Album Reviews

First off, let me apologize to Alabama Shakes, Nick Waterhouse, John Fulbright, Michael Kiwanuka and Father John Misty (as I pretend you’re reading this). You guys put out some of the best debut albums of the year. No, some of the best albums of the year. The Shakes, we’ve had some good days firing up for a night out on the town. Nick, you’ve played every imaginary party I’ve thrown at my upscale NYC loft all year – and man, some crazy shit has happened. John and Michael, you guys have played at my real-world parties – the family BBQ’s and dinners with my wife and kids. Father John Misty Tillman, thanks for being extra weird.

But there’s this dude out in Wisconsin that makes me feel funny. It’s that feeling Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy feels after great golf swing, when “a tuning fork goes off in your heart and balls.” Field report is the tuning fork in my heart. And balls I guess.

The other day, when talking about music, someone asked me: “Do you play an instrument?” The answer is always “Never.” The follow up question is predictably “Then how did you get so into music?” I’m not sure I’ve discussed it here before, but my connection to music comes from moving every three to four years of my life. It takes about three years to make real good friends and I was conditioned to spend years building strong friendships just in time to say goodbye. Every three or four years – Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, Florida, Oregon, back to Ohio, on to Illinois, then to California, then Georgia, now Kansas again.

During these moves to new schools, there are periods of isolation. In a new town with no friends – unsure of everything. With no social life, I’d visit record stores and buy used CDs. I’d spend hours in my room listening to albums, flipping through liner notes and reading along to the lyrics in an attempt to understand the song meanings. Long monologue to get to a simple point: I fell in love with lyrics.

I always made friends and my social life would eventually get busy. I sort of missed that isolation and music became an escape. It still is. Field Report is a band where that escape and isolation is critical to its appreciation. If you’re busy, it’ll breeze by as if nothing was coming out of the speakers. If you’re listening, a new world opens up filled with incredible songwriting that features stunning prose instead of more conventional rhythmic verses. A perfect example of this is in the opening track and my favorite song of the year, Fergus Falls.

I was concealing his kid under his crewneck stateschool sweatshirt while he grinned off in the distance behind prescription shades that were blocking out the clouded out sun while he as hoping against a daughter and no one saw my banners, my bruises, my flares, my flags.

Longest sentence ever, right? Chris Porterfield doesn’t pin himself into lyrical corners when crafting his songs. If you’re unfamiliar with Chris, his first band broke up – one that consisted of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and the guys from Megafaun. He went on to write his own tunes, released some work as Conrad Plymouth and now works under the Field Report moniker. My two other favorite songs on the album are Taking Alcatraz and Incommunicado. Words from taking Alcatraz:

So I clear my name and clear my throat find my voice and here we go again I need a place to stand. I hear sirens down the street from the third shift bar I’m going to park my car in the painted-off place where the bikers park. We’ll see what happens then

And if I die here, well at least I made a choice. And if I’m fine here, you should tell the boys That a line in the sand don’t matter if you don’t care That a bird in the hand is worthless if you’re too scared.

And from the subtle climax of Incommunicado:

I could have been in California for coming up now on nine years
but I wouldn’t be here pining for you- I never would have made my way out here
where Dahmer sings the blues with Liberace as they sip on fifty cent beers
and watch themselves on a tube Hitachi holding hands in a bathroom mirror
when you coming home when you coming home when you coming home?

The Dahmer/Liberace reference has me perplexed, but it’s stunning to hear nonetheless.

Field Report broke out at SxSW this year and the self-titled debut is out on 9/11. Listen to two of my favorite tracks below. If you’re into it, just mark your calendar and pick up the album. Chris Porterfield can write some damn fine songs.

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Virgin Forest – Easy Way Out [Album Review]

by Woody on January 17, 2012

I first heard of Virgin Forest a couple months ago when I saw Deer Tick in Chicago. John McCauley was sporting a Virgin Forest tee and, being the sophomoric 41 year old that I am, it made an impression. And really, who wouldn’t want to visit a forest comprised of virgins?

As luck would have it, something came from their PR machine the next day and I saw the word Phosphorescent written somewhere there on my phone. I consider myself to be a bit of a Phosphorescent fan and upon listening to track, I found instant gratification.

Turns out the connection to Phosphorescent is that the four dudes in Virgin Forest comprise 4/5 of Phosphorescent – minus that lead guy Matthew Houck. Phosphorescent is aces in my books and they absolutely kill it live, so musicianship isn’t something I questioned when giving Virgin Forest a listen. How bout the vocals and songwriting? I spent some considerable time with their debut, Joy Atrophy, as I waited for my copy of Easy Way Out to arrive. Sold.

Like Phosphorescent, the music is extremely tight and there is more than a hint of twang in there. Easy Way Out is 10 tunes long and clocks in at an economic 26 minutes. The songs are like quick jabs as lead singer Scott Stapleton leads the foursome through.

Like Partisan label mates Deer Tick, Virgin Forest aren’t afraid to crank up the gear and let it rip. “Get Away” and the title track see them release the hand brake, but it’s the twangy cosmic country efforts like “Big Old Mama” and “Home Alone” that really allow Virgin Forest to relax and shine. That could be due to the couple of years backing Houck while supporting To Willie and Here’s To Taking It Easy, but Virgin Forest doesn’t need to rely on Phosphorescent to gain credibility or John McCauley as president of their street team. Easy Way Out stands on its own and I’m sure their live performance will be an experience. Look for the album on January 31st.

Virgin Forest – Don’t Be Afraid

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Belivers, A.A. Bondy’s latest album, has been impossible for me to review. I’ll first point out that I am in love with the album, but it’s different from every album I’ve listened to this year. It has a few songs that rise above others, like “Surfer King” and “Rte. 28/Believers,” but they serve as crests on the album’s waves that ebb and flow in a dream state. It’s played for months in my car, house, headphones and one day I found myself immersed.

The album’s sound is soaked in guitar reverb and awash in the warm rasp of Bondy’s vocals. Lyrically, the album is a puzzle. You’ll find very little that makes literal sense, leaving every turn of phrase open for interpretation. Let’s have a look at “Surfer King:”

Behind the red door, in American skin
There is a murder of roses
In the midnight hiss, come cover me there
For I am electric nothing

Out on the tide, strangers all
Are drowning by
Under eclipse, I wait for your kiss
With the beating of all…
These idiot hearts

And no more evil now, no horror sound
No maniac song from tyrant
And the surfer king will show me everything
In the great, green flash of the evening

Out on the tide, strangers we ride
Smoke in our eyes
Under eclipse, I wait for your kiss
With the beating of all…
These idiot hearts

And so goes the abyss that is lyrical beauty on Believers. This is a slight departure from the Folk/Americana style on Bondy’s two previous albums, but it’s a fantastic record that breezes by in the blink of an eye, filling your room with an atmosphere of warmth and calm. But that calm may be interrupted by feelings of trepidation. It’s the feeling of walking alone on a deserted city street, lit by moon or by a dim streetlight. You may check over your shoulder from time to time. You may feel as if you’re being watched.

If Believers doesn’t agree with you immediately, give it more time. It will slowly permeate your mind.

A.A. Bondy is in Chicago at Lincoln Hall tonight and we have a pair of tickets to give away. Email freeshit@hearya.com with your full name and “Bondy Giveaway” in the subject line to nab them. We’ll pick a winner at high noon.

A.A. Bondy – The Heart Is Willing

Dig into our Live Session with A.A. Bondy, if you haven’t already.

 

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I can’t remember whether I read S.E. Hinton’s book first or saw Francis Coppola’s adaptation of The Outsiders in the theater. While many people would put down The Catcher & The Rye as the formative book of their adolescence, for me it was always The Outsiders. It wasn’t as if I could identify with Ponyboy or the other characters much. I grew up in a middle-class town with both my parents. Maybe it was Pony’s realization that, despite many differences, the Socs were also far from perfect. And it was hard not to respect Darry and his tough love, born from the recognition and appreciation that Pony was different and special. He wanted a better life for him; one that he couldn’t have.

When I heard that the Roadside Graves were doing a concept album based on a book that meant a great deal to me growing up, well, let’s just say I was excited. I don’t think I could have picked a better band to take on such a task. They didn’t set out to retell this familiar story – that would come off as cheap and unambitious. Instead, their perspective is more subtle and dives deep in character exploration. As Gleason said, ” We tried to emphasize the sensitive, frightened sides of the characters, instead of showcasing their thick skin and greaser toughness.”

The album starts with “Outside,” which speaks to the mentality of the greasers. The songs dredge up the “us against the world” mentality that so many of the characters felt throughout the book. “Double Feature” is inspired by the time when Ponyboy meets Cherry – an encounter which eventually leads to the death of Bob Sheldon, and act of violence that turns the book on end. The chorus of “I don’t want to fight but I will,” alludes to the confusion that both sides felt upon the almost compulsory need to fight.The staggering “Teenagers Are Tired” is an acoustic ballad that makes you feel every bit of fear and ounce of exhaustion that Ponyboy and Johnny must have felt while hiding out in the next town over. The heartbreaking “Love Me More” speaks to so many of the characters who had issues with or were abandoned by their parents.

The album stands on its own, even for those unfamiliar with The Outsiders. But if you’re a fan, it’s going to hit home. The talent and ability exhibited by Roadside Graves in breathing new life into something sacred to me is something special. While I wind up seeing the movie once a year on cable, I haven’t read the book in 20 years. After spending quality time with We Can Take Care Of Ourselves and digging into every last lyric, I found it necessary to download The Outsiders to my Kindle and explore it again with a new perspective.

Roadside Graves – Double Feature

Roadside Graves – Love Me More

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The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy [Album Review]

July 19, 2011

Australia’s The Middle East were introduced to me via email along with mention of them touring with Mumford & Sons and playing fests like Bonaroo and Coachella. I immediately assumed they were a hyper-energetic folk act with a similar sound that that Mumford & Sons pull off so well. What I was greeted with, however, […]

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Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest [Album Review]

July 5, 2011

I regret not becoming a Gillian Welch fan before this Independence Day weekend. I purchased Time (The Revelator) years ago and never made it through a complete spin. If digital albums could collect dust, that thing would be covered in cobwebs. At the coincidental urging of two friends last week, I finally decided to give […]

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White Denim – D [Album Review]

May 31, 2011

I can’t recall a time that I’ve been as apathetic about new music as I have in May, 2011. I’m the music consumer equivalent of the nihilist, Uli Kunkel, adrift in the pool while passed out on a raft in The Big Lebowski. I’ve spent the last several weeks listening to old Bob Dylan albums […]

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Mount Moriah – Self Titled [Album Review]

May 16, 2011

Lately, we’ve been talking about breakout albums and our favorite music discoveries of 2011. Add Mount Moriah to both lists. Heather McEntire and Jenks Miller are the two-piece that created Mount Moriah, but their sound is much larger than themselves. That’s because they’ve enlisted the help of friends, including members of Megafaun, St. Vincent, Gayngs, […]

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The David Wax Museum – Everything Is Saved [Album Review]

May 13, 2011

I’m a fan of The David Wax Museum’s previous two efforts, Carpenter Bird and I Turned Off Thinking About, but their latest release, Everything Is Saved has sealed the deal for me. The album blends American folk with traditional Mexican music, which is no small challenge. There were moments of sheer brilliance on the first […]

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Other Lives – Tamer Animals [Album Review]

May 10, 2011

Today, Other Lives released their second full length album entitled Tamer Animals.  Tamer Animals is ALL in the details.  Every little bit counts and is meticulously crafted to create a rich landscape of sonic texture.  From the smallest knee slap beats in “For 12” to the thunderous roll of the Timpani in “As I Lay […]

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