Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hey Marseilles, Miracles of Modern Science (MEEMS)

As soon as I heard about this week's respective profilees, I was itching to review them in tandem, due to their mutual appropriation of folk foundations into unique and interesting rock-oriented applications. And thanks to this week's full album stream of Lines We Trace from the Seattle indie folk / chamber rock sextet Hey Marseilles, I now have that opportunity.

Hey Marsailles
New Release: Lines We Trace
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Record Label: Onto Entertainment
Sounds Like: Oh, No! Oh, My! (NMT), Hey Rosetta! (NMT), The Decemberists (NMT, NMT), Miracles of Modern Science (NMT)
Location: Seattle, Wash.

While I've only very recently become aware of this group – via a tip from NMT contributor Eileen Can (NMT, NMT) – I'm instantly glad I didn't have to miss any more than their 2008 debut, Travels & Trunks, although that was one ambitious effort. After steadily building their fanbase and unrecorded repertoire since then, the dozen tracks of their sophomore record more than hold serve in maintaining the group's signature complexity and assertiveness. The assemblage of strings, horns, accordions and organs all layered atop a hearty folk foundation hits at the center of your blogger's wheelhouse of musical preferences. Meanwhile, frontman Matt Bishop possesses as demanding a voice as you'll find in non-mainstream music, residing in tone closest to Oh, No! Oh, My's Greg Barkley, but in demeanor more like The Decemberists' Colin Meloy or Great Big Sea's Sean McCann (NMT) – compelling you to pay rapt attention through urgency and inflection.

I'd be absolutely giddy about the cohesiveness and comprehensiveness of this collection but for a few drawbacks: 1) I feel groups of this numerical stature should have at least one female member, especially to provide some vocal variety, and 2) the material's overall a little slow, with no single track capturing the steady gallop of "Cannonballs," the Latin-fueled playfulness of "Rio" or the increasingly epic "Calabasas" – all off Travels & Trunks. Still, Lines We Trace is no less lush than its predecessor and remains exquisitely arranged, which fills in the sort of lags in pace for which I've dinged recent reviewees. (Please note: listen to all tracks off Lines We Trace via Paste Magazine's streaming player until the album is released on March 5, when links will be updated here)

Come for: "Elegy" (hints of pop lightness, with strings alternating from precise plucking to swirling, sweeping bows; belies the lyrical pessimism; wafting organ paired with foreboding strings at the close)
Stay for: "Dead Of Night" (surprisingly sprightly at times; strong use of the noble, if uncertain voyager archetype)
You'll be surprised by: "Bright Stars Burning" (probably should be the song they should be promoting first here, as it's the record's most accessible concept and song structure; first of several tracks where drummer Colin Richey stands out; most rock-oriented on the album)
Solid efforts: "Tides" (a wonderfully warm instrumental intro); "Heart Beats" (thundering percussion rolls are the number's hallmarks; strongly recalls The Decemberists' "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect" in its diverging tempos and intensity); "Building Glare" (elaborate, intricate, baroque); "Madrona" (instrumental featuring pianist Philip Kobernik and brothers Samuel (cello) and Jacob (viola) Anderson is simple, yet inviting); "Hold Your Head" (Bishop's most nimble lyricism on this collection; musically understated); "Rainfall" (folksy; appropriately Seattleite; file between Meloy's "Record Year for Rainfall" and Essex Green's "Sorry River" for a rainy day playlist); "Looking Back" (satisfyingly alternately ambitious and measured in tone); "Cafe Lights" (starts slowly, but the strings and accordion here make for the album's most interesting arrangements on its longest track [6:07]); "Demian" (another piano and strings instrumental, ideally positioned in the closing spot)
Meh: I liked 'em all
Skip to next track: ditto

Miracles of Modern Science
New Release: MEEMS (EP)

Release Date: February 19, 2013
Record Label: self-released
Sounds Like: Rural Alberta Advantage (NMT, NMT), DeVotchKa (NMT), Farewell Drifters (NMT, NMT), They Might Be Giants (NMT)
Location: New York, N.Y.

Since the latest work of this quirky, nerdy folk quintet is only a half-portion offering, this will be a similarly brief assessment. The group returns with an approach closely tacking to what made their December 2011 debut (NMT) such an unusual and enjoyable affair: acoustic stringed instruments utilized more as rock vessels than tools of folk matched with crafty lyrics.

Come for: "The Singularity" (ahh, here's that familiar nerd rock from their first outing; could be a new Big Bang Theory theme song with the mentions of nanobots and transcending biology)
Stay for: "Physics Is Our Business" (fantastically frenetic instrumental with a requisite spoken word sample from a mad physicist)

You'll be surprised by: "Don't You See?" (unexpectedly dark and serious for this band)
Solid efforts: "Ahem" (the most folksy track they've produced to date, especially with Josh Hirshfeld's leading mandolin work; the penny whistle touch later on is fun); "Dear Pressure" (a witty rebuke of the risk-adverse and ambivalent: "That was a killer show / Makes sense to take it on the road / Not me! I can't afford the risk / You tour, I'm on the mailing list;" are there hints of distortion pedals among the manic jerkiness of violinist Kieran Ledwidge and cellist Geoff McDonald?)
Skip to next track: "Breather" (doesn't really count at 00:19)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Super Review – February

Frightened Rabbit
New Release: Pedestrian Verse
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Record Label: Atlantic Records
Sounds Like: We Were Promised Jetpacks (NMT, NMT), Tired Pony (NMT), Alphabet Backwards (NMT)
Location: Selkirk, Scotland

Frightened Rabbit is one of those groups like Rilo Kiley or Essex Green that I mention often here, but haven't been able to review yet (although, unlike those two bands, this is not their fault; I couldn't get my ass in gear to cover The Winter of Mixed Drinks in 2010). Regardless, Scottish bands always seem to find their way into this space, trailing only the Canadians as non-U.S. groups reviewed here, and frontman Hutchinson layers everything underneath a filmy, viscous peat. On the dozen tracks of Pedestrian Verse, Hutchinson opens up the songwriting process to his mates and returns to the heart-sleeve honesty found on the quintets first two records, but largely missing on The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Collectively, there's a little less folk and roots influence here than found across their earlier catalog, an element that set the group apart from their power-punk counterparts in Jetpacks.

Come for: "Backyard Skulls" (measured, but forceful)
Stay for: "Holy" (as epic-sounding as Frightened Rabbit gets)
You'll be surprised by: "Late Match, Death March" (nowhere near as dour as the title would suggest, at least in tone)
Solid efforts: "The Woodpile" (rich, textured lyricism and musicality) ; "December Traditions" (the most Scottish-sounding track here; could be a slow-paced New Pornographers [NMT] cut); "Housing [In]" (urgent); "Dead Now" (despite the content, a fun little shuffle; something you'd expect from Los Campesinos! [NMT] on a sad day); "Nitrous Gas" (stark; "Shut down the gospel singers and turn up the old heart-breakers / I'm dying to tell you that I'm dying here" could have emerged from the notebook of The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon [NMT, NMT, NMT]); "Housing [Out]" (a good compliment to its earlier-appearing counterpart; "The Oil Slick" (sounds most similar to the group's first two records)
Meh: "State Hospital" (good imagery, but very moody)
Skip to next track: "Acts of Man" (the lyrics and piano are fine, but I just don't care for Hutchinson's voice when it's high and fragile)

Feeding People
New Release: Island Universe
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Record Label: Burger Records
Sounds Like: Metric (NMT), Howler (NMT), Tennis (NMT)
Location: Orange, Calif.

I'm not sure how interested I'd be in Feeding People's mash of psychedelia and surf rock were they not propelled by the powerful and commanding voice of Jessie Jones, a frontwoman who'd be destined for superstardom if this were the 1970s. A mix of classic rock power along the lines of Grace Slick, Chrissie Hynde and Deborah Harry with a modern crispness of Metric's Emily Haines or Alaina Moore from Tennis, the 19-year old Jones transforms unfocused psychedelic haze into strident, blistering rock, and lackadaisical surf vibes into crystal-clear beach odes.

Come for: "Other Side" (muscular; the hookiest stuff here)
Stay for: "Big Mother" (sludgy at times, but arena-rock hugeness)
You'll be surprised by: "Island Universe" (as good as anything as Tennis did on Cape Dory)
Solid efforts: "Silent Violent" (great introduction of Jones' talent to get things started); "Uranium Sea" (measured, but forceful; a bit trippy); "Insane" (appropriately chaotic); "The Cat Song [Secrets of Luna]" (a little slow at times, by Jones keeps it from becoming grating); "Inside Voices" (middle-of-the-set anchor; tempo changes are fun); "Desert Song" (sufficiently surreal, Doors-y); "Each His Own" (the most psychedelic here, eastern influences); "Closer" (perfect for its track location; first encore ballad)
Meh: "Red Queen" (a track that wouldn't be very enjoyable without Jones)

Yellow Red Sparks
New Release: Yellow Red Sparks
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Record Label: org music
Sounds Like: Noel Gallagher (NMT), Her Space Holiday (NMT), Father John Misty (NMT), Melanoid (NMT)
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

I feel almost the same about this record as I did about Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: after mentioning it previously, I now feel obligated to review it here, but it certainly isn't my favorite recent material. Like Gallagher's first post-oasis product, the L.A.-based indie-folk trio has assembled a collection of overly-moderately to slow-paced numbers, each of which is fine in its own right, but there's just too many of them. Frequent readers here will remember by preferred ratio of 3:2:1 of uptempo to mid-paced and slow tracks per album. Here, the balance is more like 1:3:2, yielding a yawning, ambling affair. Maybe for some this is their cup of tea, but I need something a little more spirited. To his credit, frontman Joshua Hanson – brother of previous NMT profilee Melanoid leader John Hanson – has gradually increased both the size and complexity of his work with Yellow Red Sparks by adding multi-instrumentalist Sara Lynn and drummer Goldy (no last names given) to round out the sound from previous records, much like Her Space Holiday's Marc Bianchi and Father John Misty (a.k.a. Joshua Tillman) have done. I also enjoy the self-titled album/single/band name triquetra.

Come for: "Yellow Red Sparks" (robust, Sara Lynn's mark is felt most clearly here)
Stay for: "My Machine Gun" (good rockabilly strut)
You'll be surprised by: "A Play to End All Plays" (Hanson's most expressive work)
Solid efforts: "Buy Me Honey" (earnest, swaying); "To Love and Loathe" (simple, clever lyricism); "Monsters With Misdemeanors" (good folksy/rootsy character); "Scents and Sensibility" (the second most upbeat track on the album, after "My Machine Gun");
Meh: "Happiness Comes In A Box" (not bad, just not very interesting); "Hope On A Rope" (a little more complex than the other slow songs, but not by much)
Skip to next track: "Mr. Wonderful" (yawn); "A Buffalo" (the same reason I didn't like "Mr. Wonderful")