Monday, 31 December 2012

My Favourite Albums of 2012 - Part 2

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Rooms Filled With Light by Fanfarlo


Rooms Filled With Light by Fanfarlo
Released February 28, 2012
Genre Indie Pop
Length 44:15
Label Canvasback
Rating
?????

Drowned in Sound Review by Krystina Nellis | February 22, 2012

In the three years since Fanfarlo’s Reservoir first burst on to the scene and promptly soundtracked every advert that hadn’t been snapped up by Wild Beasts, the folk-pop scene has exploded. Or become more Mumfordised, which might be a more simplistic way of looking at it. It wouldn’t be unfair to ask if there’s even room for any band in that genre to try anything else, lest shareholders’ heads collectively implode at the mere mention of Grammy-mongering. Fortunately for us, Fanfarlo seem to have resisted all the pressure of Reservoir’s success and potential to become a banjo-wielding clone, and given us Rooms Filled with Light instead.
Whereas Reservoir was filled with barnstormers notable for their immediacy, Rooms Filled with Light takes quite a bit longer to establish itself in your brain. But take root it most certainly does, with the gentle honky-tonk topline of ‘Tunguska’, or ‘Bones’ bass and glockenspiel merging with atmospheric, barely audible synths, building into a sweeping epic that just about keeps itself on the ground.
The straight-up power-pop of Reservoir has been modified, dialled down a notch in favour of something altogether more complex, but thankfully far from eliminated altogether. It's very difficult to not do as ‘Tightrope's chorus insists, "Just let it go/Just walk in a straight line" and wind up bopping along doing a silly dance on the bus. Meanwhile, ‘Shiny Things' darkly humorous "It's as if nothing happened" chorus, shrugging off impending annihilation, is delivered with such unreserved glee it's difficult not to look forward to the prospect if this is the music we get to soundtrack it.
This being 2012, and a band with leanings towards the pop end of the spectrum, there are, naturally, some concessions to the ongoing chart vogue. Yes, there is the occasional synth. But it's never overt, never self-consciously trendy, always complementing the song and never at the expense of it. Following in the same vein, the album’s vocals are haunting, yet never overblown or ostentatious, from ‘Replicate's opening staccato chants of "It's gonna..." to ‘A Flood's closing "Come the weekend we'll get lost/Just in time to get caught in the rain". In an album filled with initially impenetrable themes, the harmonies are what wind up drawing the listener back for weeks afterwards.
All of Reservoir's classy songwriting nous and pop sensibility is on display here, paired with Simon Balthazar in more contemplative, subtle mode. That subtlety is such that often, lyrical content completely bypasses the more casual listener. Several listens in, the album's broader themes of chaos and malaise in the modern world only barely make themselves known, with 'Replicate's "How can we extricate ourselves enough/or fight something that's part of us?", or 'A Flood's "Just put off decisions if you must/As the lights flicker back to life again" only hinting at the depths of torment behind them.
Similarly, Balthazar’s dark humour only reveals itself to those willing to look sideways to find it. 'Shiny Things' declaration that in the event of humanity going extinct "we'll be preserved on a shelf somewhere/Give us mirrors for company", is a perfect premonition of humanity’s collective magpie tendency eating itself into brain-in-a-vat status. If the world’s collective Twitter obsession hasn’t already driven us there, of course.
It’s not exactly love at first sight with Rooms Filled with Light. But like all the best love affair it endures, and reveals new sides of itself with each listen. Attention must be paid, but the reward is a giant ‘Welcome to the club’ bear hug. Unlike practically every other album out there vying for instant gratification, this is a record content to take its time and earn your love little by little. This elegiac ode to times gone by is filled to the rafters with wit, charm, guile and all those things that seem to have disappeared from modern life. Rooms Filled with Light is as big an incitement as any to try and find them again.

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The Lion’s Roar by First Aid Kit


The Lion’s Roar by First Aid Kit
Released January 18, 2012
Genre Indie Folk
Length 42:47
Label Wichita Recordings
Rating
?????

BBC Music Review by Natalie Shaw | January 19, 2012
Those already familiar with First Aid Kit may be shocked by the portent in the title of their second album, The Lion's Roar. For a duo so built on understatement, it's a statement of its own volition – words which suggest something bigger, bolder, and stronger.
From the reflections of Blue, the influence of the Swedish sisters' dream producer Mike Mogis (best known for his work with Bright Eyes) becomes apparent. Still pared down but clearer, the sweet mimicking between bass and xylophone feel more ominous than decorative.
Johanna and Klara Sodenberg's close harmonies charm unaffectedly, pitched in the mix like the faint voices of songbirds echoing through a woodland scene. And, lyrically, there's a mix of gloom and lilt in the perfect order and proportion; in spite of Conor Oberst's involvement, there's no stagnation, no lack of positivity and certainly no halting moments of impenetrable self-reflection.
The voices gallingly cry "I go from nowhere to nowhere / Searching for the key" on Dance to Another Tune, the most mournful of The Lion's Roar's 10 songs. Written like a series of proverbs, it has the unique gift of being accessible and extravagant. First Aid Kit are now a band rather than a duo, and the gorgeous harmonies benefit from a more serious direction and sometimes sweeping orchestration.
First Aid Kit's journey into the hillbilly backwoods is smoother than their rickety debut album, 2010’s The Big Black & Blue, and comes with the benefit of greater knowledge. This set swells into a full assembly of Americana, peaking at name-dropper Emmylou – the delightful warmth of this song can be attributed to the sisters' affections for the genre, even down to the accents. The lyrics "I'll be your Emmylou and I'll be your June / And you'll be my Gram and your Johnny too," while simple, act as a gently vigorous call-to-arms.
The echo of pedal steel and mariachi horns on King of the World is a far cry from First Aid Kit's cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, which first appeared on YouTube in 2008. The full band which appears on The Lion's Roar enjoys the rare achievement of being saccharine-free, and serves to highlight the sisters' brilliant captured-on-tape chemistry.
As consolation anthems go, it's difficult to imagine anyone topping this collection in 2012. Sat neatly between Laura Marling's trauma, Alessi's Ark's florid scenes and Joni Mitchell's spot-lit thoughts, First Aid Kit's second album lines them up as the band most likely to cross over into the big time.

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Fort Atlantic by Fort Atlantic


Fort Atlantic by Fort Atlantic
Released May 29, 2012
Genre Indie Rock
Length 46:39
Label Dualtone Records
Rating
?????

allmusic Review by Steve Leggett
Fort Atlantic is really singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and 21st century home studio producer Jon Black, who assembled, arranged, and put together this striking album pretty much on his own, playing most of the instruments and parts himself. But this is no four-track analog recording full of bounce-downs -- it makes full use of all that the 21st century digital realm allows, with laptops, loops, and other digital doodads blended into the mix (Black is even credited in the album liner notes with playing instruments called "atmosphere" and "noise," along with the pianos, guitars, and harmonicas he also played). Recorded largely in his home studio in Birmingham, Alabama (some additional recording and the final mixing was done at Tom Schick's Magic Shop in New York City), Black did use some additional musicians in the later stages of the project (including drummer Josh Cannon, who plays with Black as a duo called Fort Atlantic for live shows), and the resulting album is a wonderful bit of anthemic and melodic dream pop, sounding a bit like Jackson Browne set loose in a Pro Tools playground. But Fort Atlantic is no 21st century Frankenstein project. It sounds like classic rock, free of gimmicks even as it is actually laced with them, and as a lesson in how what's new can be used to make something that seems old and timeless, Fort Atlantic has to get an A plus. Tracks like the opener, "No One Will Know," the beautiful, positive, and hopeful "Let Your Heart Hold Fast," and the closer, "There Is Love' (which opens with wordless Beach Boys-type vocal harmonies), all sound as natural as an ocean, endlessly melodic and constantly shifting into quirky little musical corners with grace and elegance. This is a fine debut album. Black will have quite a task to better it, but everything here suggests that he has that kind of vision.
And as if being a ridiculously talented multi-instrumentalist and all-round musical genius weren't enough, he's also so geek-cool, he release the album on NES cartridges!


And, as an added bonus, you can download the album for free from box.com (thanks to Dualtone), or have a listen to a sampling of tracks via NoiseTrade in the player below and/or download either free or with a tip. Anyway you cut it, it's a good deal!

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Diluvia by Freelance Whales


Diluvia by Freelance Whales
Released October 9, 2012
Genre Indie
Length 52:48
Label Mom + Pop
Rating
?????

A.V. Club Review by Marc Hawthorne | October 9, 2012
Albums referred to as “growers”—those that take a while to win over listeners—too often end up being mediocre releases by bands that the recommender loves so much that he or she is willing to put the time, effort, and delusion into discovering a few agreeable morsels. But in the case of Diluvia, the second album from New York indie-rock outfit Freelance Whales, a few extra spins open up a truly grand adventure that a cursory glance simply can’t uncover.
Diluvia is built differently than its predecessor, Weathervanes, in that the band has placed a greater emphasis on developing atmosphere than unleashing immediate hooks. In turn, Judah Dadone and company have toned down the quirkiness in favor of richly textured creations that take longer to unfold (Weathervanes had only one song that passed the five-minute mark; Diluvia has five) and, inevitably, take a little while longer to reveal their inner beauty. (Is it a coincidence that diluvia is defined as “rock material deposited by glaciers”?) Not that Freelance Whales’ music has changed all that drastically: There’s still a healthy helping of banjo, and things like the piano at the beginning of “Follow Through” and the guitar that shows up halfway through “The Nothing” demand yet more Ben Gibbard-related comparisons. (Though Dadone’s vocals no longer bring to mind the Death Cab/Postal Service frontman the way they did on Freelance Whales’ debut.)
But this time around, the synths steer nearly everything in a dreamy direction, and enough can’t be said of Doris Cellar’s increased presence on the microphone. Her voice hits its peak during “Winter Seeds,” a slow-moving, airy piece of accessible yet smart pop that finds Cellar getting her Elizabeth Fraser on. It might not be as traditionally catchy as, say, Weathervanes’ “Starring,” but it just might be the band’s finest moment.
The lyrics on Diluvia play well with the musical proceedings, offering more mystery than clear-cut storylines as it talks of pterodactyl bones, DNA on a boat in the Euphrates, and having “the rations to go anywhere.” The overall effect is something Freelance Whales can call their own—because for all of the comparisons one can find here (in addition to the above, traces of The Killers can be heard in “Locked Out,” and the album closes on a Mew-like high note with “Emergence Exit”), by album two they’ve developed a distinctive sound from their corner of the synth-folk universe, and they’ve done it while expanding their palette. With this grower, Freelance Whales have avoided the sophomore slump and grown into one of indie rock’s most intriguing new acts.

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Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem


Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem
Released July 20, 2012
Genre Indie Rock
Length 51:26
Label Mercury Records
Rating
?????

AbsolutePunk Review by Thomas Nassiff | July 9, 2012
For the first time, I'm not scared that people aren't going to like this record. I don't care what Bruce or Eddie Vedder or any of my friends think of it. I don't care. If you want to hang with us, you've got to grow with us. That's the deal.

– Brian Fallon, in Rolling Stone
Well, damn. Who knows what exactly went down in Brian Fallon’s universe after the release of American Slang and then The Horrible Crowes’ Elsie, but whatever happened, we should be thankful for it. We should be thankful for Fallon’s new state of mind, this outlook that he finally no longer has to top himself – top The ’59 Sound, that is – and that he can just pour everything out into his music.
The '59 Sound is one of those things I’m always chasing to make something as good as [again]. I’m also chasing to leave it alone because it’s perfect the way it is. It’s hard for a musician to realize that that was done already: You don’t need to write '59 Sound because you already did. Now you have to find something that’s equally as good, but different.
– Brian Fallon, vulture.com
It’s pretty scary to think that albums as good as American Slang and Elsie might have been written while something held Fallon back in some intangible way; it’s spine-tingling to think of what could happen if that mental block was suddenly removed. Fallon poured himself out into a notebook, scribbling new lyrics, writing new melodies…and what do you know – Handwritten is spine-tingling, indeed.
The reason The Gaslight Anthem was able to write the best record of its career-so-far, and the frontrunner for 2012’s album of the year, is probably more a result of The Horrible Crowes than most of us really know. “I was bored,” Fallon said. “After the last record for Gaslight Anthem, I was just bored. I still had the desire to write, but I didn’t want to write any more rock and roll songs. I was in this weird mood.” So he wrote Elsie with Ian Perkins, a darker, slower, brooding cauldron of an album that was nearly perfect – for what it was. Elsie somehow set off a switch, and returning with guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz enabled The Gaslight Anthem to write more freely than ever. Handwritten is just the latest record from this band that I’ll dub its best work – but it seems I do that every time they release something. It’s not my fault they keep besting themselves.
Handwritten is the The Gaslight Anthem’s most versatile work. It combines the raw rock and roll sound of The ’59 Sound with the best soulful parts from American Slang and Elsie. Fallon’s voice is absolutely in its best shape, as the croon we heard with The Horrible Crowes strongly complements his rougher vocal parts. Most interestingly, we find a lighthearted and jovial vibe to the album at times, harkening to the Senor and The Queen EP more than anything else. But Handwritten still brings something new to the table, and what else should we expect?
Lead single “45” is a torridly paced number, immediately snapping its fingers to bring you to attention. This is a wake-up, a call to action: You’re very clearly listening to a Gaslight Anthem record here, and they want you to know that from the first note. The guitar shreds in the bridge are dark and intense, but Fallon wastes no time giving us a chorus to shout out loud: “Hey, turn the record over / Hey, I'll see you on the flip side / There you go, turn the key and engine over / Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.” It’s an ideal opener and an ideal first single. But “45” has a sister track on the album, “Howl,” which we won’t get to until the middle of the track listing, but which is as interesting as any song the band has written. “Howl” is even faster and more aggressive than the album opener, and if you stop paying attention for a minute, you’ll miss it – literally. Only two minutes long, Fallon and Co. demonstrate with full force that they can still write a hell of a hook and have some fun. More than anything since “Say I Won’t (Recognize),” this track brings out the energy and exhilaration of a live Gaslight Anthem show. Fallon has more fun on stage than most anyone you’ve ever seen perform, and he sounds like he’s having an exceptionally good time throughout the entirety of “Howl.” It’s hard not to let go and sing along with the track (the chorus just goes “Aye, aye, ayeeeeeee, aye, yay!”), but as Fallon always does, he leaves a token to keep you on your toes: “Radio, oh radio, do you believe there's still some magic left somewhere inside our souls?”
As good as those two tracks are, the best part about them is that their high energy is not an exception to the rule. Handwritten is an uptempo record, something that shouldn’t be surprising to Gaslight fans, but something that listeners might not initially expect because of the styles of American Slang and Elsie. But is it a joy to just hear this band jam! Fallon, Rosamilia and Perkins throw a guitar clinic on Handwritten, and it’s in tracks like “Mulholland Drive” and “Too Much Blood” where we realize why Brenden O’Brien was a good choice not just for this album – but the man who should be behind the boards for probably this band’s entire career. “Too Much Blood” plays out at a slower tempo than most of the album, built around a punishing guitar riff – O’Brien produced plenty of riffs with Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine, and you can tell he knows a thing or two. The riff here dominates the song with just enough precision for the dreamy choruses and Fallon’s bluesy verses to still shine. In “Mulholland Drive,” one of the album’s greatest standouts, we get a ripping, wailing 35-second guitar solo…a piece of musicianship that is begging for Rosamilia to play it in front of thousands of people. The soloing comes back in the outro of the song and it’s one of those moments that few bands can provide – a moment where you take a step back and ask, “Shit, what am I listening to here?” It sounds silly to say because The Gaslight Anthem has a catalog of great songs, but this is the type of track that bands spend entire careers waiting to stumble upon.
The group’s influences are still abundant on the record – there’s some Bob Dylan in the harmonica on the rhythmic “Keepsake,” there’s some heavy Tom Petty on the phenomenal closer “National Anthem,” and some The Rising or Magic-era Bruce Springsteen on another highlight in “Here Comes My Man.” The latter of those three has a killer bassline and “ooh-sha-la-la” bits that would catch the attention of even the E Street Band’s backup vocalists. But we know better than to overplay the talk of influences at this point in Gaslight’s career – this is a group that has reinvented itself twice now, a group with much more than a modicum of pressure accompanying its major label debut, a group that can change faces with its versatility while remaining very much itself. We see this in “Desire,” a lusty song where Fallon draws us in with the chorus: “I would give anything for the touch of your skin / Yes, I would burn here for years / Up in desire, desire,” but still leaves us with a bigger picture to ponder on: “What makes a woman believe in a man such as me? / Unworthy to sit at your foot or your crown / I can only let you down.”
Handwritten comes full circle, in a way, on its title track. Although it comes at you early on, the second song in the sequence, it proves itself to be the song most accurately representing what this record is all about. Somewhere in between the fire of “45” and “Howl” and the mellow mood of “Mae” and “National Anthem,” the title track contains the singular best piece of music on the album. In fact, it’s the exact same feeling I got when I described the bridge of The Horrible Crowes’ “Black Betty and the Moon.” During the bridge of “Handwritten,” the band quiets down into a beautiful setting, with piercing piano strikes playing alongside Fallon’s humming background vocals, an instrument in their own right. He lays it on thick, too: “Here in the dark I cherish the moonlight / I’m in love with the way you’re in love with the night / And it travels from heart, to limb, to pen.” Then the group launches into a final chorus, the best one on the track, as Fallon croons, “We waited for sirens that never come / And we only write by the moon / Every word handwritten.”
Every word handwritten. A phrase that will mean a great many things to a great many different listeners, but then again, that’s always been a strength of Fallon’s. This record will mean something different to everyone.
It’s hard for a musician to realize that that was done already: You don’t need to write '59 Sound because you already did. Now you have to find something that’s equally as good, but different. Guys like Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young, and Bob Dylan, they’ve done something great, and then done something great again that was different. But then you find guys that have not … they’re chasing something that they once were great at. I’m not sure whether we’re on the former or the latter. Our fate has not been told yet.
– Brian Fallon, vulture.com
The ’59 Sound. American Slang. Handwritten. The Gaslight Anthem presents its case-so-far. As listeners, as fans of music, we’ve already hit the lottery here. Let’s evaluate: These three albums, plus Elsie, means that we’ve already gotten four of the best records of the last half-decade, all from one band. What this also means is that no matter what The Gaslight Anthem does in the future, they are already entrenched. These albums will last forever. These albums will accompany me throughout my adult life; wherever I go, I will take these with me. I don’t think this is a band that’s going to rest on its laurels or bask in the glow of its current success, so I’m sure that they’ll continue to improve – although it’s hard to better a masterpiece like this. The Gaslight Anthem is the best band of this generation.
Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Tom Sholz, Lindsey Buckingham, Neil Young, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltry, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder. These are the musicians our mothers and fathers listened to when they were growing up, when they procrastinated throughout college, when they bought their first cars, when they danced their first dance at their weddings, when they played music for their young children to grow up on. It’s impossible to predict what path a band will take in the future, but those names are no longer untouchable. Nothing is untouchable for Fallon and The Gaslight Anthem. And I’m perfectly content knowing I have this band’s music during this point in my life, because you know what? The Gaslight Anthem holds its own in a discussion like this. Now I’m done talking about it – I’m going to shut up and keep on listening, because if we’re really lucky, we’re only listening to the middle of an all-time great rock and roll career here. While it’s tiresome to call each new Gaslight Anthem release the best Gaslight Anthem release, I’ll have to keep doing so as long as they keep putting out records like Handwritten.

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Star Map by Golden Fable


Star Map by Golden Fable
Released September 7, 2012
Genre Indie Pop
Length 40:21
Label Full of Joy Records
Rating
?????

The Sound Project Review by Rik Wolters | September 16, 2012
Golden Fable are Tim McIver and Rebecca Palin, who were previously part of The Sound Project favourites, Tim and Sam's Tim and the Sam Band with Tim and Sam.
I have to admit that this has been one of the records that I've most been looking forward to this year and I'm pleased to say it's been more than worth the wait.  What Golden Fable have delivered here is an absolute beauty of a record which brings together gorgeous vocals, electronic beats and loops, and stunning production.
'Guiding Light' is an eerie low-key opener with stunning interlinked vocals.  It's evident even at this point that something special is about to happen.  This is an album heavily influenced by the natural world, which goes some way to explaining the pastoral sound etched within the vocals.  On early single and fans favourite, 'Always Golden', things really come to life.  The album is brought to life throughout by Palin's stunning vocals - if angels do exist, surely this is what they sound like.
On 'Be Alive' McIver takes the lead over an electronic beat layered with simple guitars.  Recent single 'Sugarloaf' really is one of the best songs of the year.  It's a wonderful song laced with layers of instruments which work perfectly and never feel too much.  'Crossfire' features a vocal that borders on haunting, but in all the right ways.
'The Chill Pt. 1' and 'The Chill Part. 2' both add a darker edge to the album - if you think of the phases of the album as each of the seasons then this would definitely be autumn.  The latter part patiently builds from a simple ectro-beat to a stunning finale.  Not that the record finishes there.  The instrumental 'Lament' definitely has its folky roots with leanings towards the electronic as the album moves towards winter.
'Reconsider King' keeps with the folky sound of 'Lament' except here it's stripped back to almost acoustic with Palin's angelic vocals creeping through once more.  McIver takes the lead once again on album closer 'Restless Souls'.  It's a track that at times sounds haunting, at others it's like the light shining through on a cold winters day.  Superb stuff.
If you want to get the best out of 'Star Map', I'd recommend that you listen to it as a whole rather than its individual elements separately.  If you do this you'll be hard pressed to find a better record this year.

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Star-Crossed by Her Vanished Grace


Star-Crossed by Her Vanished Grace
Released July 2, 2012
Genre Dream Pop
Length 42:12
Label Athame Music
Rating
?????

The Sound Of Confusion Review by KevW | September 6, 2012
If you're looking for a new favourite band then I'm afraid you won't find it here. Her Vanished Grace most definitely come with enough of a seismic sonic assault to stop you dead in your tracks, so in that respect they fit the bill. However, new favourite band? The truly amazing thing is that we soon discover this duo have been making music together since the late 1980s! Have we been missing something or are these guys the best band you've never heard of? In that time they've apparently taken in goth, new-wave, shoegaze and now describe their music with precision accuracy using the phrase "power dream pop". It's a perfect summation of the blend of sounds on what we think is something like their fifteenth album. Either the previous fourteen weren't up to much or some major A&R men haven't been doing their jobs properly.
When they kick off with the storming opening pair of 'Car Crash' and 'Fade Away', you shouldn't be thinking that they sound a bit like Curve, you should be treating them as contemporaries and maybe even an influence on Curve. I don't recall Curve being quite so good though. 'Bridge Of Sighs' tells you exactly what power dream pop sounds like: the luscious, misty haze that you're used to other bands creating, only recorded in a wind tunnel. They turn the wind tunnel production up for the storming 'Break Down'. An interval of sorts arrives with the short but sweet heavenly buzz of 'Midnight Sun'. Surely they can't keep this standard up for the second half of the album? The reverberating guitars and baggy beat that kick-off 'Turn It Over' tell you they're going to given their best shot. It's like Andrew Weatherall producing The Cocteau Twins.
If it's all sounding a little early 90s then that's because it is. This is broken by the mildly industrial electronic beat on 'Hungry', the first sign that maybe not quite everything they touch turns to gold. That said, it's still worth a silver, the same award its follow-up 'Star-Crossed' gets. You can hardly call it a blip but if the rest of the record has been soaring skyscrapers of tracks then these two are mere high-rise apartment blocks. The more contemplative ending provided by 'Dawning' and then 'Earth Stood Still' also impress without quite reaching the stratospheric heights the first six tracks ascend to. Although, you can't knock them, these would be highlights for most bands. 'Star-Crossed' is a hell of a record that's positively dripping with wow factor, in fact it may as well be bathing in the stuff. Guys, where have you been all our life?

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Human Again by Ingrid Michaelson


Human Again by Ingrid Michaelson
Released January 29, 2012
Genre Indie Pop
Length 44:46
Label Mom + Pop
Rating
?????

BBC Music Review by John Aizlewood | July 20, 2012
Although she’s part of the female pop intelligentsia (see also: Fiona Apple, Kate Havnevik, Keren Ann and Regina Spektor), Staten Island’s Ingrid Michaelson has taken a very 21st century route to mass acceptance.
Her music has graced television programmes including Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill, films and commercials for Google Chrome and Ritz crackers. Cheryl Cole notched up a top five single with a version of Michaelson’s Parachute.
She’s canny enough to own her music, but while she’s hardly paying her dues in the traditional way, frankly, so what? It’s effective and, four albums in (two of which were self-released), she’s an American star who’s done it the American way.
What’s more, she’s sauntering towards excellence. Human Again begins brilliantly with Fire’s Michael Nyman-style strings and piano introducing Michaelson, intoning “Oh-pen / Heart / Surgery,” before a walloping chorus, more of those strings and thumping, echo-laden drums take over.
Yet, for all the opener’s new-love uplift, Keep Warm’s cosiness and the way Michaelson can craft an instantly memorable chorus, these are adult songs for tricky personal times. They’re songs mostly hailing from the darkest of emotional hinterlands.
Here, distracted, disconnected men promise the world; but they can’t or won’t even deliver themselves. Ribbons forensically picks over relationship detritus, Do It Now anticipates relationship demise, and How We Love grapples with relationship misunderstanding. When a relationship survives on End of the World, the world does indeed end around it.
But much as Michaelson catalogues, yes, relationships obsessively, she’s less self-indulgent and more full of flair than her lyrical gloom threatens. In the Sea and Blood Brothers have layers of nuanced meaning, while she takes impish delight in musical curveballs such as Black and Blue’s near-electro thump.
Michaelson is doing nothing new. Intelligent female singer-songwriters, albeit ones lavishly produced by David Kahne (the only man alive to have produced Paul McCartney and Lana Del Rey), have been around since Joni Mitchell sang of ice cream castles in the air. But, as with the manner in which she rose, so what? Lyrically deep and musically adventurous, Michaelson has it all.

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We Keep the Beat, Found the Sound, See the Need, Start the Heart by Jonathan Boulet


We Keep the Beat, Found the Sound, See the Need, Start the Heart by Jonathan Boulet
Released June 8, 2012
Genre Indie
Length 48:02
Label Modular Recordings
Rating
?????

FasterLouder Review by Tim Klingbiel | June 19, 2012
Sydney wunderkind Jonathan Boulet arrived with a bang in the form of his self-titled 2009 debut on Modular. His reputation as one of the most promising emerging talents in Australian music was cemented in 2010 with the release of Parades’ debut record Foreign Tapes with Boulet’s propulsive and frantic beats pairing magnificently with the band’s rich, melodic and endlessly layered sound. Continuing the Modular trend of innovative but palatable pop, Boulet’s second solo record, the lengthily named We Keep The Beat, Found The Sound, See The Need, Start The Heart, sees him expanding and refining a style now recognisable as uniquely his.
Opener You’re A Animal kicks things off with a surge of tribal drums and crashing waves of sound, the most immediately noticeable aspect being the more ‘major label’ production values, though this progression has not come at the cost of sacrificing the visceral power of Boulet’s style. This Song Is Called Ragged pairs African idiophones with more conventional instruments and once again ensures a powerful and memorable chorus is the track’s centrepiece. An Indonesian gamelan ensemble even makes an appearance in the track’s closure, emblematic of Boulet’s cultural diversification on We Keep The Beat…
The interesting song structure of FM AM CB TV allows Boulet to effectively showcase the dynamics of his music, juxtaposing rapid-fire sonic bombardments with spacious ambient sections. The track’s most memorable lyrics, “You lost the right to choose” and “You’re dead and you’re ignored”, obliquely allude to bitterness and discontent, fitting well with its fractured dynamics. The discordant opening of Hallowed Hag distantly recalls the sonic palettes of Boulet’s hardcore outfit Snake Face, before evolving into an urgent and evocative track once again lyrically alluding to unrest and suggesting all is perhaps not well in the Boulet-sphere.
If the ‘Boulet sound’ could be distilled into a single track, it would perhaps best be represented in the form of Dread Is This Place. Simultaneously capturing a melodic sense of both the joyous and the melancholic, Irish flutes sit comfortably alongside strummed acoustic guitars, skittering drums, emotive vocal harmonies and rapid handclaps buried deep in the mix. It is a reflection of Boulet’s remarkable ability to synthesise disparate influences and create a sound both wholly individual and undeniably catchy. Mangle Trang’s stadium sized ‘whoa-oh-oh’ vocal lines, reverb drenched Foals-esque guitars and cavernous drums combine to create a moment as big as anything Boulet has done before.
Boneyard Home sees the reappearance of marimba sounds and staccato lead guitar lines, with the temporary nature of contentment once again evoked through the line “Cause our summertime is just about to end”. The schizophrenic Trounce is a vocal-driven piece punctuated by grimy punk flourishes. The repeated mantra of “I do what I’m told/I just don’t know any better” is a criticism directed at the ‘mindless masses’, though this path is a well-trodden one. The blues-tinged Black Smokehat is an album highlight, its haunting melody and ‘fast forward’ mid-section among the record’s most memorable moments.
The amusingly titled Keep Away You Feral Son Of A Bitch explodes into life at full pace and barely lets up, with the lyric “It’s all real/You’re a fake” rattling around one’s eardrums long after the track finishes. Piao Voca Slung is another example of Boulet’s combination of the sounds explored on his debut with newer African influences, with the track’s soaring choruses feeling a bit like ‘M83 unplugs his synths and goes on holiday to Benin’. Even though by the time it ends it feels as if the ultimate catharsis is over, there is still time for the epic near-nine-minute Cent Voix, a hypnotic a cappella piece with reverb laden vocal lines that build upon and weave between each other. The track feels somewhat like a soundtrack for the icy burial seeming to be taking place on the record’s front cover, a stark, haunting image featuring a pale, emaciated figure appearing to be on the cusp of death.
It is tempting to view We Keep The Beat… as the maturation of Jonathan Boulet, but in reality that occurred long ago, before even the release of his debut. But although the emotional richness beyond his tender years was already evident, We Keep The Beat… sees this power and singular identity distilled into something even stronger and more memorable than before. Boulet’s sonic ambition is undeniable – the vast array of stylistic nods and disparate ephemera scattered through this record is impressive, but rather than feeling overly insular and alienating, the record seems to carry a uniting power, bringing together cultures and walks of life over a shared sense of feeling and emotion. Most excitingly, We Keep The Beat… proves that Boulet’s spark is nowhere close to extinguishing – in fact it only continues to burn brighter.

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The Wake by Josh Woodward


The Wake by Josh Woodward
Released October 8, 2012
Genre Folk-Pop
Length 46:53
Label Snooter Records, LLC
Rating
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Woodard writes the following about himself on his Facebook music page:
I'm a one-man band from the sticks of Northwest Ohio. I write, perform and record ridiculous numbers of songs myself, and then I give it all away for free. I haven't figured out exactly why I do this yet.
All the music he records is available to freely download from his website (and other pages listed below) under a Creative Commons Attribution license and he professes a love of fluffy kitties - honestly, what's not to like about this guy?

By my reckoning, The Wake, is Woodard's 10th "studio" album, and is easily his most cohesive and strongest to date; it's described by Woodard as:
Probably my most upbeat CD since the Sunny Side of the Street days, but with a bit more balance.
As an entry point to this singer/songwriters music, The Wake makes for an excellent introduction letter. Have a listen below and be sure to check out Woodard's other material - after all, it's all free, so you've nothing to lose!

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