Initial Reactions (2012): Punch Brothers, Sharon Van Etten, The Big Sleep

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an impression on me at that point, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now? – (B): This is the first PB record that I’ve really engaged with, and it both satisfies and leaves something to be desired. On one level, their efforts to bridge bluegrass into an experimental realm are highly admirable. It might have been “Enter Sandman” on banjos, but PB let loose with a stunning and haunting opener in “Movement and Location” and their cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A” (!) nails it. I admire their aim, without a doubt. They’ve made a good record in Who’s Feeling Young Now? However, being very familiar with Thile’s work in Nickel Creek, I know he’s capable of writing not just good but exquisite and beautiful songs. Next time around, I hope he channels some of those old songwriting chops. It’s time to take the gloves off and give us a shiner. (“Movement and Location”, “Kid A”)

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp – (B): The first artist that comes to mind with SVE is PJ Harvey; though her music is approachable and occasionally grungy/poppy, it menaces as well. Still, while she’s certainly an impressive talent, and every track on Tramp is above average, they just don’t have the “sticky” factor, the ability to lodge themselves in your imagination. At this point, my main criticism would be that Van Etten projects rather than draws. She seems to want to stick it to you, but a little mystery might help us let down our guards against all the hype. “Leonard”, with its Eastern bloc underpinnings, comes closest, but at this point I fail to see what all the fuss is about.  (“Leonard”, “I’m Wrong”)

The Big Sleep – Nature Experiments – (C+): I heard “Ace” on a sampler, and that one drew me in, but after a few more listens, I think it must have been a flash of brilliance rather than a beacon in the night. They sport a very 90’s sound, reminiscent of the midwestern melodic emo bands of that era. However, they fail to distinguish themselves by going beyond it. With the standouts I detect great ideas little explored. “1001” hints at Boards of Canada, and “Wood on the Water” might have reached to something haunting and numinous. Unfortunately though, nothing more than an average indie rock record is realized. (“1001”, “Wood on the Water”)

Quick Review (LP): Attachment In A Child (…) by Young Hunting

Album front cover booklet 1 scaled downYoung Hunting
Attachment In A Child And The Subsequent Condition
Agenda; 2010

My Rating: B-

Best Tracks: “Forebode”, “Earth’s Ground”

Heady stuff, this. The press release describes it best: “the album plays as a conceptual soundtrack to a non existent film.” On one level, you can draw comparisons to Boards of Canada, but there’s arguably more of a metal influence here. No doubt it’s a concept album as well, so take that for what it’s worth. One thing seems certain: this ain’t the kind of thing you’re going to listen to on a sunny summer day with the top down. All in all, sort of scary. Prepare yourself for a journey into some serious darkness here.

Band website
Myspace site

Quick Review (EP): The Years by 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

Quick Review (LP): The Way Out by The Books

The Books
The Way Out
Temporary Residence; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “A Cold Freezin’ Night”, “Beautiful People”, “Group Autogenics I”, “All You Need Is A Wall”

This is great! I had only a passing familiarity with The Books prior to hearing this record, but by the time I heard the kids chanting on “A Cold Freezin’ Night”, a certain giddiness had descended upon me. This music is a blast! The two guys making this music are basically the goofy little kids in “A Cold Freezin’ Night” all grown up. The music is like a strange hybrid of Boards of Canada, Tortoise, and old, New Age-y self-help cassettes. Albums like these validate “experimental” music; The Way Out makes it obvious that experimentation can lead to strange and wonderful things. The layering and sound quality here are excellent, but there’s also a strong sense of beauty that pervades these recordings. This isn’t “head” music by any means. This is hyperlinked soul music, the kind of “found sound” record that just might bring a tear to your eye.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
TRL page for record

Boards of Canada: In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country EP

This post has been permanently moved. You can find it here:

EP/Log: In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country by Boards of Canada