Initial Reactions (2012): Memoryhouse, The Cranberries, New Multitudes

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 initial impression on me, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Memoryhouse – The Slideshow Effect [B+]: So close to greatness. It seems they are starting to move away from their ambient, Engima-esque roots into something more poppy, and while TSE pleases and soothes, I do wonder if that threatens their distinctiveness. I’ll certainly stick around, but I am disappointed that this one didn’t completely roll me over. Love that gal’s voice though. Brainy and sultry at the same time. Also, precious video. ("The Kids Were Wrong", "Heirloom")

The Cranberries – Roses [B]: Once upon a time, The Cranberries created a triad transcendent; “Linger”, “Dreams”, and “Ode to My Family” are all sublime. Roses, their first album in 11 years, starts off promising, with the band sounding completely rejuvenated on "Tomorrow." However, after "Fire and Soul", things become dull and predictable. There’s not really a bad moment here, it’s just that most of these tunes are sans thorns, pleasant and inviting, but lacking any sense of danger in beauty. ("Tomorrow", "Fire and Soul")

New Multitudes – New Multitudes [B]: More reminiscent of Middle Brother than Mermaid Avenue. That’s not say it’s bad, just that it doesn’t quite have that joyous spark that made MA I such a treasure. The big surprise: Andres Parker steals the show. His cuts range from pastoral ("Fly High") to alt-rock artistry ("Old L.A.") to downright grungy ("Angel’s Blues"). The rest of the troupe deliver as you’d expect. Any of Farrar’s tunes could have been Son Volt cuts, and Yames mostly lends that golden voice. As for Will Johnson, I’ve heard of his band, but none of his stuff here impresses me. BTW, is it a coincidence that Tweedy is delivering Mermaid Avenue III this year, or does anyone think there is still the old rivalry in play? Sensationalism, I know… (“Fly High”, “Old L.A.”)

Initial Reactions (2011): Real Estate, Cults, My Brightest Diamond, Memoryhouse, Washed Out

Real Estate – Days – [!!!!!]: Different packaging, same great taste. Band upgrades from one room flat to spacious loft. No matter how you put it, this is a band destined for great things. One thing I tend to insist is on is that I don’t care how great your band name or image is, if you don’t write great songs who really cares? And that’s why I love Real Estate. No sense of a well cultivated image (but not anti-image either, more like image-agnostic). This is a band that exists to make beautiful, chiming surf guitar love pop. You MIGHT find their equals, but where are you going to find tunes BETTER than "It’s Real" or "Out of Tune" this year? I defy you. ("Easy", "Green Aisles", "It’s Real", "Out of Tune")

Cults – Cults – [++]: I was going to say something snarky about how this is 2011’s version of 2010’s obligatory producer/voice combo Sleigh Bells, but there is a tunefulness and a soulfulness here that I didn’t expect and I like this much better than what I heard from Sleigh Bells. I think that’s owing to 2 things, the first being the no so subtle influence of 60’s girl group pop and the second being Madeline Follin’s voice which is certainly up to Brian Oblivion’s arrangements. So instead, I’m going to say that I really wish they’d re-hashed "Fire Woman", cuz I really love that song (honestly, I do). But yeah, think of the idea of Sleigh Bells, but the tunes of She & Him. That’s more like it. ("Abducted", "Walk at Night", "Rave On")

My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind – [++]: That Shara Worden sure is a talented lady. In some sense, I don’t really think I’m worthy of reviewing this. After all, I’m used to reviewing obvious, accessible pop music, not complex and challenging pseudo-classical compositions. What I’ll say though is that I really appreciate her work. I like it better than I expected, and one extremely positive thing I want to say is that she transcends the "hyper-pop" model that has become so popular and, if I may say so, somewhat cliche. There’s nothing cutesy about this. So musically, I have to acknowledge a certain greatness on Shara’s part. The problem is with me; her style just isn’t my cup of tea. So while I probably won’t be spinning this a great deal, I can wholeheartedly commend it to anyone who’s musical tastes go beyond that of a guy who watched way too much MTV growing up. ("We Added It Up", "She Does Not Brave the War", "I Have Never Loved Someone")

Memoryhouse – The Years EP – [ind]: I have to say, it’s a bit disappointing for the band to essentially "revamp" their self-released EP from last year as their debut proper. Whatever, it’s not like they owed me anything, but I will say that if you can get your hands on the original version of The Years, the versions of those songs are superior. Also, why did they ditch the Enigma-esque cut? I loved that one. Anywho, I’ll pass on this, but I am really looking forward to their debut LP. Oh, and the 7" they released earlier this year ("Caregiver" b/w "Heirloom") is most definitely worth seeking out.

Washed Out – Within and Without – [++]: I can appreciate this. It’s romantic, passionate, warm as a night on the French Riviera. However, what I really like about it is the density. My only touchpoint is Enigma (and maybe a few tracks on comps here and there), but what Washed Out seems to do differently is take those Eden-esque melodies and adorn them to a degree that would make Brian Wilson feel young again. Shades of IDM (you know, Four Tet, Boards of Canada), but more like Ecstatic Dance Music. Call it exotic dreamscapes to drown out the fridge buzz? ("Eyes Be Closed", "Far Away", "A Dedication")


[!!!!!]: 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.

Initial Reactions (2011): Feist, Ryan Adams, Still Corners, Beirut

Feist – Metals – [ind]: If I had to compare Feist’s career trajectory to anyone right now, it would be Norah Jones. What I mean is, after two great albums, she has reached the point where she is running purely on charm and an amazing voice and beginning to suffer from a complacent and narrow vision. Not that I’m trying to hate – that’s not it at all – but quite frankly this album seems to substitute a sort of languid jazziness for songwriting chops. I know she probably got sick to death of "1234", but would it really kill her to throw an upbeat track or two into the mix? Another one like this and who will care? ("Caught a Long Wind", "Bittersweet Melodies", "Get It Wrong, Get It Right")

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire – [++]: This definitely sounds like Adams pre-Cardinals, which, depending on one’s perspective, could go either way. The good news is that Adams sounds a little wiser, a little more patient, a little more balanced, and completely ready to focus on the things he does best. Excellent melodies abound, and there’s a sleepy Saturday morning feel to the album that recalls Love Is Hell and the lovelier, nostalgic moments on Cold Roses. Furthermore, I’m detecting the ghost of Richard Manuel in many of these tunes, which is always a good thing. Overall, I’m thinking that this might be one of the best albums of his career, and it could wind up being one of the best of any artist this year. ("Lucky Now", "Ashes & Fire", "Dirty Rain")

Still Corners – Creatures Of An Hour – [++]: More like Endless Winter! Very atmospheric, ghostly stuff. Pretty nice, though not incredibly original what with the voluminous…VOLUME of atmospheric and pretty post-punk outfits making music these days. Still, Creatures is well executed, and our lady Tessa Murray positively haunts these tunes. It’s like they took the last few Camera Obscura albums and boiled ’em down in The Cure’s early records. Also, sounds like Memoryhouse, but more David Lynch. Should make for some pleasant twilight drives in the darker seasons. Overall, shows promise. And I like the dude’s vision. ("Endless Summer")

Beirut – The Rip Tide – (++): I’ve always loved the "Old World" element in Zach Condon’s outfit, but on this one he indulges a heavier pop element for the better. Condon has such a profound gift for rich, memorable melodies that the synths and such, instead of sounding kitschy or tacky, further highlight the wonderful old/new paradox that makes Condon’s music rise above the fray. A keeper for sure and a possible year end sleeper. ("Santa Fe", "Goshen")


[****]: 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.

Best of 2010 (EP): Top 3 Extended Players

I’ve never been a fan of filler, so I prefer a great EP to a decent full-length, especially because bands often reserve their most obtusely interesting moments for them. Chronic Town, 7 Songs, A Beautiful Place Out In The Country…I could go on. EP’s are less frequent affairs though, so I’m restricting the list to a Top 3 in this category. The competition was stiff. I reviewed 6 EP’s in the last few months of 2010 alone, and I gave 4 of them A’s. Wye Oak and Real Estate both put out strong offerings in this category, and I didn’t even get around to reviewing Crocodiles’ Fires of Comparison (def. solid) or any number of short offerings from newcomers.



My Top 3 EP’s of 2010

3. The Seance EP by Stars…With the exception of the last one, the tracks here certainly rival most of the material on The Five Ghosts as synth-pop heavyweights. Exceptionally mix-worthy, as they say. These are the songs you listen to on the way home after the show has ended, with the windows rolled down and the cold night air keeping you awake. And the last one may not be as poppy, but it recalls The Cure’s darker and more ambient work, which fits the same vibe. Nicely done. (read my original review) [listen to “Opinion vs. The Sun”]

2. The Years EP by Memoryhouse…”Sleep Patterns” is fantastic enough to make a new Nickelback EP worth a listen (no it’s not), but the fact is that the other three tracks here measure up as well. This is super-sleepy, even for dream-pop, and it’s the ambient layers that make all the difference. Where a similar act, say, Beach House, emphasizes dynamics and the wall of sound, Memoryhouse prefers drones and blurred over synth effects. Heck, “The Waves” is a dead-ringer for 90’s infomercial new-age ambient kings Enigma. Gotta respect that. So, yeah, Memoryhouse – fantastic nostalgia-rock, chanting Hindi dude not included. (read my original review)  [listen to “Lately”]

1. All Delighted People EP by Sufjan Stevens…Already raved about “All Delighted People.” The rest of the EP is incredible too. Thought I could have done without a “Classic Rock” version of the title track, there’s no denying that Sufjan represents here. “Heirloom” and “From the Mouth of Gabriel” are favorites, and the vocal work on “Enchanting Ghost” sends chills up my spine. Still, it’s “Djohariah” that’s the true wonder here, a birthday tune he wrote for his little sis. Dang prodigies… (read my original review) [listen to “Heirloom”]

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

Top 10 Tracks of 2010 (Midway)


This is a bit hastily thrown together, but here it is, 8/23, and I haven’t done it yet, so here goes. No comments, no order, only criteria is that it was released between 1/1/2010 & 6/31/2010. Links provided for samples:

Follow the Train – “Movin”
New Pornographers – “Crash Years”
Memoryhouse – “Sleep Patterns”
Stars – “Fixed”
Cerebellum – “Crawl Out of the Water”
Wye Oak – “I Hope You Die”
Beach House – “Walk in the Park”
Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”
Venice is Sinking – “Tugboat”
Strand of Oaks – “Bonfire”

So there.