of: Dum Dum Girls, Young Prisms, Reading Rainbow
British groove rock colossus release another spectacular project for America to ignore
Following in the ignominious tradition of Oasis and the Stone Roses, dance rock giants Kasabian have gone largely unacknowledged here in the States. Perhaps the US doesn’t know how to categorize their groovalicious blend of synths and good old-fashioned guitar rock, but one spin through this concert film will showcase how dearly American audiences are being cheated. Hooky riffs, dance club beats and gigantic walls of electric guitar drive a setlist full of hits like “Velociraptor!” “Fast Fuse,” “Underdog,” along with their massive hit “Clubfoot” (which did, in fact, crack the US). Half the fun of this video is watching the lights wash over the audience as they dance, pogo, shimmy and shake. This is every bit a party (how do you spell “MDMA?”) and the well-paced set leaves plenty of room for audience singalongs and prolonged jams. In addition to the concert film, there is an audio CD with most, but not all of the songs from the show, as well as a documentary. -JD
Key tracks: “Underdog,” “Clubfoot,” “Fire”
For fans of: Oasis, Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys, Happy Mondays
“The greatest band you’ve never heard of”
Not all band re-formations have to suck.
Vulnerable Boy, The Mommyheads’ fourth album for Dromedary, continues the resurgence which began with the band’s return to action in 2008, after a decade apart following their disastrous late-’90s major-label experience.
The Mommyheads may indeed be “the greatest band you’ve never heard of,” as the tagline adorning the top of the mommyheads.com fansite declares. Proving they’re no one-note Johnnys (as if this were even necessary!), Vulnerable Boy is full of memorable hooks, tight arrangements, solid musicianship, and a variety sadly lacking among most other bands―even the good ones.
Among the highlights: Both funny and touching, “My Intruder” alternates biting jealousy with sober reflection. Nerd anthem (see the video) “Skinny White Uptight” steams ahead with the guitar hook from Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll, Hoochie-Coo” supplying irony and humor. Bonus track (a meaningless designation anymore, really) “No One Gives a Damn About Your Band” may just be the perfect song to describe the current music scene.
If you are going to give a damn about a band, however, The Mommyheads deserve your consideration. Polished but not slick, armed with a sense of humor, the charts should really be theirs for the taking. -KJO
Key Tracks: “My Intruder,” “Skinny White Uptight,” “Devastate Me,” “Out on the Cliffs,” “No One Gives a Damn About Your Band”
For Fans of: Gigolo Aunts, power pop
“Futuristic classic rock” from a bunch of guys who have never met. Still.
The intersection of digital music formats and broadband cable has changed music forever; most notably in the way people are able to steal it. 1999 ended not just the 90s, but the music industry as we knew it, allowing music lovers to share music quickly, easily, and of course, illegally. Although the financial hit continues to cut across the abdomen of modern music, the same technology that changed the way music is shared has also profoundly altered the way music is made. No band on the planet exemplifies this brave new world more completely than My Son the Bum. They have no manager, nor do they have a label, but here’s the mind-blower: the four musicians have never shared the same room. Ever. Hell, the singer and the drummer have never even met. Yet My Son the Bum have released five fascinating albums, culminating with this summer’s Flipside of a Fairytale, a far-flung rocking affair that interweaves futuristic sound bytes and post-rock textures into straightforward, hard-hitting shit-kickers that guitarist/songwriter Brian Kroll classifies as “futuristic classic rock.” Is it a gimmick? Perhaps. Certainly one could easily question a band’s strategic vision if they have released five albums without ever meeting, let alone playing a concert. Nonetheless, Flipside of a Fairytale is a playful, joyous rock fest full of funky James Gang-flavored riffs, big shout-out choruses and hip-shaking rhythms that abundantly explain how this band has managed to amass such an enthusiastic international following. “Money is the Whip” ignites the party with blues rock swagger that evokes shades of Motown, although the sound is pure rock. “Cerebrum” seethes with fiery electric riffs that, for safety reasons, should only be played outdoors and “Dangerous Playground” is an instant dance rock classic. Must be heard to be believed. -JD
Key tracks: “Dangerous Playground,” “Money is the Whip,” “Eftera Siskos”
For fans of: The Black Crows, Santana, Five Horse Johnson
“…as devastating as it is gentle”
A simple collage featuring a naked woman on a fake horse adorns the cover of Ormonde’s debut, Machine. She looks back over her shoulder at the camera; in the distance, across a lake, lies a small castle amidst a blurry landscape of rolling green hills under blue skies. It’s a striking image, dream-like and vaguely unsettling.
A haziness permeates the album―with heavy atmosphere and measured, almost detached vocals in abundance―as though it were recorded under the influence of The Beatles’ “Blue Jay Way.” In fact, the sonic influence of circa 1966–67 Beatles records holds sway throughout. “Secret” even features an oddly disembodied guitar solo that would not have sounded out of place on Revolver; while it’s easy to hear elements of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Lovely Rita” in “Cherry Blossom.” The frequent use of mellotron adds a prog feel here and there―fortunately, without prog’s frequent lapses into pretension.
This works both for and against Machine. While the disc’s intimacy and quiet beauty reward introspection and thoughtful listening, all that atmosphere becomes oppressive at times, threatening to weigh things down. You’ll want to keep this off your party playlist; instead, listen at night with a pair of good headphones. -KJO
Key Tracks: “I Can’t Imagine,” “Machine,” “Sudden Bright,” “Hold the Water”
For Fans of: Lotte Kestner, Robert Gomez, Trespassers William
Platinum-selling stepchildren with ginger features rock the shit out of Chicago
Where will history place Stone Temple Pilots? They’ve sold bazillions of records, packed arenas and aced the test of time, with next month marking the 20th anniversary of their mansion-funding juggernaut, Core, yet critical aplomb continues to elude them; at least to the extent enjoyed by contemporaries Pearl Jam or even Guns ‘N Roses. When Core hit the mainstream, grunge snobs haughtily dismissed their thunderous, arena-friendly sound as derivative of Seattle’s classic rock revival, although such an interpretation required a rather aggressive historical revision.
With subsequent releases, STP carved out a sizeable niche in the mainstream until they imploded in 2002 due in no small part to frontman Scott Weiland’s abiding affection for controlled substances. STP proceeded to grow mold while Weiland jumped over to supergroup Velvet Revolver and sold another million albums with them, until the same issues that separated him from STP drove him apart from VR. In 2008, the prodigal singer returned to STP, with the band celebrating by releasing a new album and touring extensively over the past few years.
This summer the band released Alive in the Windy City, a 2010 concert film capturing a relatively intimate show at Chicago’s Riviera Theater. If ever there were a statement of STP’s majesty, this is it, with rich, titanic sound, high def video and a strong mix of of STP’s greatest hits along side some of their lesser-celebrated numbers. The interplay between the band suggests a revitalized chemistry between the frontman and the band’s founding brothers, Dean and Robert DeLeo, although speaking of chemistry, one cannot overlook what sounds like Weiland slurring in the odd slice of between-song banter. Nonetheless, the frontman acquits himself more than admirably with an energetic and entertaining show that boasts an unimpeachable vocal performance. The mountain-sized hooks sound great in the relatively small venue and the video quality is as impressive as one would expect from Blu-ray. STP classics like “Crackerman,” “Wicked Garden,” “Big Empty” and “Sex Type Thing” have never sounded better, while cuts such as “Hollywood Bitch,” “Lounge Fly” and “Huckleberry Crumble” pop up as refreshing surprises. I had a hard time taking this out of the DVD player. -JD
Key tracks: “Crackerman,” “Plush,” “Dead and Bloated”
For fans of: Pearl Jam, Velvet Revolver, Aerosmith, AC/DC
A new purple party mix
Chicago indie band YAWN are making quite a splash. They’ve even captured the attention of The Huffington Post (hardly known for its music coverage), which recently published a brief interview with band member Daniel Perzan.
The cover of Happy Tears might suggest superficial party music within, but you’ll actually find something more substantial on offer. Clearly, YAWN know how to add unexpected flavors to their particular musical soup, elevating it above what one would typically expect from “indie rock”.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the closing track, “Yabis,” an instrumental which brews tribal chants with Kraftwerk-esque sequenced synthesizer to delirious effect―perfectly mirroring the bright, fluorescent colors of the cover art.
The EP’s four other songs spotlight YAWN’s unique blend of indie rock, vocal harmonies, atmospheric textures, and “vintage world samples.” Picture a much cooler version of The Polyphonic Spree, with touches of Eno, Aphex Twin, Simon & Garfunkel, Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles, and even some choice guitar riffs here and there―with a few nature sounds tossed in for good measure.
The splash page of YAWN’s website provides links to both MP3 and WAV downloads of the EP. Treat yourself to the WAV files―you won’t regret it. -KJO
Key Tracks: It’s an EP―everything
For Fans of: These guys are in a category all to themselves…