Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Super Mini Review (Or Is It Mini Super Review?)

This is a day late, but hardly a dollar short. After the dearth of interesting new music in the late fall, the dawning days of 2013 have seen a surge of captivating new material emerging. And although today's release of Beta Love by previous NMT profilees Ra Ra Riot is nothing less than a total abandonment of that band's prior greatness and the much-hyped We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic by Foxygen is not quite my style (but not bad), there's plenty to cover here in the Super Review format. And aside from the leadoff review of the sophomore effort of the Overmountain Men, all of this week's reviewed records are shy of the 10-track standard that qualifies as full-length album in our book, thus the Super-Mini title of this post. And stay tuned next week for reviews of new alt-country releases from Frontier Ruckus and Local Natives as well as some straight-ahead indie rock from Yellow Red Sparks.

Overmountain Men (NMT)
New Release: The Next Best Thing
Release Date: Today (January 21, 2013)
Record Label: Ramseur Records
Sounds Like: The Avett Brothers, The Decemberists (NMT), The Band
Location: Charlotte, N.C.

Our first repeat reviewees of 2013, North Carolina's Overmountain Men return with much of the same history-infused Americana that we liked so much back in with their debut, Glorious Day, in February, 2010. A formula only becomes stale when it no longer works or there's an overabundance of supply. Neither is the case here, as The Next Best Thing's dozen tracks exhibits an ease of delivery and a good stock of fresh material.

Come for: "Smoke And Mirrors" (hearty ballad duet; wish I could find out who the female guest vocalist is)
Stay for: "Grackles" (touch of Bob Seeger-esque blue-collar soul and punch)
You'll be surprised by: "Halls of Glory" (earnest tribute to  Teddy Roosevelt)
Solid efforts: "All Out of Diamonds" (refreshing mountain music); "Alexander Hamilton" (another history lesson, first person perspective); "To the Warmer Lands" (a dead Revolutionary-era loyalist solider recounts the story of his demise; gentile, but intricate instrumentation; shades of The Decemberists' "Yankee Bayonet"); "Hard Loving You" (tangy honky-tonk); "The Next Best Thing" (a hard luck tale in modern times; dark and moody); "Death Is So Romantic" (front porch picking; a cautionary tale); "Poison Cookies" (wry narrative; great harmonies, banjo and harmonica parts) 
Meh: "Segamore Hill" (slow, jazzy stuff isn't their forte, but its fine, if just a little too sleepy); "Twilight Road" (a David Childer solo ballad; nothing wrong with it, but not as compelling as the other choices here)

Ugly Thrash Demon
New Release: 2008
Release Date: January 12, 2013
Record Label: self-produced
Sounds Like: Miracles of Modern Science (NMT), Hey, Rosetta (NMT), Ra Ra Riot (NMT)
Location: Centerville, Va.

This is the record I wish I had the opportunity to hear from Ra Ra Riot: chamber rock featuring instrumental nuance and crafty songwriting. Instead, they gave us synth pop. Never fear, though: the well-intentioned Northern Virginia eight-piece ensemble – who sounds more like a metal band – is here just in time to satisfy our quirky, chamber rock needs. However, while I quite enjoy their embrace of a multitude of members supplying horns, strings, accordions, ukuleles and mandolins, the horns often come across as sour or thin due to the group's limited production capabilities while frontman and guitarist Chris Smith's vocals are frequently flat and nasally – and not in a good way like The Rural Alberta Advantage's (NMT) Nils Edenloff vinegary wail. Still, he smartly stays within his range, and the horns are a lightening presence for a collection focused on exploring the nostalgia of the late high school years. Still, considering the band's self-supporting reality, they should be afforded a pass until they can take advantage of better recording facilities and perhaps a producer who can round out the rough edges.

Come for: "You, Me and FFC" (joyful, well-composed, pop sensibility)
Stay for:  "Oh Well" (bouncy bass line from bassist Led Linghat centers this nostalgia trip)
You'll be surprised by: "It's Been Too Long" (quality vocal harmonies; slightly folksy)
Solid efforts: "Rotten Summer" (a look back at summer break that's more fond than regretful); "Nova Blues" (starts off a bit slow, but slides into a nice pace after the first chorus); "Nostalgic Again" (the record's core theme reinforced again); "Teen Queen" (most skillful use of the horn section here; enjoyable, but not overpowering background harmonies); "2008" (too-apparent chord transitions by Smith early on, but good framing of the theme to end the collection)
Meh: "Ghaty" (sounds more lighthearted than it actually is)

New Release: Jamais Vu
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Record Label: self-produced
Sounds Like: Telekinesis (NMT), Harriet (NMT), New Pornographers (NMT)
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

Based on a Facebook from Joshua Hanson – an artist we're excited to hear from via his Yellow Red Sparks project, from their full-length, self-titled debut expected this time next week – about his brother John's band's new record, I decided to take a listen and am glad I did. Blending driving, anthemic song structures with indie rock hooks, the five-song EP culled by Hanson much like Michael Benjamin Lerner fronts Telekinesis should broaden the appeal of the project to a larger audience.

Come for: "1998" (swirling, a shade shy of epic)
Stay for: "Sweet America" (a Mick Fleetwood/John McVie punchy rhythm layered by staunch piano and sweeping hooks unite for the collection's best material)
You'll be surprised by: "Haunted" (a slow burner, but the last minute is quite triumphant)
Solid efforts: "Repositioning" (moody, but captivating out of the Thom Yorke playbook); "Emily" (power piano ballad extraordinaire)

Ambrosia Parsley
New Release: I Miss You. I Do.
Release Date: December 8, 2012
Record Label: self-produced
Sounds Like: Neko Case, Stevie Nicks
Location: New York, N.Y.

Ambrosia Parsley benefits from the same raspy, high-register voice that propelled singers like Stevie Nicks, Cindi Lauper and Gwen Stafani to stardom. While her debut, five-song EP – a preview of a full-length release anticipated later this year – is too subdued and musically sparse to launch her to a similar stratosphere as those artists, her voice is intriguing enough to see how she's able to utilize it going forward.

Come for: "The Other Side" (the most upbeat number here; a bit of early alt-rock edge)
Stay for: "Whispering Pines" (persuasive, fullest demonstration of vocal prowess)
You'll be surprised by: "The Answer [Tim & Becky's Wedding]" (sultry, but buoyant)
Solid efforts: "Nighttime" (sounds like a Neko Case / Dan Bejar New Pornographers duet; multi-instrumentalist Florent Barbier meshes well with Parsley);
Meh: "Losing the Holiday" (okay ballad, but not much to showcase here)

Marching Band
New Release: And I've Never Seen Anything Like That
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Record Label: U & L Records
Sounds Like: Of Monsters And Men (NMT), They Might Be Giants (NMT), Fountains of Wayne (NMT), Candy Butchers
Location: Linköping, Sweden

Straddling the line between quirky, hyper-literate nerd rock and more jubilant folk-rock is the Swedish pop rock duo of Erik Sunbring and Jacob Lind who comprise Marching Band. Continually refining and expanding their sound after previous full-length efforts Spark Large and Pop Cycle, the five tracks And I've Never Seen Anything Like That concentrate their output on tight and focused indie rock that could have as easily found an home in 80's-era college radio as today's more synth-influenced sounds.

Come for: "Die In My Arms" (full, intricate, jangly well-paced)
Stay for: "And I've Never Seen" (easygoing, if slightly jerking)
You'll be surprised by: "Artistic Man, Shaved Hand" (slightly dark and disturbing, like a They Might Be Giants deep cut)
Solid efforts: "Breaking Is Fun" (not far from something Sloan might write)
Meh: "But Not Anymore [Ja Ja]" (too slow and moody for these guys; they don't do emo well)

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