Initial Reactions (2011): Owen, Laura Veirs, Kurt Vile, Seryn, James Blake, Florence + the Machine

Owen – Ghost Town – (++): These are intimate, pensive tunes strung through delicate acoustic and electronically-tinged arrangements. Good, if somewhat too precious. At times, it reminds me of Red House Painters (see "No Language"), though not as diverse stylistically. One thing I want to applaud: Mike Kinsella’s vocals are UP FRONT in the mix. That’s unusual for a "bedroom" project, and a big plus considering how annoyed I am with the trend to "haze over" vocals. Also, there’s a very "late 90’s" feel to the whole thing, so, nostalgia, which is nice. The songs could have been stronger, but overall, nice job. ("O, Evelyn…", "Too Many Moons", "No Language")

Laura Veirs – Tumble Bee – (!!!!!): Well, with tunes like these, how could I NOT LOVE Laura Veirs? I remember "Galaxy" from a few years back – the one with that vaguely 70’s/90’s hybrid feel. What a great tune. This one here’s a kid’s album though, and for those who REALLY know, a good kids album sometimes entertains the adults more than the kids, like Rocky and Bullwinkle. It’s for the young at heart, or perhaps for those fed up enough with the world and her state of affairs that they want to collapse back into childhood. A good mixture of folk songs and originals, Tumble Bee is chock full of gorgeousness. Reminds me why I love music so much. ("Prairie Lullaby", "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Mi-O", "The Fox", "Jamaica Farewell")

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo – (++): Lou Reed meets Kurt Cobain. Nice acoustic guitar work. Cool lo-fi sounds, amazing slacker halo around it all. Much of it sounds like the notebook sketches of a genuinely gifted dude. I’d really like to hear KV apply some of his obvious songwriting ability to something a little grander though. Certainly intriguing. ("Baby’s Arms", "Society Is My Friend")

Seryn – This Is Where We Are – (++): Comparisons to recent Canadian Grammy winners are inevitable. I’m hearing "Arcade Fire + Nickel Creek = Seryn." Maybe Venice Is Sinking is a more likely comparison? Fair enough. Does it stand on its own? I think the answer is YES. The songs aren’t AMAZING, but they are certainly at the core of what the band is doing. There are many exceptionally beautiful moments here, and the Americana harmonies are fantastic. This Is Where We Are won’t, per se, be the big breakthrough for this band. However, it promises great things to come, and as a first entry in the band’s catalog, it’s a keeper.  ("We Will Be Changed", "Towering")

James Blake – James Blake – (++): Pretty much amazing electronic-soul record. Don’t know if I’d listen to it alot, but as something to behold, well, it is something to behold. A headphones record, a rainy day sort of affair, romantic and blurry and all that. I can’t rave about it, because I don’t expect to listen to it again, but I’ll at least say lots of nice things about it as an interesting slice of tuneage. Nice Feist cover too. Overall, sort of like tUnE-yArDs for me. Good stuff, but does it pull me back? We’ll see… ("The Wilhelm Scream", "Limit to Your Love")

Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials – (–): I came at this one after seeing their name everywhere. I heard associations like U2 and other that peaked my interest. I had reasonable (not high) hopes. They are dashed. Reason 1: I hate the production. It is that same awful American Idol = Disco + R&B + Nickelback sound that pretty much keeps me away from the radio. Reason 2: The songs are poor. They rely lopsidedly on "Florence’s" admittedly humongous voice and harps for a Renaissance effect (been done before and better, ad nauseam), but underneath it all, they just sound like they were written by a committee working for Simon Cowell. I expected pleasant surprise, I figured Indifference was the worst possibility, but really, I feel pretty negative toward this. The bottom line: Heart did it, with better songs, and more, er, heart.

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

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