The Belle Jar- Union Station
Mar 5, 2014
The Black and White Years have been around since early 2006, after band members Scott Butler, Landon Thompson, and John Aldridge met at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. They began to play music together on the local scene and recorded their first EP just before adding drummer Billy Plotts into the mix in 2008.
Two years after producing their debut album, the Black and White Years are back with their sophomore album, Patterns. Butler and Thompson are at the forefront of the album, bringing with them not only their relaxed vocals, but also the power-pop background sounds that are present throughout the entire album. If The Black and White Years are one thing from the opening song “Up!” to the closing “Promises”, it’s consistent; each and every song unites the band’s desire to produce songs with complex lyrics with upbeat, electronic background music, encouraging listeners to not only take them seriously as musicians, but to enjoy it as well.
Listen to the opening track, "Up!":
“I don’t know—it’s mellow, kind of late-night music,” replied singer-songwriter Steve Schlitz when asked to describe his music in his own words. And it’s a fair description—there aren’t any loud, bang-it-out, anthemic choruses. No bluesy riffs snaking around a frisky bassline. No goofily misplaced electronics. This is personal, intimate, delicate music—“mellow, kind of late-night music,” indeed.
Schlitz took a break from his New York-based indie group Longwave after a 10-year run to start up a smaller, more personal project called Hurricane Bells. Using only a simple laptop studio in his house, Schlitz expected to make a few songs, sell some music and do a quick tour. Instead, Hurricane Bells blossomed into an expansive endeavor, with a B-side from his initial recordings ended up on the Twlight: New Moon soundtrack. Since then, Hurricane Bells performed at South by Southwest and cranked out a five-song EP entitled Down Comes the Rain.
“Make a Deal With the City” beings boldly with a charming, familiar electric melody laid over standard pop-tune drums. The song, a cover of East River Pipe’s of the same name, is a quaint introduction to this mellow act. Schlitz comes into full view with his cover of Blue October’s thumping “Into the Ocean.” Substituting the overdramatic electronics of the original with simple drum pounds, shakers and an acoustic current, Hurricane Bells offer a new imagining of an incredible song.
Let’s dissect the band’s name: a hurricane is a powerful force, and bells are soft, sweet and charming noises. Yeah, sounds about right for this band.
Listen to Hurricane Bells' latest single off Down Comes the Rain, "The Waiting Song":
With surges in production of both post-psychedelia and minimalism in the indie world, it’s easy to lose some bands in the shuffle. But when one band combines both halves so fluidly and endearingly, it’s hard not to perk up.
The all-female quartet Warpaint released The Fool on October 25, and it has a closeness about it that encourages dark, empty-room listening and strict attention.
The for-your-ears-only vocals feel almost whispered and calm—even exacting. The intricate-but-delicate guitar work adds a warm and rich timbre to an open-air mix, leaving listeners pining for what’s next.
For a debut LP, The Fool extracts many emotions effortlessly: suspense, solitude, excitement, discomfort, and joy.
Listen to "Undertow":
Cloud Nothings is 18 year old Dylan Baldi, who originally started recording music in his basement using a microphone and his computer, creating raw and intense lo-fi music that sends the blood moving through the body.
Turning On compiles what Cloud Nothings has released so far. What stands out are the summer-sounding jangly guitars with their wavy distortions and layered vocals that accompany them. With this distortion, however, it may take a while for it to fully grow on new listeners. But once it does, it is sure to be something that you will embrace and love. The title track “Turning On” has a distinct bass line that stands out from start to finish, while the opening track “Can’t Stay Awake” opens up with a powerpop, Superchunk guitar riff. Most of the tracks on Turning On are about three minutes long. Because the tracks are so short, it makes for a quick, easy listen and may become the next staple for a summer barbecue.
Check out the fuzzed-out "Can't Stay Awake":
Bad Books, the brainchild of singer-songwriter Kevin Devine and Andy Hull, the lead singer of Manchester Orchestra, is the eponymous debut album of the indie rock supergroup. The music of Bad Books is instantly familiar to any MO fan, because Bad Books is essentially Manchester Orchestra with Kevin Devine adding his vocal and compositional talents to the band.
The album is divided into two sides, five songs composed by Devine and five more by Hull. Songs like “Holding down the Laughter” and “You’re a Mirror I Cannot Avoid,” composed by Devine, show off his influences in folk music as well as fellow indie acts like Elliott Smith. The songs written by Hull, however, such as “Please Move” (maybe the breakout track from the album) and “Baby Shoes” reach more towards indie and alternative rock influences. “You Wouldn’t Have to Ask,” another standout track from Devine that’s almost over before it begins shows that he’s not afraid to turn up the distortion and break out power chords while writing.
Bad Books is music recommended to anyone who needs to relax after a stressful day; this music reaches deep inside you and massages your soul. The album flows from song to song and without any background information on Bad Books you would think this band has been together for years. Bad Books is definitely worth a listen to anyone who enjoys any kind of music. The band’s influences come from all types of music, which is what makes them appealing as a group. You won’t regret checking out Bad Books, it’s better than reading.
Check out the Devine-penned track "You Wouldn't Have to Ask":
Sufjan Stevens fans already know that last year Stevens abandoned his project to write an album for each of the 50 states, but he did manage two from the project: Michigan and Illinois. Fans would have also been excited when his label, Asthmatic Kitty, announced news of his full-length album, Age of Adz, just a week after he dropped his All Delighted People EP this August.
The 85-minute Age of Adz (actually pronounced Age of “Odds”) is Stevens’ first proper album since 2005 and it is certain to move the fan or listener be it good or bad. Stevens’ lyrics and demeanor are more straightforward, honest and ambitious than his usual unflustered persona.
Standouts on the 85-minute long album include “Futile Devices,” a guitar melody that’s supported by Stevens’ whispery voice and a casual piano. The title track, “Age of Adz,” has a lot of electronic and like many Sufjan songs, it’s best understood in its musical movements rather than verse-by-verse, and on “Vesuvius,” the lyrics remain soft throughout, but the music builds to help it grow.
Read more about Sufjan Stevens in this week's Buzzworthy, hitting newsstands tomorrow!
Listen to Sufjan Stevens explore new sounds on "Vesuvius":
Elvis Costello returns to his 70’s and 80’s post-punk form with his latest effort, National Ransom. The album, which streamed for free on Stephen Colbert’s website last week, welcomes the listener with familiar themes. Featuring his signature organ riffs and guitar solos, the opening and title track jumps out as classic Costello while clearly referencing current times with the lyric, “Woe betide all this hocus-pocus.
They’re running us ragged at their first attempt, around the time the killing stopped on Wall St.”
Costello gets some help from producer T. Bone Burnett, who produced last year’s Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, and guest performers including Vince Gill, Leon Russell and all members of his last two bands, The Imposters and The Sugarcanes. “My Lovely Jezebel” is very much affected by Burnett’s Nashville Americana sound and features Russell on piano.
Costello’s voice isn’t quite what it once was, but he’s as sharp a songwriter as ever and he does just fine with this year’s album.
Check out the title track, "National Ransom":
More than a couple band bios on Bear Hands have begun by discussing how singer-guitarist-keyboardist Dylan Rau formed the band to “spite a romantic rival.” If this really is a band spawned from angst and fury, it shows. The quartet, originally formed over three years ago, has released two EPs and toured relentlessly to support them (behind such indie heavyweights as Vampire Weekend, MGMT and Passion Pit). Their biblically non-sequitur-titled debut album, Burning Bush Supper Club, was released on November 2.
These guys are tight, alright. Rau favors repeated lyrics and melodies over constant word-vomit and the rhythm section keeps time with an excited fervor, unlike the monotonous drone of some of their contemporaries. A true rock band at heart, Bear Hands isn’t afraid to expand into pounding keyboard rhythms and dance drums on the opening track, “Crime Pays,” while Rau strikes immediately with a melodious falsetto. “Belongings” plays like an anthem to decadent youth with references to spinning 45s and burning bushes (the illegal kind).
Oh yeah, and that whole angry romance thing? Rau bulges veins in his neck when he forcibly informs listeners that he’s “dreaming of your goddamn long nails” on “What a Drag.” But the sweeter side of Bear Hands shines on tracks like “Camel Convention,” when Rau shifts back up a vocal range to yelp out his emotions, and the strangely-named-but-awesomely-executed “Julien Donkey Boy.”
Bear Hands have some surprises up their sleeve. They’ve learned from the best by touring with big-name acts and have picked up the proverbial tricks of the trade. Listen for how the sounds settle on top of each other, never fully blending but never fully disconnecting either. Anyway, enough of the vague music review. Go listen to these guys and enjoy the nuances of a headstrong young band determined to move people (even if it’s only their heads moving to the rhythm).
Listen to "What a Drag":
Zach Hill has added another solid project to his body of musical endeavors. Going solo this time, Zach’s new release Face Tat can be ferocious, soulful, and funky all in the same song. The lyrics are all written by the ex-Hella drummer, but he receives help on guitar from Randy Randall and Nick Reinhart. The album is highly experimental and often psychedelic, and it features an impressive list of contributors.
"The Primitives Talk" is a softer, more melodic introduction to the album, while tracks like “The Sacto Smile” and “House of Hits” bring a heavier and more frantic attack. Zach’s extreme level of skill on the drums is the only thing that remains constant on this album, tying together the keyboard lines, punk riffs, and whimsical vocals.
Listen to the psychedelic masterpiece "The Primitives Talk":
Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison (George’s son) and Akron singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur joined together in February for somewhat of a supergroup called Fistful of Mercy. With the help of drummer Jim Keltner, who has recorded with Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Harrion’s father, among others, As I Call You Down makes a classic rock and folksy-sounding debut.
The three vocalists and guitarists make a smooth, relaxing combination. The upbeat, catchy “Father’s Son” might be the best example of the group’s blending talents, mixing Harper’s soul and blues roots with the kind of harmonies you might hear on an old Traveling Wilburys album. Lyrics like “Please lord now forgive me, even though I don't deserve. I never was too good in life, the devil's all I serve,” sound like they could’ve been written by Robert Johnson or Willie Dixon.
The pace evens out with the reserved instrumental jam “30 Bones,” which features violinist Jessy Green. However it’s mostly the easy mixture of the trio’s voices and acoustic guitars that makes As I Call You Down worth a listen.
Listen to the supergroup's "Father's Son":