Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rilo Kiley, Quiet Company

Two posts on one day!? What gives? Well, unlike today's first post, neither of the releases profiled here is exactly brand new material. Since I heard about the impending arrival both of these collections – the rarities compilation RKives from Rilo Kiley and the re-recording of Quiet Company's debut Shine Honestly as A Dead Man On My Back: Shine Honestly Revisited, I felt that they belonged in a post together.

There will be a reprieve of a week, after which I'll return on June 11th with reviews of two very exciting releases: The Polyphonic Spree's Yes, It's True and Camera Obscura's Desire Lines!  

Rilo Kiley
New Release: RKives (pronounce it as "archives" - get it?!)
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Record Label: Little Record Company
Sounds Like: The Essex Green, Metric (NMT)
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

I sadly expect this will be the only time I'll be able to review Rilo Kiley in this space, as the group has been on a hiatus since 2007 and statements from several members of the quartet have indicated that its unlikely – although not impossible – that the band will ever re-form. That's a shame because regular readers of this blog will notice routine references to the LA-based outfit, and they've been one of my favorite acts over the past decade or so, along with The Decemberists (NMT, NMT), The New Pornographers (NMT) and Okkervil River (NMT), all of whom I came to later than I should have. Fortunately for my sake – and arguably yours – all but Rilo Kiley have continued to produce new material during that span.

Like many collections of B-sides, stand-alone tracks from soundtracks and other compilations as well as previously-unreleased (but not new) material, longtime listeners of Rilo Kiley will be able to observe distinct elements of tracks related to specific albums and periods in the band's career, from the jangly, quirky stuff of the early Take-Offs and Landings era in the early 2000s through the overly-popped and failing Under the Blacklight period. While I'm not as versed in the nuances of the group's ouevre as many fans, RKives does allow fans of all degrees of familiarity to appreciate how potential they were at their peak and hope for an ultimate reunion to explore new material in the future.

Come for: "Let Me Back In" (co-leaders Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett share their ode to the band's home of L.A. in a way defies conventional wisdom about the city's genuoisity)
Stay for: "It'll Get You There" (Lewis – who has the biggest voice in rock shy of Neko Case – really wails away here on this anthemic rocker that starts slow but finds its level before too long)
You'll be surprised by: "All the Drugs" (this track is notable in relation to the rest of the band's catalog as Lewis dials back the vocal power in the chorus, which is atypical for her; has a bit of Springsteenian flair with its big sound)
Solid efforts: "Running Around" (Lewis has a particular knack for skewering skievy middle-aged men [see "Does He Love You?" off 2004's More Adventurous], and does so again with aplomb); "Bury, Bury, Bury Another" (some observers over the years mistakenly labeled the group as alt-country; songs like this are why); "Well, You Left" (there's a reason why Lewis handled about 80% of lead vocal duties: Blake Sennett is a pretty meek vocalist; this sounds like just another wispy performance from Sennett at first [like "Three Hopeful Thoughts" or "August"], but he ultimately delivers one of his most forceful vocal takes; at the 3:53 mark, it even includes the trademark ascending three-note intro which has preceded other Rilo Kiley guitar solos in the past [look up the 2:03 mark of "Small Figures in a Vast Expanse" off Take-Offs and Landings]); "I Remember You" (Pierre de Reeder – who shared both guitar and bass duties with Sennett as well as Lewis [they changed instruments frequently, with Lewis and Sennett also contributing keyboard parts] – steps out for some time at the lead mic while playfully dueting with Lewis, and the band would have benefited from more of the smoky barritone lead part he fills here given Sennett's vocal limitations; of course, its pretty clear neither of those guys could hold a candle to Lewis); "A Town Called Luckey" (very dark, could even be softcore Metallica at the outset; Lewis returns to the mid-life crisis theme here, which may have been separated by many years in real life, so its hard to target her for lack of originality in relation to "Running Around" earlier, considering its a compilation); "Emotional" (this clearly sounds to be from the Take-Offs and Landings era, with the distinctive organ sounds they used then seeming to place this number adjacent to that record's "Always"); "Patiently" (a rare duet with Lewis and Sennett; loud and aggressive; sounds like something's amiss, though, with the recording quality); "About the Moon" (if Lewis had wanted to do honkey-tonk, country/blues stuff like this as a solo artist – a la Neko Case – she'd probably be doing well now but, sadly, she veered more towards the garbage stuff like "Dejalo" [see below]); "The Frug" (exactly the type of thing that should be on a B-sides collection, about a number of made-up dance routines ["the Robocop," "the Freddie," "the Smurf" as well as the title number]; extra points for "shuffle off to Buffalo")
Meh: "Draggin' Around" (Lewis has a number of fine bluesy ballads, but this one really never seems to get moving, although there are some nice little Joe Cocker-style gospel choir background vocals at a few points); "American Wife" (Lewis' lyrics and vocals are compelling, but there's a lot of instrumental filler that needlessly extend the track; nonetheless, the list that's outlined at the 3:00 mark ["you have eleven siblings, who've had ten broken limbs, nine divorces and eight broken hearts, And seven grandkids and six bypass surgeries, five college degrees, four are sick, three are well, two are dead, one's in jail"] might be one of the all-time best numerical lists in popular music, along with Okkervil River's "Plus Ones" and The Decemberists' "Sixteen Military Wives"); "Rest of My Life [Demo]" (barely counts because it was released in another form on Take-Offs and Landings)
Skip to next track: "Dejalo (Zondo Remix)" (Sennett has attributed the band's demise to greed and ego on numerous occasions; shit like this is what he meant; Lewis clearly wants to be a R&B/Rap/Pop star here and it proved fatal to the group)

Quiet Company (NMT)
New Release: A Dead Man On My Back: Shine Honestly Revisited
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Record Label: self-released
Sounds Like: Rooney, Eisley (NMT), Ben Folds (NMT, NMT)
Location: Austin, Texas

Love: the over-explored frontier. These are the voyages of the rock band, Quiet Company. Its continuing mission: to write and perform love songs that don't suck.

Such was the case on the band's 2006 debut, Shine Honestly and has continued through the course of the group's three subsequent collections of new material. The five-piece unit produces energetic indie rock glazed with catchy hooks all the while primarily focusing on love, relationships and intimacy. Their well-executed 2010 EP Songs for Staying In (NMT) was entirely directed towards intense romance. Unfortunately, we missed the opportunity to review their 2011 LP, We Are All Where We Belong, which explored frontman's struggles with religion and faith through a metaphorical relationship.

Here, there's not any new lyrical explorations of concepts of love, but a chance for the group to display the evolution of its instrumental and vocal performance as well as improved production resources. The original album has been out-of-print and unavailable in non-digital formats for several years.

I wouldn't say the changes (which I'll note in the song-by-song recap below) are enough to warrant purchasing the revisited collection if you already own Shine Honestly, but if not, it's a good way to encounter the band's formative stages. Although the two additional tracks added at the end are enticing for a dedicated fan to add to their collection. Overall, the re-worked selections are slower and darker than their predecessors and Jeff Weathers' drumming is featured more prominently in the mix and is also more precisely recorded. 

Come for: "I Was Humming a New Song to Myself" (huge, sweeping ballad in the Radiohead tradition; guitar harmonies at the end – which were fine before – sound much cleaner here)
Stay for: "The Emasculated Man and the City That Swallowed Him" (the fullest measure of the band's talents and temperment; new recording sounds more Ben Foldsy in energy level and tight vocal harmonies, while little highlights like bells and percussion tools come across more brightly)
You'll be surprised by: "Circumstance" (perhaps the loudest and most brash in the group's entire portfolio and it remains so in the new version, but don't like the brief addition of trippy keyboards in the pre-chorus refrain – just keep it throttled up, boys! There also seems to be a new, quiet postlude which I don't care for. Sure, the original ended abruptly, but that's what made it distinctive from the rest of their material)
Solid efforts: "How Many Times Do You Want to Be in Love?" (initially very slow and Weathers' bass drum is at the forefront; transforms into a McCartney-esque super ballad); "Fashionable" (punchy and meaty at the same time; wafting organ part is more notably featured) "Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History" (decidedly slower and more deliberate than the original; some background vocals are more perceptible once the punchy beat picks up at the 1:17 mark and the organ is less whimsical than before while the cheery closing segment is less joyous and carefree); "Tie Your Monster Down" (largely faithful to the original with some better backing vocals and more prominent sleigh bells to supplement the laid-back rhythm track; this is the band's alt-country offering and its a nice compliment to their more common indie-rock tendencies); "...then Came a Sudden Validation" (the strings and horns orchestration that weaves around the bluesy piano part is crisper and more refined); "So Gracefully" (the starkness of lone acoustic guitar track on the album is fitting when surrounded by so much indie-pop sound; once again, more sleigh bell[!] than the initial version, but that's about the extent of the difference, which is fine); "We Change Lives" (there are so few 3/4 time signature waltzes in rock music, and this one grows more esquisite in the revisited version with muscular strings and renewed lead guitar parts; decidedly the most notable improvement from the original); "and You Said It Was Pretty Here" (fantastic unreleased track; upbeat and hard-charging road trip song; a welcome new addition);
Meh: "Love Is a Shotgun" (I've always been ambivalent about this one and the re-recorded version doesn't change my mind; I guess the piano part is slightly improved; lyrics change from "to the arms of a loving wife" to "to the arms of my loving wife"); "When You Pass Through the Waters" (the vocal harmonies are pretty, but there's not much else, whether its the new or old rendition)
Skip to next track: "I've Got a Lot of Problems With You People" (also not among my favorites from the 2006 edition – when it was called "Untitled" – and its no better or worse in 2013); "Gun Control Means Using Both Hands" (despite its wry, potentially-contraversial title, the second new, unreleased the track doesn't forray into politics, but instead is initially ambient and unfocused; it picks up a bit later, but there's not much new value added)

Imaginary Cities

Imaginary Cities
New Release: Fall of Romance
Release Date: Today (May 28, 2013)
Record Label: Hidden Pony Records (which also represents NMT favorites Rah Rah)
Sounds Like: fun. (NMT, NMT), Amy Winehouse, Macy Gray, The Arcade Fire (NMT), Valery Gore (NMT)
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba

When I first heard a streaming preview of Imaginary Cities' sophomore release, Fall of Romance, it came with the same type of excitement as when I first heard the debut release of the recently chart-topping theatrical indie rock trio, fun., Aim & Ignite in 2009. That album marked the material I've been most impressed with since I began this blog. Large, sweeping volumes of elaborate instrumentation paired with grandiose lyricism are like catnip to me – it's just irresistible to my aural sensitivities. Add to that multiple, Canadian lead vocalists of both genders – all elements I've repeatedly expressed my preference for on many occasions in this space – and I'm nearly compelled to react with unbridled enthusiasm.

Of course, it must be noted that the dozen tracks presented by this duo of vocalist Marti Sarbit and multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas does not represent the same scope of achievement of that first fun. record. It doesn't span the same range of instrumental styles nor are the nuances in the arrangements so finely delivered via the recording process. Nonetheless, there are many comparisons to be found between the two acts: the creative partnership between Sarbit and Matyas tacks closely to the relationship between fun.'s Nate Ruess and Andrew Dost, with Sarbit mirroring Ruess' unique vocal delivery (in her case, echos of the late Amy Winehouse or a less-harsh Macy Gray) and seems to possess the same sort of center-stage persona, while Dost and Matyas are not only incredibly talented on numerous instruments, but more importantly craft complex and intricate compositions that showcase the strengths of their relative bands. 

Come for: "Fall of Romance" (it's at once catchy and and complex; the hook is instantly memorable)
Stay for: "Silver Lining" (a haunting piano line and menacing rhythm track suggests Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" or Valery Gore's "Worried Head;" horns add some good volume)
You'll be surprised by: "A Way With Your Words (the only track featuring Matyas on lead vocals, and its a welcome change of pace, especially given its restrained, acoustic format)
Solid efforts: "Lilt [The Intro Song]" (it's only an unadorned piano piece from Matyas, but I don't mind a prelude instrumental at the outset of an ambitious record, as is the case here); "All the Time" (the piano-driven ballad introduces us early to the vocal interplay between Sarbit and Matyas, while gradually increasing the grandiosity in Queen-type fashion – a tactic fun. employs with great success – with meaty gang choruses and crescendoing strings); "Bells of Cologne" (the clanging bells that suggest the number's title are wisely featured mostly at the beginning and end, while the track builds to an Arcade Fire-like anthemic level); "Sooner Or Later" (some of the most nimble orchestration on the collection; pretty good chorus hook); "9 and 10" (a little brooding at first, but Sarbit fires up the jets here like nowhere else on the album); "Who's Watching You" (the record's most straight-forward rock cut); "Water Under The Bridge" (has a retro, 60s-soul, Phil-Spector-Wall-Of-Sound style); "Still Waiting So Cold" (if any group has the credibility to lament the cold, its one from Winnipeg!) 
Meh: "Chasing The Sunset" (its tempting to write-off the number as a frilly power ballad, as the strings are a tad too pretty and the piano a touch too cheesy, but the melody is solid and Matyas' ideas for the rhythm backing is dark and bluesy, so it comes out as a wash); "
Skip to next track: no one track is objectionable in my view, but if this type of big sound approach isn't your thing then you're unlikely to like most of them

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Super Review – May

Hiss Golden Messenger
New Release: Haw
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Record Label: Paradise of Bachelors
Sounds Like: Southeast Engine (NMT, NMT); Onward, Soldiers (NMT); Father John Misty (NMT)
Location: Wilmington, N.C.

OK, that's enough already with all the indie-folk onslaught, right? Fortunately, North Carolina's acutely-named Hiss Golden Messenger errs towards the alt-country wing of the contemporary folk explosion, with wafting organs, steel guitars and threads of the blues and soul music overlayed by a lyrical current of ruin and revival on the 11 tracks of Haw. Like other acts previously profiled here, Hiss Golden Messenger is by large the work of one creative force, in this case Michael C. Taylor, who also goes by Jai 'Slim' Diamond on occasion, and bolstered by contributions from multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsh. Here, there's folksy foundations emanating from the likes of Bob Dylan and Jim Croce emboldened by roots rock and alt-country flavor in the traditions of The Band and early Wilco. 

Come for: "Red Rose Natahala" (there's a swaying, rolling dynamic which makes for a good introduction to Taylor's style)
Stay for: "I've Got A Name for the Newborn Child" (easygoing, but sincere)
You'll be surprised by: "Sweet As John Hurt" (nice strolling beat, which Taylor even acknowledges lyrically early on)
Solid efforts: "Hat of Rain" (simple instrumental whose mix of rhythm and acoustic guitar suggests rain on a porch roof); "Devotion" (slow and bluesy, like much of Father John Misty's Fear Fun); "The Serpent Is Kind [Compared to Man]" (a spiritual cautionary tale without being preachy); "Cheerwine Easter" (perfectly timed with its spring release; references familiar biblical tales like Daniel in the lions' den); "Hark Marker [Glory Rag]" (fine dueling fiddles action); "Busted Note" (another original spiritual, bolstered by some gospel back-up vocals); "What Shall Be [Shall Be Enough]" (a folksy aphorism, tactfully delivered by a non-threatening messenger)
Meh: "Sufferer [Love My Conqueror]" (not a lot of motion too it, but not objectionable)

The Milk Carton Kids
New Release: The Ash & Clay
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Record Label: ANTI-
Sounds Like: "Gillian Welch & David Rawlings-meets-Simon & Garfunkel with a splash of the Everly Brothers"
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

The fantastically succinct description of this strong-harmonizing, acoustic-folk duo comprised of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan provided by the Spartanburg, S.C. Herald-Journal in the "Sounds Like" field above should tell you everything you need to know. These guys sing exceptionally well together, are fine acoustic guitarists and craft pleasing – if somewhat restrained – folk numbers that sound like they've been around for centuries. Also, be sure to visit their official website linked above for free, full downloads of their first two records.

Come for: "Snake Eyes" (outright references "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" at the outset, but incorporates new elements to the hope for ultimate salvation theme of the revered old spiritual)
Stay for: "The Ash & Clay" (the Civil War-themed title track has subtle strains of a protest song)
You'll be surprised by: "Heaven" (some fun, uptempo picking; the guys even reference "floorboard stompin'" – could have just easily been a Farewell Drifters [NMT, NMT] cut)
Solid efforts: "The Hope Of A Lifetime" (comes across more uplifting than the message conveyed by its lyrics); "Honey, Honey" (tres old-timey, clear hints of The Everly Brothers); "Years Gone By" (a satisfied reflection); "The Jewel of June" (understated, but purposeful); "Whisper In Her Ear" (odes to love can easily become overwrought and cliched; this one isn't); "On The Mend" (songwriting is more James Taylor or Jim Croce here than Simon & Garfunkel, and it's a welcome change of pace); "Hear Them Loud" (a gentle "long road" ballad); "Memphis" (a nod to the wide swath of Americana culture influenced by a now less prominent "Graceland")
Meh: "Promised Land" (not bad, but very sparse, even for this duo)
Skip to next track: there is nothing that should be avoided here

Telekinesis (NMT)
New Release: Dormarion
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Record Label: Merge Records
Sounds Like: Fountains of Wayne (NMT), Bad Books (NMT), Weezer (NMT)
Location: Seattle, Wash.

One of my most delightful discoveries during the course of writing this blog was the uncovery of Telekinesis' sophomore release, 12 Desperate Straight Lines in 2011. Its blend of clever, hooky songwriting by Michael Benjamin Lerner and charging power-pop is the type of music that I most enjoy experiencing. On Lerner's third release – Dormarion - he wisely doesn't deviate from that earlier course and by and large cranks out another dozen tracks of catchy, uptempo indie rock.

Come for: "Power Lines" (begins quietly, but the familiar power kicks in around the 1:08 mark; keyboards are a nice touch)
Stay for: "Empathetic People" (hard charging; doesn't need any more than its 2:32 to make its convincing point)
You'll be surprised by: "Symphony" (there's very few folksy, acoustic options in Lerner's catalog; this is one of them)
Solid efforts: "Wires" (sludgy bass central to 12 Desperate Straight Lines returns in force); "Lean On Me" (breezy and lighthearted); "Dark to Light" (the exemplar of Lerner's approach to power-pop); "Little Hill" (starts off like Green Day's "Brain Stew," but gradually becomes more 80s-style post-punk); "Island #4" (decidedly slower than the rest, but helps preserve by 3-2-1 ratio of high-to-mid-to-low paced songs on a well-balanced album); "Laissez-Faire" (as blistering and breathless as Lerner gets); "You Take It Slowly" (as the name implies, not especially electric; references to spiders return after several mentions previously on the record)
Meh: "Ever True" (not sure how I feel about the nerdy, computer-generated beats and synth, but the melody's not too bad)
Skip to next track: "Ghosts and Creatures" (this was the first cut I heard from Dormarion, and was quite concerned they were heading in the unfortunate recent direction of Ra Ra Riot (NMT) and abandoning their signature sound in favor of something more electronic and ethereal; fortunately, this seems to be the only instance here, but it's quite horrible)

Cold War Kids
New Release: Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Record Label: Downtown Music
Sounds Like: Airborne Toxic Event (NMT), U2, The Muse
Location: Long Beach, Calif.

When I reviewed the debut effort by The Little Willies (NMT), I described the group's somewhat odd pairing of jazz and country. Another set of descriptors that don't often go together are soul and punk, the self-defined genre of the Long Beach quartet, Cold War Kids and their fourth full-length compilation, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. The band matches the energy and urgency of punk rock (or post-punk, at least) with the sincerity and emotion of soul music via frontman Nathan Willett across 10-tracks of varying pace and intensity. At times, the mixture sounds like the dark but muscular material of the Airborne Toxic Event and at others the anthemic qualities of a mid-career U2.

Come for: "Miracle Mile" (punchy piano from Willett is the keystone of the opening track)
Stay for: "Jailbirds" (the U2 influence is undeniable here)
You'll be surprised by: "Tuxedos" (slightly Stones-like with bluesy undertones)
Solid efforts: "Lost That Easy" (the murky bass-electronica mix suggests The Muse); "Loner Phase" (bass & drums of Matt Maust and Matt Aveiro are reminiscent of the Adam Clayton / Larry Mullen, Jr. combo); "Bottled Affection" (I'm not wild about the programmed beats, but has a decent sing-along chorus); "Water & Power" (power piano ballad)
Meh: "Fear & Trembling" (dark and sludgy, but not in a good way); "Bitter Poem" (a bit stodgy, but Willett's vocals are stronger than on the preceding number, the title track)
Skip to next track: "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts" (the title track is just not very interesting and avoids the band's strengths)

New Release: Stories Don't End
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Record Label: HUB
Sounds Like: Jackson Browne, Harriet (NMT), Dolorean (NMT), Band of Horses (NMT)
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

Whoever was responsible for the musical upbringing of brothers Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith who form the crux of this Los Angeles-based quartet surely imparted the boys with more than a healthy dose of Jackson Browne in the process. Replicating Browne's signature mix of California sunshine vocals via frontman Taylor with Americana rock, Dawes could be indicted for more blatant thievery if they weren't quite so good at spinning out tunes nearly as catchy and thoughtful as Browne's.

Come for: "From a Window Seat" (Taylor Griffin's self-admitted anxiety during flying tied to an uptempo arrangement yields an enjoyable result)
Stay for: "Hey Lover"(nearly straight out of the Jackson Browne songbook; fun co-lead vocals from Griffin Goldsmith)
You'll be surprised by: "Stories Don't End" (the most narrative and introspective material among the record's dozen tracks; more country twang than elsewhere here)
Solid efforts: "Just Beneath the Surface" (its a slow roller, but benefits from a hearty chorus); "Just My Luck" (could move a little quicker, but there's a Eeyore-like quality of the song's subject that's endearing); "Someone Will" (fantastic harmonies from the Goldsmith brothers and a foot-tapping country swagger); "Most People" (heartland rock in its purest form) "From the Right Angle" (nice mid-tempo cut and good use of Hammond organ)
Meh: "Side Effects" (it's slow and long and quiet, but other than that there's nothing wrong with it)
Skip to next track: "Something in Common" (nearly a funeral march)

Little Tybee
New Release: For Distant Viewing
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Record Label: Paper Garden Records
Sounds Like: A.C. Newman (NMT), The Essex Green
Location: Atlanta, Ga.

Little Tybee frontman Brock Scott has one of of those voices – somewhere in the John Mayer / Jason Mraz range – that is just too cute by half. And if it weren't the folksy-orchestral numbers spun out by his sextet, the whole shtick might be unbearable – heaven help them if the jam-band set ever gets into them in a big way. As it is, most of the compositions are light and airy, with acoustic guitars and strings bridging the gap between their country roots and the more jazz-oriented direction they seem to aspire to, with horns and keyboards rounding out the sound. There's much that reminds me of the progressive jazz ensemble I grew up listening to in Buffalo, Them Jazzbeards

Come for: "Mind Grenade" (easy-listening is a phrase with a universally bad rap, but this would not be an inappropriate compliment for the coming summer days of fireflies, wheat beers and beach trips)
Stay for: "Hearing Blue" (the most rhythmic display here – with Pat Brooks' snare drum figuring prominently – but lead guitarist Josh Martin delivers some strong versatility as well)
You'll be surprised by: "The Boldest Lines" (this style isn't designed to produce much catchy, hooky stuff, but this is the album's most accessible offering)
Solid efforts: "For Distant Viewing" (for most of the number's first half, Scott's vocals barely register, but the affair picks up at the 5:05-minute opener's midpoint); "Herman" (Chris Case's piano is front-and-center with infrequent vocals and several sweeping instrumental movements); "Boxcar Fair" (the most melodic material on the album, which is also the shortest of the 11 tracks); "Castle" (would win the award for the best chorus on this record; guitar part lifts from Trey Anastasio too blatantly, though); "A Dog Waits in the Doorway" (it's essentially a Brock Scott solo number, but its a gentle way to wrap things up)
Meh: "Fantastic Planet" (depends on how you feel about 4:10 of trippy jazz); "Jury Duty" (there's a nice perky rhythm at various points here, but I get the sense this could have been more than it is)
Skip to next track: "Left Right" (Martin's schizophrenic lines pretty much ruin a nice little instrumental; maybe this is intended to sound differently in separate speakers, given the title, but I couldn't tell)

JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound
New Release: Howl
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Record Label: Bloodshot Records
Sounds Like: Molotov Coctail, Fugazi, Maxwell
Location: Chicago, Ill.

There was a time – and let's say that time was 1977 – when a group like JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound would have not that been as great a rarity as it is in 2013. And, yet, here we are when a group that combines soul, R&B and rock together, its a novelty. Of course, these genres have always fared well together, as evidenced by the quintet's satisfying mix of frontman JC Brooks' smooth, but deep vocals and the full group's rock power on their third full-length release.

Come for: "Howl" (edgy punk guitars from Billy Bungeroth contrast brilliantly with the bouncy rhythm section of bassist Ben Taylor and drummer Kevin Marks and softening piano lines from Andy Rosenstein, with Brooks' Broadway-quality vocals neither overpowering or vanishing behind the accompaniment)
Stay for: "Rouse Yourself" (sounds like the type of song Maroon 5 always tries to make, but can't quite pull off like these guys, mostly because they're always drowning too much damn wah pedal)
You'll be surprised by: "Control" (by far the finest number on the 11-track collection; would love to hear it backed by Springsteen and E Street...)
Solid efforts: "Married for a Week" (if smooth jazz sounded more like this, it wouldn't suck so much); "Security" (jangly guitar from Bungeroth, a jammy-style bass line from Taylor and falsetto from Brooks define the number, although the chorus lyrics could be a tad less repetitive); "Ordinary" (the rabble-rousing lyrics ["I believe we can crush the old guard / work with us, we want names"] belies the soft, funky instrumentals); "Before You Die" (Bunderoth's pre-disco guitar riff straight out of the mid-70s is all this song needs to be great, and the rest of the band only adds to the vibe); "Not Alone" (the most straight-ahead rocker on the record); "River" (a bluesy ballad that builds a good head of steam in the process; Brooks' shows his center stage vocal talents best here); "Cold" (it's just Brooks and Rosenstein, and that's all this one needs); "These Things" (it takes a little while, but the band gives itself enough slack to reach its pinnacle)
Meh: couldn't find anything major to disagree with
Skip to next track: it's all good