The Belle Jar- Union Station
Mar 5, 2014
In 2006, five friends from Bowling Green, Kentucky got together and started to make music under the name Cage the Elephant. It didn’t take long for them to get noticed. Cage the Elephant has gained a huge following in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., captivating audiences with their boundless energy and unique sound.
Two years after the release of their debut, self-titled album, Cage the Elephant is back with Thank You Happy Birthday. The album features twelve tracks filled with energy and emotion. If fans of Cage the Elephant thought that the band couldn’t possibly produce a louder, quirkier album than their first, they’ve just been proven wrong. Whether it’s singer Matthew Shultz lamenting over the unpredictable and cruel nature of life in general in “Always Something,” expressing his optimism in “Shake Me Down,” or yelling at the one person he’s always dreaming about in “Around My Head,” Cage the Elephant has stayed true to their unique personality. They’re still combining hard-hitting, often angry sounds with lyrics that are just funny and sarcastic enough to grab your attention without having you lose focus on what each song is really about.
Check out the album's first single, "Shake Me Down":
Ethereal, angelic vocals flutter around sparse melodies and arrangements. Grown Unknown shows a simplistic musical concept expanded; the songs here show different sides of the same coin—one dug out from beneath snow and ice.
Like her stage name, Lia Ices evokes cold moods. Her sobering tunes sway in and out of consciousness, like a fireside chat in the small morning hours. Fittingly, Justin Vernon guests on “Daphne,” cooing an unmistakable falsetto for no other season. “Grown Unknown” takes a rhythmic jump from the rest of the album, but not one so disparate that it alienates.
Grown Unknown showcases a calm—some sort of unnerving quiet on the eve of a heavy snow. Kids have gone to bed, but adults wait restless for what happens next.
Listen to the title track from Grown Unknown:
OFF! should’ve had a decent fanbase in the punk community. The new supergroup features former Black Flag/Circle Jerks front man Keith Morris, Burning Bridges’ Dimitri Coats, Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald and Rocket from the Crypt/Hot Snakes drummer Mario Rubalcaba.
The band’s first release, a compilation of four EPs, collects 16 fast, rough punk songs, reminiscent of Black Flag’s 1978 EP, Nervous Breakdown. The longest track on First Four EPs, “Poison City,” runs for just over a minute and a half.
OFF! has received high praise from more than just punk and skate magazines. The Onion’s A.V. Club gave it an A- and the Chicago Tribune awarded it three-and-a-half stars out of four. Even the hipsters at Pitchfork named it “Best New Music” with a score of 8.5 out of 10.
OFF! is an anomaly. Keith Morris is 55, and the rest of the band isn’t far behind. They still play the music of their youth – just as fast and angrily, and they may be even more successful this time around.
Check out a live take of "Darkness":
Bold Victorian piano chords are struck and ring to the rafters. Drums chime in jazz circles and cymbal stops. A frightened woman repeatedly cries, “Oh, the unspeakable things!” No, this isn’t a horror movie; it’s Dark Dark Dark’s brooding tune “Daydreaming.”
That’s right, Dark Dark Dark, a sprawling seven-member chamber-folk group from Minnesota. Led by singer Nona Marie Invie, the band wraps around ghostly vocals with atmosphere that echoes skyward. Wild Go, their sophomore effort, was released in 2010. Some Dark Dark Dark tunes radiate a strange vibe, like you’ve stumbled upon a secret group of escaped circus freaks holding a bizarre ritual. “Celebrate” utilizes an accordion-pumped melody straight from the carnival. The anxious percussion and background howls on “Flood” paint a morosely twisted scene.
Dark Dark Dark is definitely haunting, eerie, otherworldly, etc. But their late-night melancholy is, at the same time, uplifting and beautiful. “Robert” hums like the prettiest Regina Spektor song with its swift ivory strokes. Even the last-one-at-the-bar feel of “Daydreaming” allows room for Dark Dark Dark to breathe a sigh of sweet release, even if it’s between whiskey gulps.
“Oh, if you knew what it meant to me,” laments Invie, but it’s the audience that’s more likely to “Daydream” about this, once they’ve heard Dark Dark Dark.
With the start of the New Year, it is hard to forget the great albums we had on constant repeat from 2010, and you shouldn't. But, while you're still blasting your favorites, watch out for the following albums this year. Let's hope 2011 exceeds our expectations!
British Sea Power-Valhalla Dancehall, 1/11/ 11
Cake-Showroom of Compassion, 1/11/11
Rye Rye-Go! Pop! Bang!, 1/11/11
The Decemberists-The King is Dead, 1/18/11
The Smith Westerns-Dye it Blonde, 1/18/11
Tennis-Cape Dory, 1/18/11
Cloud Nothings-Cloud Nothings, 1/25/11
Iron and Wine-Kiss Each Other Clean, 1/25/11
The Go! Team-Rolling Blackouts, 1/31/11
Hercules and Love Affair-Blue Songs, 1/31/11
Cut Copy-Zonoscope, 2/08/11
Bright Eyes-The People's Key, 2/15/11
Drive-By-Truckers-Go-Go Boots, 2/18/11
The Low Anthem-Smart Flesh, 2/22/11
Toro y Moi-Underneath The Pine, 2/22/11
Lykke Li-Wounded Rhymes, 3/01/11
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart-Belong, March 2011
Lupe Fiasco-Lasers, 3/ 08/11
Paul Simon-So Beautiful or So What, 4/12/11
The Mountain Goats-All Eternal's Deck, 4/29/11
Beastie Boys-Hot Sauce Committee, Spring 2011
The Black Lips, Spring 2011
Cat Power, 2011
Fleet Foxes, 2011
Jay-Z and Kanye West-Watch The Throne, 2011
Panda Bear-Tomboy, 2011
The Strokes, Spring 2011
1. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
3. Beach House - Teen Dream
5. Bruce Springsteen - The Promise
6. The National - High Violet
7. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
8. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker
9. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
11. Free Energy - Stuck on Nothing
13. Ra Ra Riot - The Orchard
14. Sleigh Bells - Treats
15. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
16. Vampire Weekend - Contra
18. Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
19. The Extra Lens - Undercard
Xander Singh’s timid vocals, like almost all the sounds on Pepper Rabbit’s Beauregard, are drowned in reverb. Singh and his collaborator, Luc Laurent, throw just about everything else into the mix. Clarinets, ukuleles, banjos, horns and string sections are among the wide variety of instruments found on the album.
The band’s experimental chamber pop is both orchestral and psychedelic. The opener, “Clarinet Song,” focuses on the lush arrangements. The song peaks when the vocal harmonies are buried beneath horns, woodwinds and marching drums. “None Shall Sleep” swells with emphatic rhythms and lulls with distant horns and ethereal strings. “In the Spirit of Beauregard,” features a heavy psychedelic influence without being drastically different. The clarinet and slow, bouncy piano quickly coalesce into a trippy spiral of sound.
And it actually works. Beauregard makes for an incredible listen. There’s so much going on, but Pepper Rabbit aren’t trying to be Beirut or Arcade Fire. Instead of bold and grandiose, it’s subtle and beautiful. It takes a few listens to hear it all, but that’s one of the most endearing aspects of the album. Pepper Rabbit make you want to discover every nuance within Beauregard.
Check out a live version of "None Shall Sleep," performed on KEXP:
When you have a voice as smooth and calming as Norah Jones’, it’s easy to fit into any song. In Jones’ compilation album …Featuring, released Nov. 2, the Grammy-winning jazz pianist and singer-songwriter slips into rock, R&B and country songs as if she’s been in the genre all along.
“Baby It’s Cold Outside,” one of Jones’ three Grammy-nominated duets with her mentor Willie Nelson, gives a cute, flirty experience to the album (even though Nelson is more than twice her age).
“Take Off Your Cool,” from Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, is a slow jam mixed with acoustic guitar. Although this isn’t Jones’ normal genre, she blends in with Andre 3000’s sensual song. Her work between rap verses with Q-tip and Talib Kweli also shows she can do more than adult contemporary.
“I never really thought I would be singing with rappers,” Jones says on her YouTube channel. “I feel like it’s more of a natural thing than it seems because I know that all these guys love jazz. We share a common love of a certain music that even though we do very different things with it, … in the end it’s always musical and it all works out.”
…Featuring proves that Jones can sing country too. She plays with Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and Dolly Parton. She cowrote “Dear John” with Ryan Adams.
Jones returns to her native genre with songs with Herbie Hancock and Charlie Hunter. The album finishes with “Blue Bayou,” featuring M. Ward.
Partnering with an assorted variety of artists, Norah Jones demonstrates she can work with almost anyone – and sound really really good.
Listen to "Dear John" - Jones' collaboration with Ryan Adams:
Hailing from Nashville, Tenn., The Parting Gifts are bringing late-sixties instrumentals back to the garage-rock scene. On their new album, Strychnine Dandelion, country and folk influences wind their way through tracks sung by gritty voices and underlayed with saloon-style piano.
Several noted blues voices can be found on the album, including Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Patrick Keeler of The Greenhornes and The Raconteurs, Dave Amels, and Jem Cohen and Poni Silver from the Ettes. The variety of gravely voices gives each song an individual flare, spreading the album’s influences to every end of the spectrum.
Overall, the album bears a heavy resemblance to the soundtrack of a spaghetti western. But, if you’re into garage rock-country-folk fusion, then The Parting Gifts are right for you.
Check out "Keep Walkin":
The core of L.A. art/rock duo Eagle and Talon is made up of Kim (on vocals and guitar) and Alice Talon (on drums, casio, and back-up vocals). Since the duo started to write and produce their own music, they have been gaining popularity, becoming famous for always trying to give their listeners something fun to listen to.
In Manila is Eagle and Talon’s second EP, following up their debut full-length, Thracian. For In Manila, Kim and Alice recruited the efforts of Damon Zick (alto sax, bass clarinet), Daphne Chen (viola), Davin Givhan (bass) and Jordan Katz (trumpet/flugal horn). With Alice punching out melodies on her keyboard and Kim’s strong, clear vocals delivering the lyrics, you wouldn’t think they’d need anything more to produce highly enjoyable and upbeat indie music, but the added layers that each of the different instruments bring to the table makes each song that much more unique, helping Eagle and Talon stand out as something that’s a little different and a lot more fun than your average indie band.
Listen to the title track, "In Manila":