Tag Archives: album review

Album Review – “Odd Blood” by Yeasayer

7 May

Here’s a sentence you probably thought you’d never hear – Yeasayer and Cyndi Lauper have something in common.

They both just wanna have fun.

Odd Blood, the latest release from Brooklyn’s Yeasayer, is a complete departure from their previous record. Gone are most of the qualities that made the group such an indie hit.

Their weird, ambient textures? Gone. The spacey feeling of songs like “2080” and “Sunrise”? Buh-bye. That whole world music vibe? See ya.

But while the band may have lost some of what made them unique, it’s what they’ve gained that makes them even more memorable. The band honed its songwriting skills, fell in love with pop music, and created one of the best albums of the year.

The band’s new lease on life is immediately noticeable on “Ampling Alp.” The song’s cheerful, 80’s inspired feel gives way to the surprisingly upbeat lyrics, “Stick up for yourself, son/Never mind what anybody else done.”

Odd Blood reaches its peak on “O.N.E.” The track is songwriting mastery – it weaves in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, feeling like an outer space disco track.
But the album suffers from maddening inconsistency. While the album has a handful of stellar tracks, about half the album falls flat. Songs like “Strange Reunions” and “Love Me Girl” feel unfinished and half-hearted.

Still, Odd Blood is a definite must for anyone in the mood to get down with a funky fresh dance jam.

Sorry. Seems like my article, much like Odd Blood, is trying a bit too hard.

Standout Tracks: “O.N.E.” and “Madder Red”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Biggest Strength: A funky and weird party vibe
Biggest Weakness: The album’s inconsistency hurts the listening experience.
The Final Word: For those about to dance, Odd Blood is a must. But you might want to skip a few tracks.


Album Review: Manners by Passion Pit

2 Jul

Passion Pit

Passion Pit

Talk about “the power of love.”

Passion Pit’s debut EP, Chunk of Change, was originally recorded in 2008 by singer and keyboardist Michael Angelakos as a Valentine’s Day gift for his girlfriend. The album was an underground hit in the band’s native Boston. The strength of the single “Sleepyhead” put in rotation by music heavyweights like MTV and BBC. As a result of touring with indie giants like Death Cab for Cutie (and, of course, thanks to quality music,) Passion Pit was signed to Columbia Records shortly after their EP’s release. Their first full-length album, Manners, was released in May.

At its core, Manners is pure summer fun. The band takes its cues from bands famous in the decade that raised them. Keyboards abound on the record, creating a sparkling glow that runs through the duration of the album. The drums thump along through the keyboard sheen, while Angelakos’ falsetto squeals over the din. Despite its ultra-shiny veneer, Passion Pit is the thinking person’s dance music; Angelakos lyrics are deceptively deep and filled with the kind of doubt and angst that will catch the astute listener off guard.

The standout on the album is easily “Sleepyhead,” the famous track from the band’s previous EP. It is a prime example of the band using their sound the right way: it combines equal parts ear-candy flash and authentic songwriting prowess. Passion Pit throws in a few surprises along the way: several of the songs, like “Let Your Love Grow Tall,” feature an elementary school choir. It’s this kind of ingenuity that makes Manners such a surprise—it’s got the funk, but it’s also got the heart.

While the album is no doubt party music, it doesn’t stand up as well when the lights come up. The vocal style tends to wear thin as the album progresses, and for all its strengths, Manners is a difficult album to put on repeat. Still, the band rocks like its been doing this since the 80s, and has a ton of fun while doing it.

Passion Pit is a band that wants you to want to dance. While the music is keyboard-heavy, it isn’t weighed down by its own nostalgia. The group has taken the best of a played-out genre and made it feel new again.

Standout Tracks: “Sleepyhead” and “The Reeling”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Biggest Strength: It’s a damn good party album.
Biggest Weakness: The party’s gotta end some time.
The Final Word: An album that does fun the right way – with equal parts style and sophistication.

Album Review: Swoon by Silversun Pickups

13 Jun

Silversun Pickups bring the noise with Swoon.

Sophomore albums are tricky. So often a band hits the ground running with its first album and leaves fans scratching their heads on the second. Avoiding this is tricky; in a way it weeds the good bands from the pack. For their second full-length album, Silver Lake, California’s Silversun Pickups prove they are one that deserves to stick around.

The Pickups released its first EP, Pikul, in 2005, followed the next year by their first LP, Carnavas. The album was an indie success, reaching number one on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. It produced two top-ten singles on the modern rock charts with “Lazy Eye” and “Well Thought Out Twinkles,” and the video for the single “Little Lover’s So Polite” was directed by actor-turned-director-turned-rapper Joaquin Phoenix.

For their follow-up, the band did not disappoint. Instead of resting on the laurels (albeit underground laurels,) the band left the poppier side of shoegaze and got bigger and badder. Nowhere is this more evident than on the first single, “Panic Switch.” The track starts with frontman Brian Aubert’s fuzz-soaked guitar riff, exploding into a full-band audio assault. Driving bass meets with churning drums, and as the song reaches its climax, Aubert pulls his vocals into a near whisper, asking, “When you see yourself in a crowded room/Do your fingers itch?/Are you pistol-whipped?

The album’s heavier songs are certainly its strong point, but that isn’t to say that the album is all brawn. “Growing Old Is Getting Old” begins with a simple bass line accented by drums and ethereal keys. As Aubert gently croons, guitar and keyboard lines zoom by like static on a wire as Aubert contemplates death: “Maybe we’re sealed in silence/Maybe we feel the guidance/Maybe your own devices/Will keep you afraid and cold.

However, the album falls off at the halfway point. Songs like “Draining” and “Catch and Release” are a letdown after the previous barrage of noise and feel almost like an afterthought. The Pickups attempt to pick it up (pun intended) with “Sort Of,” but instead of the triumphant end the album deserves, Swoon closes with a sigh. Still, the front end of this record is strong enough to make the less memorable second half seem unimportant—no small feat.

It’s not easy to make noise a true art form, but the Pickups have done it well with this record. While your grandma will probably tell you to “turn that racket down,” Swoon will be your best friend all summer. After all, isn’t that what rock n’ roll is all about?

Standout Tracks: “Panic Switch” and “Growing Old is Getting Old”
Rating: 4 out of 5
Biggest Strength: Powerful instrumentation complimented by ethereal vocals.
Biggest Weakness: The second half of the album fails to match the intensity of the first.
The Final Word: Perhaps one of the best albums of the year, Swoon is a hard-rocking, thought-provoking album.

Album Review: Dear John by Loney, Dear

4 Jun
Loney, Dear

Loney, Dear

Sweden’s Loney, Dear is one of the great indie DIY success stories. Songwriter Emil Svanängen (the band’s name is actually a pseudonym) recorded his first four albums: The Year of River Fontana (2003), Citadel Band (2004), Loney, Noir (2005) and Sologne (2006) all without the aid of anything more than a home computer and a microphone.

In 2007 the band signed with Sup Pop Records, re-releasing Loney, Noir. The same year Svanängen and his live band earned widespread exposure after touring with indie glam revivalists of Montreal. Now on Polyvinyl Records, Loney, Dear released their first label-supported album, Dear John, in January. Those who have paid attention have been pleasantly surprised—that is, if they’ve never heard the band before.

To be sure, the band’s characteristic lo-fi indie pop feel is present on the new record. But it’s what Svanängen has added that makes this album the band’s best. Now signed to a label, it would have been easy for the group to forget what brought fans to them in the first place. Instead, Svanängen expands upon his past musical output, complimenting the style that made him an underground hit with the songwriting maturity he has developed over the course of five albums.

Songs like the lead “Airport Surroundings” are a perfect example of how, for Svanängen’s songwriting, less equals more–the song feels deliberately powerful yet effortless. Its highly danceable beat and hand claps mix seamlessly with glistening keyboards, while Svanängen croons, “You are all I want.”

It’s the organic touch that helps make Dear John so memorable. And in truth, it’s how Loney, Dear won over my heart. Instead of relying on flashy, over-produced gimmicks like so many bands, Svanängen builds these songs from the ground up. The marriage between the natural and the mechanical elements on the record meet, but instead of feeling awkward, feel like they were meant to be together.

Like watching a great athlete, it’s easy to listen to this album and think “It sounds so simple, I bet I could do this.” But of course, the true magic of the album is that it is deceptively complex. The album is a lot like a human being: there are things you might change if you could, but there is no denying the amazing work and inherent beauty that went into its creation.

Standout Tracks: “Airport Surroundings” and “Violent”
Rating: 4 out of 5
Biggest Strength: Finding the beauty in simplicity.
Biggest Weakness: Like many albums, the middle drags a bit.
The Final Word: Much of the album’s strength comes from its simplicity. Whether through lyrics or the music itself, less proves to be much more for Loney, Dear.