Quick Review (LP): There Will Be No Miracles Here by Frontier(s)

frontierscover300 Frontier(s)
There Will Be No Miracles Here
No Sleep Records; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Young Lives”, “Abul Abbas”

It goes like this: Chris Higdon used to lead the charge for Elliott. Elliott’s first (and, ahem, best) album, US Songs, opened with a track called “Miracle.” Said track was one of the most upbeat in their whole catalog, not really fitting in with their later stuff. Higdon now fronts Frontier(s), who have just released their debut LP a few months back. Get it? There will be no “Miracles” here. So goodbye Elliott. Now, it’s not that this record is a complete departure from Elliott’s dense and moody hard rock,  it’s just that it’s stripped of the former band’s more atmospheric tendancies. This is a straightforward post-punk record, full of Jawbox-style indie rock. And it’s quite a good one at that. Yet the message is clear: Higdon’s done with the skies, ready to spend some time at ground level. The result is a very strong record, one that grows on me with each listen. Highly recommended, miracles or no.

Band Myspace site
PunkNews.org Review
Music-Is-Amazing Review

Quick Review (LP): Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter

HALCYON-DIGEST-575x567 Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD; 2010

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Revival”, “Desire Lines”, “Helicopter”, “Coronado”

I got to know Deerhunter earlier this year via the excellent single and “b-side” Revival/Primitive 3-D. “Revival” is here as well, the perfect doorway into the band’s throwback pop impressionism. Now I’m not familiar with Deerhunter’s back catalog (yet), but this album certainly seems to channel the golden age of pop music. Whether it’s the “heart in sax” of “Coronado,” or “Basement Scene”, which takes the Everly Brothers’ “Dream” through the looking glass, this is a record shot through with thoughtfully deconstructed rock and roll. It’s a pretty good record, one that might have made my A-list, but unfortunately a good number of the songs are overlong. Often these tracks begin with a great idea, then devolve into a dull monotony. The effect is that the songs quickly grab you, and then just as quickly let go. Of course, that might be the whole point. After all, the album’s title would suggest that we are encountering something ideal and fleeting, a mental photo album of fleeting memories. So I grant that. Unfortunately, it still leaves a potentially great record just below the mark. Be that is it may, overall this is a solid record, and I’m excited to hear more from Deerhunter, both past and future.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews
Band website
Daytrotter session

Quick Review (LP): The Suburbs by The Arcade Fire

arcade fire the suburbs The Arcade Fire
The Suburbs
Merge; 2010

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “The Suburbs”, “Ready to Start”, “City With No Children”, “Suburban War”, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Montains)”

I can’t make up my mind about this record. On one hand, it’s undeniably a strong album, but on the other hand, I want more than strong albums from The Arcade Fire. I want more like “Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains)” and less like “Month of May.” I want more Regine on vocals and less Win. I want more quiet and melodic and less overwrought bombast. If this band can make one of the greatest rock records of all time (Funeral), then it can make another one. All of this being said, there are some great tracks here, of which the title track and the aforementioned “Sprawl II” are the best and will probably both find their way onto my year end best tracks list. There is plenty of emotional resonance here but too much reliance on the wall of sound and some filler as well. The Arcade Fire is banging their head on the wall of sound at this point, and it is time for them to break out of it and find some greener pastures.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews
Band website

Quick Review (LP): Penny Sparkle by Blonde Redhead

pennysparkle200 Blonde Redhead
Penny Sparkle
4AD; 2010

My Rating: C

Best Tracks: “Here Sometimes”

Maybe I should better familiarize myself with their back catalog before I cast judgment on their latest LP. However, I own a copy of 23, which is pretty good, and this doesn’t measure up to 23. I think more than anything this explains why so many bands spend a good deal of time trying to re-invent themselves between records. There’s just not a lot here that doesn’t pass by in a sort of mundane haze. I’ve given this one a C, which, when I was in school, meant average, and I don’t want to grade on a sliding scale. This one sounds like an average indie band making an average indie record. I wish I had better things to say about it, but unfortunately it fell flat on my ears.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews
Band website

Quick Review (LP): High Violet by The National

high-violet The National
High Violet
4AD; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Terrible Love”, “Sorrow”, “Bloodbuzz Ghost”, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” a wise man once said. And who is The National to argue with that? Coming off of Boxer, which made them one of indie’s undisputed heavyweights, the band apparently tried to craft something a bit more upbeat. They failed, and the result is this haunting and opaque beauty of a record. At first, it comes off like “Boxer, part 2”, but after a few listens you’ll start to pick up on singer Matt Berninger really stretching himself and the rest of the band changing things up ever so slightly. For all of the cold tones of their sound, The National have at root an Americana soul that imbues their music with a warmth and richness that most upstarts of the NYC scene can’t quite attain. For what it’s worth, I think The National have officially become what Interpol might have been with a little heat to balance out their sound: America’s own chroniclers of urban lonesome and paranoia.

The National’s website
Daytrotter downloads
”Terrible Love” video
Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): Contra by Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend
Contra
XL; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Horchata”, “Cousins”, “Holiday”

Vampire Weekend’s debut LP was so good that it earned them a lifetime credibility with me. The only thing that could possibly find me not buying their future releases would probably fall under the heading of either “egregious criminal activity” or “Live with Santana.” Even so, this wasn’t at all what I expected. About half of the songs here have at least the potential to live up to the standards set by the likes of “M79”, “Oxford Comma”, and “Walcott,” but unfortunately none of them actually do in execution. If it was a more mature sound that the band was shooting for with LP2, I could have lived with that. Tracks like “Horchata” and “Diplomat’s Son” work well enough stripped of the punk vigor embued in all of the tracks from their debut. However, I’m left scratching my head when tracks like “Cousins” and “Holiday” are interspersed. Furthermore, while on one hand I like it, I wish the band hadn’t made such an obvious play for airwave domination with “Giving Up The Gun.” I know Weezer surrendered to the corporate pop gods a few albums in; I wish VW had at least waited until LP4 or 5. As long as they make albums, I’ll buy them, but I hope I can be more excited about the listen next time around.

Metacritic page
Daytrotter session

Giving Up The Gun video
Cousins video
Holiday video
Pitchfork review
Paste review

Quick Review (LP): England’s Newest Hit Makers by The Rolling Stones

England's Newest Hit Makers - The Rolling StonesThe Rolling Stones
England’s Newest Hit Makers
ABKCO; 1964

My Rating: C+

Best Tracks: “Route 66”, “Little By Little”, “Carol”

Hey rock and roll fanboy nerd guy. What’s that? You gonna give me a hard time about reviewing Rolling Stones’ early releases in their American formats? Well, fine then. But if it really means that much to you, why don’t you order me the British imports? There are only 5 of them, after all. Otherwise, shut up. Now let’s talk about England’s Newest Hit Makers. These guys sure seem to like American music, and in light of their later stuff, their sound is pretty well formed here. Yeah, there’s none of that distinctive songwriting that made these guys the greatest rock and roll band ever yet, but as far as performance goes, tracks like “Little By Little” and “Carol” show a band that was ready to scare the pants of your momma and daddy. Keith Richards is already a great guitar player, and Mick Jagger is already a great “guy-who-can’t-really-sing” frontman. Other than that, there’s not much here I’ll probably come back to, except maybe the tracks I listed above. I mean, you tell me if “Tell Me” is a good song or just some kind of R&B knockoff. For all I know, this is what every British band sounded like in the years immediately following the Beatles’ first album. OK then, there’s greener pastures than these. Let’s move on from here.

All Music Guide review
Album’s Wikipedia page

Quick Review (LP): Handwriting by Rachel’s

handwriting Rachel’s
Handwriting
Quarterstick; 1995

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Southbound to Marion”, “M. Daguerre”, “Full On Night”

When Rodan split in late 1994, they darted like subatomic particles into other musical nuclei. The most obtuse of these initial ventures was probably Rachel’s, Jason Noble’s stab at classical music. While it might seem like a stretch, it’s really not. After all, Rodan opened their only LP with “Bible Silver Corner”, a drum-less instrumental steeped in neo-classical dynamics and ambiance. When you consider that he was joined by two classically trained musicians (Christian Fredericksen and Rachel Grimes) in forming the artistic core of Rachel’s, it’s no surprise that their debut slides easily into the canon of 20th century classical music. That’s not to say that all of Rodan’s angular aesthetic has been stripped from these arrangements. “Full On Night” features a long free-handed guitar solo from Noble, and “M. Daguerre” amounts to an eerily deconstructed take on an old lounge standard. These two long tracks are exceptionally strong, and opener “Southbound to Marion” makes for an outstanding country road soundtrack. Finally, it’s Rachel Grimes that shines on the poignant “Frida Kahlo”, anticipating the major role she would play on the band’s follow-up, Music for Egon Schiele. All in all, not everything here is great, but as a fusion of indie rock and neo-classical music, there’s enough good to keep me coming back for more.

All Music Guide review
”M. Daguerre” video
Rachel’s website

Quick Review (LP): Teen Dream by Beach House

Beach House
Teen Dream
Sub Pop; 2010

My Rating: A+

Tracks: “Walk in the Park”, “Zebra”, “Used to Be”, “Take Care”

Thriller. Born In The USA. Rumours. There is a short list of albums that are amazing both as cohesive artistic statements and as collections of pop classics. Who would have thought that, in 1991, three knuckleheads from the Pacific Northwest with only one sloppily recorded sludge-rock effort to their credit would rise into that category with a gleaming collection of 12 odes to teen angst? Well, I was just as surprised to find Beach House ascending into that hall of greatness with their third album, Teen Dream. All of these songs would stand as great singles in and of themselves, but strewn together as a collection they make for one of the greatest rock records in recent memory. While the standards for these songs have been set with these recordings, I can’t help but wonder what tracks like “Walk in the Park” and “Zebra” would sound like stadium-sized. I’m not asking Beach House to go all U2 on us or anything, but then again, if Radiohead and Springsteen can pull of rock and roll glory in super-sized settings, then based on the strength of the songs on this album, Beach House can too. Teen Dream is probably the first great record of this decade.

Daytrotter session
Pitchfork review
Paste review
Myspace site

Quick Review (EP): The Years by Memoryhouse

Memoryhouse
The Years
Arcade Sound Ltd.; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Track: “Sleep Patterns”

Debut EP’s have a long and storied history. I count among my favorites REM’s Chronic Town, Voxtrot’s Raised By Wolves, and Fugazi’s self-titled debut. I think it’s perhaps the best way for a new band to introduce its sound to the world, because the EP length leaves us well-informed but thirsting for more. Additionally, most bands, in their first year or two, have not really achieved what can be called a fully-formed sound. Arcade Fire is a good example. Their first EP, while decent in its own right, comes nowhere near the epic glory of their debut LP. All of this is to say that I think Memoryhouse has released one of the best EP’s of the year with their debut, The Years. It’s short even for an EP, only 4 songs in all, but we have here a reasonable introduction to what can be expected from the band in the future. “Sleep Patterns” is the obvious standout, a lo-fi pop noir hybrid of Beach House and Joy Division, and “The Waves” is a quick interlude of New Age electronica. The other two tracks are solid as well, and given the fact that the EP is free, I expect the band to gain a significant following from it. I question whether they can pull off a really solid LP though. Bands with this sort of sleepy sound generally approach terminal attention around track 8 (witness: Boards of Canada), so I for one am hoping for a long career of lengthy EP’s. Still, if Tortoise can do LPs, why can’t Memoryhouse? We’ll see what they come up with.

Download it for FREE here
Pitchfork review
Band Myspace page
WeAreBandits.com