Album Review: “Heaven” (The Walkmen)


Release:
5/2012
Label: Fat Possum

Comments: I love A Hundred Miles Off. There, I said it! The band hates it. The critics looked at it unfavorably. Fans don’t really mention it among their Walkmen favorites. What does that have to do with Heaven? Well, A Hundred for me is a fun variety of spirited tunes — the garage/punk influenced “Lost In Boston” and “Tenley Town,” the Everyone Who era “All Hands and the Cook,” the unforgettable horns in “Louisiana”. So on and so forth. 2008’s You and Me was outstanding as well, but it sure did mark a shift in the band’s sound. A lasting shift. Heaven emotionally feels like a continuation of the vibes of Lisbon. You can tell who was behind the boards for Heaven – that would be Phil Ek, who has gotten involved with some higher profile ‘indie’ bands like Fleet Foxes and Modest Mouse. The rampant “oh-oh-woah-oh-oh” on Heaven sound less like something Hamilton would think of on his own and more of an Ek thing. I hate those. BUT one of the benefits of “oh-oh-woah-oh-oh” is the fact that (most of) the songs that don’t have a part like that stand out. I will say that I’ll forgive it on “The Witch,” which additionally has a remarkable bass line and some eery clanging. Songs like “Heartbreaker” (great guitar playing and tempo), “Heaven” (minus the extensive oh-oh-woah-oh-oh) and “The Love You Love” feel the most complete to a dude like me who prefers faster stuff. I’d say these three songs in particular might be better than anything from Lisbon. That’s a good record, but not something I could consistently find myself getting into. I think some other people might feel this way. It seems sort of useless to shit on the real slow songs because they do in fact have some worth. The guitar picking in “Line By Line” really draws me in and makes me wonder how the song will turn out. The instrumental minimalism is outstanding. And yes, I can see where people prefer similar minimalist-esque numbers like “We Can’t Be Beat” and “Southern Heart,” but at this stage it’s hard to keep going back to those. The mid-tempo stuff is more pleasing. There are little critiques here and there. “Song For Leigh” has a cool chorus, but I feel like they could have it taken it a few steps further instead of diving right back into the verses. I think these guys had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to include on this record — a few big rockers, some mid-tempo jaunts, and a handful of slow songs. Perhaps the production role that Ek played wasn’t as important as I’ve made it seem, but it seems like in the recent past they’ve left more of an impression without the aid of a larger name helping out. Take You & Me. Practically every song on that record is memorable and inviting from the get-go. With Heaven, I think there is some potential for it to have a lasting impact, but as a young, long-time Walkmen fan it’s rather difficult to embrace the band’s current direction with respect to previous releases. They’re older, they have kids and frankly maybe the thought of another You & Me ‘grandiose’ album or another hard-hitting Bows + Arrows type of work just is not something they want to embrace at this stage. To each his own. I’ll always have a soft spot for The Walkmen being one of my favorite bands from a time when I really started to get into music. I’m not one to shit on a favorite after a lack-luster release or two and certainly Heaven isn’t one of those in the traditional sense. Here’s to hoping it grows on me some more and even if it doesn’t I’ll always keep a focused eye on what these guys are up to next. They’re just one of those bands.

Song Reviews: The Walkmen (Heaven)

It’s been an interesting five years since I first became a Walkmen fan. Of course it all started with “The Rat” from the highly influential (for me) MLB 2k7 soundtrack. At that time I instantly dug deeper into the band’s catalog and realized that I practically loved everything the band had done to that point. Fast forward to March 2008, I e-mail the band asking if they will be playing any all-ages shows in Boston. I receive a response back from their fake band manager, Doug, saying maybe in August. September 2008. They play at the Middle East Downstairs. 18+ — no go. Bummer. Fast forward one more year. I see the band live for the first time. Actually two nights in a row at the Mid East Down. Great times. You and Me was excellent. Lisbon rolled around in 2010 and I honestly wasn’t too impressed. It’s a good record don’t get me wrong, but it is a bit too mellow (on a whole) for my ever evolving, higher energy taste in rock and roll. The band is getting up there in age (mid-late 30s, all are married) so surely they are in a different place than they were in 2004 when Bows + Arrows came out. That record is better suited (lyrically/musically/etc) for a 20-something year old man than a 16 year old or a 40 year old. Here we now are with Heaven, the band’s sixth original studio album. A few tracks have been released and here are my thoughts:

“Heaven” – I enjoy the pace and energy here! It’s fuller than the heaviest on Lisbon (thanks to producer Phil Ek?), but unfortunately things take a cheesy turn with the “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” at the end. I don’t really see a need for those.

Heartbreaker” -Now we’re talking. In place of the classic organ is a second guitar. I really like this. The drum crashes, the eternally winding surf guitar on the bridge. Good work, Walkmen! [KLYAM Recommended]

“We Can’t Be Beat” – Ouch. Not truly a disaster, in fact I see a lot of people really love this, but just not my thing at all. At one point in my life I got a little something out of listening to Fleet Foxes. Those days are pretty much gone (with all due respect) so to hear something like this that’s essentially the same thing as a Fleet Foxes song is a little disheartening. The Walkmen can do better. See “Heartbreaker”.

Fat Possum To Release Lost Sounds Comp “Blac Static”

Release: July 19, 2011
As Chosen By: Alicja Trout and Rich Crook

1.  1620 Echles St. – Black Wave
2.  I’m Not a Machine – Black Wave
3.  Black Coats/Whitefear – Rats Brains & Microchips
4.  Its My Dream – Memphis Is Dead
5.  Plastic Skin – Black Wave
6.  Dark Shadows – Black Wave
7.  Rats Brains & Microchips – Rats Brains & Microchips
8.  Energy Drink & the Long Walk Home – Rats Brains & Microchips
9.  You Don’t Know Remote Control – Rats Brains & Microchips
10. Reasons To Kill – Black Wave
11. Satan Bought Me – Memphis Is Dead
12. Radon Flows – Rats Brains & Microchips
13. Soul 4 Sale – Memphis Is Dead
14. I Sit I Watch I Wait (demo)

CD Review: GB City [2011]


Band:
Bass Drum of Death
Release: 4/2011
Label: Fat Possum

1. “Nerve Jamming” – A-
2. “GB City” – A
3. “Get Found” – A-
4. “Velvet Itch” – B
5. “High School Roaches” – B+
6. “Spare Room” – B-
7. “Young Pros” – A+
8. “Heart Attack Kid” – A+
9. “Leaves” – A
10. “I Could Never Be Your Man” – A-
11. “Religious Girls” – A

Comments: Bass Drum’s schtick — appropriate term or not — is found somewhere between the regions of power-fuzz masters Death From Above 1979, Thee Oh Sees, and a bunch of recent bands that have roots in the ever-growing underground noise/punk/garage thingie. “Nerve Jamming” is a power number, noise-pop at its core. “GB City” same thing, but even better with more of garage twang. Hooks are quite ubiquitous as there are hardly any dull moments on this record. The aesthetic of “Young Pros” — the catchiest track GB offers — is reminiscent of pre King of the Beach Wavves, something like “No Hope Kids” or “So Bored” but this “Young Pros,” I’ll tell ya is something special. “Heart Attack Kid” brings me back to my early listening days of Harlem’s Hippies when I was so excited to hear the joy of two or three fantastic songs in a row. Of course other records I have heard possess this quality, but it was around this time last year that I really got into Hippies, so this is a parallel. So yes, in conclusion, this is quite deserving of many an accolade and I can surely imagine Bass Drum of Death to be quite the live band as well. Check ’em out!

Grade: A- (91)

CD Review: Cape Dory [2011]


Band:
Tennis
Release: 01/2010
Label: Fat Possum

1. “Take Me Somewhere” – A
2. “Long Boat Pass” – A
3. “Cape Dory” – B
4. “Marathon” – B+
5. “Bimini Bay” – A-
6. “South Carolina” – A-
7. “Pigeon” – A-
8. “Seafarer” – A
9. “Baltimore” – A-
10. “Waterbirds” – A-

Comments: This band’s back story has been blogged about and blogged about and blogged about some more. Their music has been written about just as much, too. So how is the music, since that’s all we care about?…well pretty good.  It’s kind of like Best Coast if Best Coast was folkier and surfier. Cape Dory is pretty all-around surfy. Minimal surf, though, not hectic. That should be noted. The girl singer (what’s her face!) in Tennis can do some fine stretching of her vocal cords. The first song on here isn’t illustrious in the sense of musical creativity/expansion, but it’s merely a light pop song to be enjoyed. Her voice is like that of trad/mod pop singer, but she really packs the punches better and possesses that innocent-but-really-pretty quality. I’m a sucker for the drum beat on “Long Boat Pass” and the surf guitar twang. Don’t twang and surf go well together? That said, how much shore line can we take, damn it?! Not all is awesome (rarely is everything); some of the techniques are pretty tired a la “sha la la sha la la” on “Cape Dory” for instance. On “Bimini Bay,” Tennis brings to mind the stripped down, laid-back nature of label-mates Walkmen’s 2010 LP Lisbon. This aesthetic carries on deep into the second half of the record. Another album I’d compare this to purely based on the metric of ambition is Teen Dream. ‘Course that was one of the best things that I heard last year and this does not match up to that record, BUT compositionally and sonically Cape Dory similarly sounds so natural and free-flowing. I can’t really praise it enough for that. At the end of the day, the hype that Tennis has received seems well warranted. Their take on girl group/oldies revivalism is unique nowadays and will probably stay around for a while.

Grade: A- (90)
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Tennis plays Great Scott on February 28.

CD Review: Dye It Blonde [2011]


Band:
Smith Westerns
Release: 1/2011
Label:
Fat Possum

1. “Weekend” – [A]
2. “Still New” – [A-]
3. “Imagine Pt. 3” – [A]
4. “All Die Young” – [A-]
5. “Fallen In Love” – [A-]
6. “End of the Night” -[A]
7. “Only One” – [A]
8. “Smile” – [A-]
9. “Dance Away” – [A]
10. “Dye the World” – [A-]

Comments: Smith Westerns are a band that, like label-mates Wavves in 2010, benefited immensely from a bigger studio budget. The clarity and direction on Dye It Blonde is a thing of beauty. Stylistically, this is something of a neo-psychedelic or psychedelic pop record, quite a few LSD blotters more psychedelic than the trippiest offerings from Magic Kids, but not as pop-sensible as say former tour partner MGMT. One thing that persists from the start of the record is that clean lead guitar effect, which sounds good, but is a bit overused. “Weekend” and “Imagine Pt. 3” have qualities that immediately hit ‘ya, so with good reason these tracks were made available before the official release. “Dance Away” may be the album’s most experimental track, but in the strangest way possible: it’s the fastest, most accessible, and most randomly discombobulated recording on here. Sounds like it’s going for that Diana Ross “Upside Down” disco meets ’90s Ricky Martin feel. Anyway, this is a record to remember. Fuck, it ain’t even 2011 yet so to make any predictions about this being in contention for Best of 2011 would be wildly erratic and unbecoming. I will say it’s the best thing from 2011 that I heard in 2010. K?

Grade: A- (92)

Glen’s Best/Worst of 2010: Record Labels

Congratulations to Matador Records for taking the cake in this one. The three Matador/True Panther albums that I noted below were securely in my Top 10 Albums of 2010 list. So, good job, Matador! Keep it up and here’s to 21 more years! Sub Pop and Fat Possum, two other large independent labels, put out some great records as well. On the smaller scale, Goner Records, based in Memphis, released a handful (probably even more) of quality records and I can only guess that 2011 will be another great year for that label and store. Burger Records, which has garnered national attention for its release of cassettes, is small as well, but their devotion to music and the bands that they put out is overwhelmingly large. As far as “better luck next year” labels go, we’ve got In The Red. In The Red has been a consistent favorite for me, but nothing that they put out this year really floored me. It was a bit of an off-year for Domino Records as well. Of course, that can go out without saying the year after releasing two stellar records, Merriweather Post Pavilion [Animal Collective] and Humbug [Arctic Monkeys]. EMI did pretty awful, but that’s expected too…it is a major label after all. Warner Brothers was a mixed bag; Devo’s LP was pretty good, but nothing else really tickled my fancy. I know a lot of people were feeling Dr. Dog and the Black Keys (especially) this year. 

Top 5!
1. Matador/True Panther Records – Notable Releases: Hippies [Harlem], Gay Singles [Hunx & His Punx], Memphis [Magic Kids]
2. Sub Pop – Notable Releases: Teen Dream [Beach House], I Will Be [Dum Dum Girls], Everything In Between [No Age]
3. Fat Possum Records – Notable Releases: King of the Beach [Wavves], Lisbon [Walkmen]
4. Goner Records – Notable Releases: First Blood [Nobunny], Melted [Ty Segall]
5. Burger RecordsNotable Releases: Cum Stain [Cum Stain], Shame, Shame [APACHE]

Worst!
1. EMI – Un-notable Releases: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky [OK GO], Sea of Cowards [Massive Attack]
2. Domino – Un-notable Releases: There Is Love In You [Four Tet], Hidden [These New Puritans]

CD Review: King of the Beach [2010]

Band: Wavves
Release: 6/2010
Label: Fat Possum

1. “King of the Beach” – A+
2. “Super Soaker” – A+
3. “Linus Spacehead” – A++
4. “When Will You Come” – A-
5. “Baseball Cards” – A+
6. “Take On The World” – A
7. “Post Acid” – A
8. “Idiot” – A
9. “Green Eyes” – A-
10. “Mickey Mouse” – A-
11. “Convertible Balloon” – A-
12. “Baby Say Goodbye” – A

Comments: Ye gods, the production quality on this is fantastic. Nathan Williams goes from being a lo-fi tape hissing noise punk on his first two records as Wavves to a pop punk extraordinaire on this one. Count me in on The Impressed Club. These songs are simply warm-weather chilled out re-playable classics. For obvious reasons, Wavves does a much better job at this than any of those ’90s/early ’00s hype summer pop rock bands that birthed hit singles. Wavves is much more real. Thank God they got a nice studio to kick around and experiment. It seems like they really took advantage of that setting by trying out new sounds: a light organ and sleigh bells (reminiscent of something in between Panda Bear and Christmas music) on “When Will You Come,” snapping, more vocal samples, synths, and all around Panda Bear esque psychedelia on “Baseball Cards,” and uncontrollable laughter on “Idiot.” A song built around laughing behind someone’s back? There you go. Like I said before, I’m truly impressed that this is the same guy who recorded simple, but only sometimes really catchy tunes in his bedroom. This isn’t selling out folks. It’s exploring and expanding. It’s…surprising and unexpected. A stripped down “Mickey Mouse” would have fit in Wavves catalog fine a few years ago, but it would have had only two or three layers. The “Mickey Mouse” on here has at least six different layers and every single one of them truly makes a world of difference. “Baby Goodbye” might be really awesome live, but damn that ending is far too long. The first three minutes or so are just fantastic. This record is tied for being my favorite of the year. I really don’t see that changing much. The quality and immediate impact of these songs is currently blowing my mind, but that might be because I’m looking outside it’s 90 degrees and sunny. This kind of weather just works this sound. Good work, Wavves.

Grade: A (94)