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If The Drums possess one impressive trick, it's the ability to craft smooth, unashamed pop music.
The band's back story reads somewhat like a screenplay. In essence: pseudo-electro band gains a little buzz in post-Killers music scene, band signs to major label, band dissolves, time passes, lead singer retreats to Florida and restarts creatively with old friend, forms new project, accumulates blog buzz, moves back to Brooklyn, releases EP, et cetera.
That first band (the 'pseudo-electro' one), Elkland, may not have explored too much unfamiliar sonic territory, but the music was harmless enough: a synth-soaked, beat-heavy trip to the eighties.
Now, take that synth, replace it with sun, reverb, and slight goth undertones.
The Drums plays like a photo album, a montage of sorts. The cliche "blast from the past" fits, albeit with a surprisingly crisp flavor. The typical hand claps work when they shouldn't; the ever-obvious melodies feel strangely well-crafted. The album might just blindside even the most seasoned ear with tones so familiar they're fresh.
Each song's lyrics require no dictionary, no thesaurus, no encyclopedia. The words are plain. Yet somehow their superficial meanings cut deep.
It's that line between cliche and original, simple and complex, relevant and overdone, plain and rich, that The Drums so finely toes.
The band's minor thought process undercuts its decidedly major tonalities; "Best Friend" smilingly chronicles the story of a chum that apparently dropped dead. Lead singer Jonathon Pierce coyly sings about one particular acquaintance's actions of trying to both kill and kiss him on "Skippin' Town."
Discussions amount every year over "best winter albums" and "best late-night albums." The Drums rightly stands firm-footed as 2010's best sunglasses-on-with-the-car-windows-cracked-on-back-roads album.
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Somewhere between the ‘80s jangly pop of John Hughes movie soundtracks and the ‘90s twinkling fuzz of Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream falls Virginia’s Wild Nothing. On record, Wild Nothing is singer/songwriter Jack Tatum alone, but he’s in great company with himself as he performs lead and backing vocals in addition to all guitar, bass and drum parts. The band’s full-length, Gemini, was released on June 3.
“Do you remember the lightning storm?” Tatum asks in “Live in Dreams,” the album’s star-speckled opener. “It was the first time I really felt you.” References to dreams are only appropriate on this album—it captures a certain foggy mood, like a faint haze after an early evening nap. Equal parts multicolored, cloudy sunset and milky meteor shower, Gemini soars above your head, just slightly out of reach.
But don’t be disheartened.
Tatum’s a grounded guy, capturing the simple, observant joys of daily life—fond, fun memories of romance, high hopes and expectations—in his lyrics, littered around like crispy leaves on a front lawn during a cool October night.
Delivered in a distant swirl, Tatum’s words are carried by occasional warm synth bursts and alternately chirping and pounding percussion. The ingredients are all here—sunny riffs, dreamy melodies, layered, humming vocals—to replicate that floating feeling when you first drove your parents’ car alone with the windows down in summer.
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They were originally called In, but when a venue thought their name was a typo, they decided it was time for a change. So this three-piece band from Brooklyn settled on Keepaway, and for listeners, it’s hard to stay away.
Keepaway has been on the scene for a while now, but they are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Their first EP Baby Style has hit the music scene, and since they have gained comparisons to Yeasayer, Animal Collective and Surfer Blood.
Their sound is trancy, loopy, tropical and experimental with howling vocals; it sends you into a tailspin. What makes Keepaway so interesting is that all three members sing all of their songs. Each one is layered with background vocals that compliment one another in harmonies.
The first track (also considered the single), “Yellow Wings," is filled with repetitive billowy charm that comes together in the chorus. The line that is repeated frequently throughout is, “I think I finally know what I want/I wanna be two places at once.” This immediately sticks inside your head, because who can’t relate to a state of constant yearning and indecision in a world that sometimes moves faster than we would like?
In “5 Rings,” the sound is very dreamy with constant “ooo-wee-oos,” which relaxes you into a somber state while keeping your attention throughout.
In their last track, “Evil Lady,” you hear a very surfy vibe that brings the EP to a close beautifully with sun drenched riffs, echoing the sounds of summer.
The only negative thing about Baby Style is that it’s too short! You won't want it to end!
Baby Style is perfect for this season. Listen to it while driving around in the car, at the beach, or anywhere for that matter; just play it loud. Spread the word, because from the sound of it, Keepaway is here to stay!
Check out "5 Rings":
Kate Nash has traded in her closet of vintage dresses for black pants and a leather jacket.
Listening to a few minutes into My Best Friend Is You, the transformation can’t be heard. The songs are girly but tough, keeping fans of 2008’s “Foundations” happy.
But when the fourth track (“I Just Love You More”) rolls around, you can tell that Nash wants to push past the image that earned her fame. She lets her vocals loose by screaming, shouting and moaning the title words over and over. The 22-year-old songwriter leaves the interpretation up to the listener – Is the song angry or passionate?
Nash aims beyond the pissy attitude that brought her debut album Made of Bricks to the top of the charts.
She carries on the women's empowerment ideal, calling out homophobes, attacking sex-driven men, all while keeping her music feminine. The love song, “I Hate Seagulls,” at the end of the album, starts off cynical like other songs but ends sweet and sentimental.
It doesn’t matter if My Best Friend Is You gets the same success her first album did. She’s having fun, and you can tell.
“I took the attitude that no one was ever going to hear (the songs). They could be rubbish, they could be the worst songs in the world,” Nash said in an interview with Idolator.com. “As long as I was being creative and enjoying it and writing things I cared about.”
Check out the video for "Do-Wah-Doo":
Crystal Castles 2010 release, Crystal Castles, builds upon their also self-titled debut in every way possible. The Toronto duo, consisting of Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass, has progressed in the same directions as their contemporaries Deerhunter and Fuck Buttons, but at the same, they have remained true to themselves in the process of crafting a satisfying and well produced followup.
On Crystal Castles' latest release, which spans out to about 53 minutes, you won't hear the archaic 8-bit loops that were present on their debut. Instead there's a more dynamic sound with each song generating a larger pop element which does not hurt in the least.
The dynamic tracks "Celestica", "Suffocation", and "Empathy" mold together the old primitive ways with the more pop/club oriented sound. Tracks like "Baptism" and "Intimate" have the potential to become college radio singles. While the album shows signs of clarity in Alice Glass' vocals the lack of distortion is a bit depressing, but this is Crystal Castles of 2010 not of 2008.
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A guy and his guitar—yeah, it’s been done before, countless times. And done amazingly, too: Dylan, Young, Joe Pug; the list is longer than “Desolation Row.”
What makes a folk artist real is his (or her) dedication to making his sound real. The best folk singer-songwriters craft their songs as living, breathing entities with pulses and emotions of their own. These songs linger on the wind, breezing past your memory days later as beautiful ghosts.
Sweden’s Kristian Matsson (known professionally as The Tallest Man on Earth) scratches his songs into the sky with nothing more than his guitar capoed on the seventh, eighth and ninth frets and his pleasantly abrasive voice. There’s no cliché harmonica here—that would make the songs sound too contrived. Instead, The Tallest Man on Earth (who stands under six feet tall, ironically), carries his human tunes with major-key arpeggios behind swift strums of hopefulness.
On “King of Spain,” Matsson longs to be the titular monarch between travelogue verses and Hemingway-like references to bullfighting, but he does it majestically. “Love is All” grips warmly despite its subject matter of a lost love and lyrics like: “Here come the tears/But like always, I let them go/Just let them go.”
Closer “Kids on the Run” might as well be Springsteen, but Matsson doesn’t try to be. He keeps everything his own as he weeps over a mourning piano melody: “And the cold sky will write us a song/But will we ever confess what we’ve done?/Guess we’re still kids on the run.”
Sure, broad American folk has been done before, and done better. But has it ever been done this well by a Swede? Give The Tallest Man on Earth a chance and he’ll give you a reason to keep listening.
Check out "King of Spain":
We all have a soft spot for pop music, but we don’t need to keep it a secret anymore. Janelle Monae is the real deal – a bona fide pop star with genuine credibility.
She breezes her way through R&B, soul, funk, pop and dance, weaving between sharp horn sections, Hendrix-style guitar solos, dance beats and everything in between.
The ArchAndroid, her debut album, runs through a labyrinth of genres, telling the story of an android in the year 2719.
The futuristic epic also pays homage to the past. On “Tightrope,” Monae delivers lines like, “Whether I’m high or low, I’m gonna tip on the tightrope,” with all the diction of Otis Redding. She also uses semi-improvised, spoken-word segues like “Now put some voodoo on it,” mimicking soul legends.
She also tackles “Ziggy Stardust” psychedelic rock on “Mushrooms & Roses,” which according to the liner notes, was inspired by a stage dive at Bonnaroo and Jack White’s mustache. Monae’s melting pot also includes guests like Saul Williams, Big Boi and Of Montreal, who each brought their unique flavor.
The ArchAndroid fuses all sorts of styles but remains cohesive – like a science fiction Thriller.
Janelle Monae is taking the guilt out of pop music. We should all thank her.
Check out the video for "Tightrope":
Dirty blues – grimy, nasty, gritty blues – that’s what we’ve come to expect from The Black Keys, the Akron duo of guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. After a series of experiments, including an Auerbach solo album and the Blakroc hip-hop collaboration with rappers such as Mos Def, ODB and Ludacris in 2009, The Black Keys returned with an ever-evolving sound. h="346" />
With incredibly catchy Danger Mouse production, “Tighten Up,” indicates a shift to soul elements. Auerbach howls his way through lines like, “Take my badge, but my heart remains loving you, baby child,” and makes you believe it.
They go so far with the soul flavor that they cover “Never Gonna Give You Up” on the penultimate track. No, they didn’t Rickroll us. This is a Jerry Butler-penned track also recorded by Isaac Hayes on the “Black Moses” album. These tracks alone give Brothers a looser sound than their tight blues-rock records, such as 2008’s Attack & Release.
“She’s Long Gone” may as well be Cream-era Clapton, and “Black Mud” could be Creedance Clearwater Revival.
This blend of classic soul and blues makes the 15-track Brothers a bendy hour of fun. From Auerbach’s faded, hauntingly soulful falsettos to the raw blues riffs, Brothers stays interesting throughout.
Check out "Tighten Up":