• The "Difficult" Followup to "The Pop Breakthrough"

    Posted 11/09/2012 by cal

    It’s a time-honored tradition, ever since The Beatles followed up Please Please Me with the experimental mindfuck of With The Beatles.  Sometimes the motivation is strategic: fearing a loss of cred, the sudden superstars show they can still get weird.  Come back, disenchanted fans who stood by us until we got famous!  Sometimes, it’s pure iconoclasm, or just an attempt to provoke.  Sometimes it’s laziness.  Sometimes, I suppose, that’s just where the creative minds of the musicians happened to venture.  This year, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, glitterati of the formerly freak-folk Brooklyn Empire (Yeah, I know Ariel Pink is an L.A. nutjob; he got famous thanks to discovery by AnCo and is now an honorary member of the family), pulled this classic maneuver all at once, perfectly timed to give music critics just enough time to let the challenging music sink in before their best-of list deadlines.  If the music is good enough.

  • Police Teeth: POLICE TEETH

    Posted 10/26/2012 by cal

    It probably doesn’t matter whether or not punk is dead; there’s still good, obnoxious music being made that will annoy your parents, or even youPolice Teeth, the new self-titled LP by this raucous Seattle band, shows definite potential for mainstream viability, but it’s still rooted firmly in the earsplitting sounds of the underground.  A band that’s been around for a good six years or so, prolifically putting out records, that still sounds like a basement-show band certainly seems like punk rock; the songs are a little more sophisticated than on 2007’s Jazz Records For Sale, but overall the formula has been in place the whole time.

  • Nervous Curtains: FAKE INFINITY

    Posted 09/19/2012 by cal

    You can anticipate somewhat of a harrowing experience just by glancing at the song titles of Nervous Curtains’ new LP Fake Infinity, and there’s a not-quite-campy slasher-flick aura pervading the Dallas post-punk band’s music.  “Moody Photos”, “The Crooked Telepathic”, “Come Around Viral”, “Something Sinister”, etc.; not exactly happy music, right?  But there are rare moments on this album come when the creepy synths rise up to support a positive emotional release, just to keep you guessing.  The production is very stark and minimal, relying on bare, bristling instrumentation to set the mood, and without ever overwhelming the senses with overdubs and reverb, the songs are freaky enough and the playing powerful enough to land a few stabs into the psyche.


    Posted 07/24/2012 by cal

    If chillwave is a thing, then Lotus Plaza is chillrock.  Doesn’t have that same ring to it, does it?  That’s because unlike chillwave, it’s actually an apt verbal representation of the musical style it describes.  Taken at face value, this ugly new term would seem to denote “boring”, wouldn’t it?  You know, like how Deerhunter might sound without Bradford Cox’s songs?  Lockett Pundt is incredibly talented, and Spooky Action At A Distance is certainly an accomplishment, but the shadow of Pundt's more famous band looms inescapably over his solo project.

  • Suckers: CANDY SALAD

    Posted 07/24/2012 by cal

    File under: bad first impressions, not as an insult but because Candy Salad is another example of something that’s easy to pick apart intellectually on first listen when you’ve been bombarded with INDIE ROCK for two decades, but then eventually some of the songs seep into your head and reveal themselves as worthwhile nuggets no matter how typical the overall sound is.  In the end, rock and roll is rock and roll, and maybe it’s harder to make something enduring and endearing utilizing a sound that’s been done to death, but it can be done.  We live in a world where first impressions are too often all you allow yourself to take in.  When it comes to music, at least, you can’t trust ‘em.

  • Scattered Trees: SYMPATHY

    Posted 05/24/2011 by cal

    Chicago’s Scattered Trees started up years ago, splintered apart and then reconvened to record Sympathy, a dedication to the memory of frontman Nate Eiesland’s father, whose death inspired Eiesland to write this collection of songs.  Listeners will have no trouble picking up on the mournful pathos and occasional bitterness that permeate the record; even the songs that don’t directly address mortality evoke a feeling of loss, making for a cohesive album that’s not as depressing as it could justifiably have been.


    Posted 04/19/2011 by cal

    Montreal's The Luyas have thrown their hats into the crowded kitchen-sink indie ring; eclectic instrumentation both organic and manufactured defies genre tags on Too Beautiful To Work.  Most of the music has an eerie, desolate feel to it, and while there’s a lot going on, the songs never feel cluttered.  Everything is cleverly and effectively arranged, sometimes maddeningly catchy for all its quirk, but The Luyas are still a step away from the perfect synthesis of darkness and light that they could be.


    Posted 04/07/2011 by cal

    I’m predicting 2012 will finally see a lull in the 80s retro craze.  I’m not a hater, either; the trend has produced some mind-blowing albums in the past couple of years, and this intriguing gothic/dreampop hybrid by MINKS is a fresh enough take on old styles, but while you’re floating in the comatose state between comfort and unease that By The Hedge induces, let me know if you come across any decent melodies, ‘cause I tried and I couldn't find any.

  • Yuck: YUCK

    Posted 03/23/2011 by cal

    In the absence of a decent effort by Tapes ‘N Tapes since their debut, it was time we got a straight-up rockin’ slab of Pavement-style indie pop.  If the guitar hook in album opener “Get Away” and Daniel Blumberg’s dry vocal delivery don’t remind you of Malkmus, you are flunking Alt-Rock History 101.  But Yuck doesn’t get so twisty-turny with its lyrics or music; this is heroically accessible ear candy, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Smith Westerns: DYE IT BLONDE

    Posted 03/01/2011 by cal

    After you listen to enough music in a lifetime, the best you can hope for is a new band that reminds you of a bunch of your favorite old bands; exceptions are rare.  You might go through a phase where nothing sounds fresh any more, but once you top that mountain you’re free to enjoy bands like Chicago's Smith Westerns without regard for what came before, because the songs are just that good.


    Posted 02/25/2011 by cal

    Dreampop is a pretty specific style; Braids play an extremely dreamy form of pop music even if you can’t quite tag it.  There’s more of a persistent, liquid drone to it, and an edge you won’t find in dreampop, though it is frequently lilting and narcotic just like the latest Beach House album.  By the third track, “Glass Deers”, singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston starts getting nuts à la old-school Panda Bear, and the unsettling tendencies of the music underscore anything you might find soothing about it, but it is crazy infectious.

  • Male Bonding: NOTHING HURTS

    Posted 12/08/2010 by cal

    Male Bonding is not a punk rock band, but it scratches a similar itch.  There’s the belligerent abrasiveness, the grinning irreverence, the downtrodden resilience, and most importantly, the fast and loud guitar.  But then there’s all that echo and static and the feeble vocals that make Nothing Hurts, the London group's debut full-length, decidedly indie rock.  It’s tough to glean much from Kevin Hendrick’s singing, and the trendy muddy production is mildly annoying, but the songs are so good that this still ends up being a great album.

  • Grandchildren: COLD WARRIORS

    Posted 12/07/2010 by cal

    I’ll get this out of the way first: Cold Warrior will remind you of Animal Collective from the first beat, circa Feels-era.  But the tribally-poppy path is fertile and eclectic ground, and this isn’t really derivative, more just riding an inevitable wave of cultural continuity.  Before long, you’ll get roped in by the aggressive guitar hooks and the heady mixture of electronic and organic percussive momentum, and you’ll forget all about trying to compare it to anything.





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