The Belle Jar- Union Station
Mar 5, 2014
A year ago, Carrie Brownstein told NPR she’d been playing some new music with some old friends. Twelve months later, Wild Flag dropped its eponymous debut on the world—and what a year it’s been.
Brownstein, former Sleater-Kinney vocalist and current writer-co-star of IFC’s “Portlandia” along with Fred Armisen, sings the songs on Wild Flag with great command. It doesn’t hurt that she’s backed up by former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, Helium guitarist-vocalist Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole, formerly of The Minders.
We all know them; rebellious indie kids with a knack for finding the perfect music to compile on their summer playlist. How aggravated they must have been when the release of Grouplove’s first full-length album occurred in mid-September.
Listen to "Naked Kids" -
With her previous two albums, St. Vincent mastermind Annie Clark developed a reputation for being a wispy, mesmerizing chanteuse with an elegant eccentric streak. Not much changes with Strange Mercy but her remarkable continuation of artistic development. From start to finish, Strange Mercy is a triumph of the creative process.
Clark continues along the same vein she struck with 2009’s Actor. Angular guitar plucks and gentle, almost unassuming vocals drift alongside jolting, sometimes bizarre rhythms. Album opener “Chloe in the Afternoon” is a frenetic, haunting juxtaposition of tranquil melody and a staccato drum loop. It starts Strange Mercy off on a hobbling note, and may put some listeners off.
Yet Clark’s greatest strength may be the unconventional beauty she forges from the sum of her music’s parts, something more determined listeners will realize as the album progresses. “Cruel,” a bouncy pseudo-disco track flaunting Clark’s ability to write a catchy hook when she needs to, is just strange enough to beckon you in further.
A sense of emotional immediacy also permeates Strange Mercy that sets it apart from St. Vincent’s previous efforts. The title track is a poignant ballad with a melody that never lets go of your ears, an experience both cathartic and harrowing.
Clark’s guitar work is something to praise as its own entity—she uses the instrument not to ground the music, but to help propel the music to celestial heights. Its crunching, distorted flourishes put the heft of Clark’s emotions under pressure, making each song struggle with anxiety and nearly frantic energy.
“Champagne Dream” is another triumph, showcasing Clark’s lower range in a stark confession of self-doubt and reflection. “Dilettante” and “Hysterical Strength” gallop along on the weight of solid beats and virtuosic instrumentation, recalling Björk at her tamest. Strange Mercy closes on a high note with “Year of the Tiger,” a song that suggests there is sanctity in the strange and abstract.
With all of Strange Mercy’s musical fragmentation, it can be easy to forget its backbone—the songwriting. Clark proves that she’s a force to be reckoned with among the music world’s canon of great songwriters, the Joni Mitchell of our generation. Strange Mercy is an uncompromising beauty that will retain its magic for ages.
Bands are often given several paths to choose over their career. Some reinvent their sound for mainstream success, or even to avoid it. Others continue to perfect the sound they've settled on.
On August 2nd, the 15 year-old band O.A.R. released their seventh studio album, King. King, simply put, is their strongest release yet. The band continues to explore their sound of “island vibe roots rock.” With this in mind, there is a resounding sense of talent and ambition in every track and line. Lyricist and lead singer Marc Roberge has consistently belted out simple and heartfelt lyrical stories on every recorded track.
The new album keeps up this trend and O.A.R.’s fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Songs like “Dangerous Connection” and “Fire” are sure to please old fans as well as appeal to newer ones. “Heaven” is the first look of the attitude and energy the group has to offer. It’s a song reflecting the outlook many current artists have. The band’s message of “I don’t care what you think of me, I’m just going to do what makes me happy” shines through because of the words and tones Roberge outputs.
O.A.R.’s unique sound comes from the melding of melodic guitar work by Richard On and the grooving bass of Benj Gershman. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind combination not available anywhere else. O.A.R. always manages to sound different and irreplaceable, especially to their fans. The two take it to a new level on King and their polyphonic energy only gets better when Jerry Depizzo wails out incredible sounds on the saxophone.
Since forming in high school O.A.R.’s sound has changed and matured, but the group stays true to their music on each new release. Each song on King is bound to please even the least faithful O.A.R. fan. The band’s commitment to making quality music has once again made itself known. The only thing left worth doing is putting your headphones on and surrendering to the King.
Listen to O.A.R.'s latest single "Heaven"-
Their music is sweet, accessible, and, above all else, big. There’s no doom and gloom on Skying, The Horrors’ third full length release. It’s a collection of 10 self-produced tracks as big as the name Skying would suggest.
The gorgeous opener “Changing the Rain” shines through synths and a steady, stuttering beat like a new-aged Stone Roses tune. “You Said” recalls the jagged rumblings of My Bloody Valentine. With its sharp synth chimes and washed guitar, “Still Life” has all the space of an ‘80s pop crier.
However, The Horrors are more than just an amalgamation of past UK noisemakers.
“Endless Blue” begins with gentle cymbal taps and airy arpeggios blending into a slow crescendo before U-turning at the 1:41 mark. The pace quickens as a distorted melody creates a pleasant backdrop for singer Faris Badwan to deliver his lines in disaffected breaths. All of this builds to an explosive chorus where a five-note synth line towers over the band like a foamy wave ready to break.
It’s this kind of perfect control that makes Skying a great listen.
Listen to "Still Life"
WSBU would like to thank everyone involved with the station, not just over the past year but all who ever have been involved. Whether you are/were a staff member, director, DJ, voter or just a casual listener you helped us rise to the top and become the best college radio station in the nation once again! It is your dedication and hard work that makes us what we are.
On behalf of WSBU, thanks again for your work and continue to support us. We want to make sure we stay on top of the charts as long as we can!
It hasn’t been that long since Portugal. The Man released American Ghetto, a release that didn’t showcase much of the bands strengths, but PTM is already back with In the Mountain in the Cloud. It’s the psychedelic adventure that American Ghetto should have been.
“Sleep Forever” displays what Portugal. The Man is all about. It’s a song that feels almost like a tribute to PTM’s influences and you can definitely hear the Beatles touch in this song. There’s a touch of strings, guitar solos, what sounds like a choir, and a shuddering, eerie vocal line. “Sleep Forever” brings together the trippiness of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the reserved haste of “Golden Slumbers,” and the subtle dementia and content of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage.”
The lucky seventh track, “Everything You See (Kids Count Hallelujahs),” bounces an upbeat brass riff along throughout with soft alt rock taking place in the background. It’s a song that reaches back into Alt. Rock’s past and brings back memories of The Wallflowers and Semisonic. Eventually the influence of Pink Floyd and the Beatles again makes an appearance when the song builds into a noise crescendo and breakdown.
Portugal. The Man is a band that satisfies the musical desires of many different types of rock fans. Alt. rock, psychedelic rock, indie rock, and classic rock fans all have a song that suits them on In the Mountain in the Cloud. In the Mountain in the Cloud should be the comeback album of the year.
Check out the lead single from In the Mountain in the Cloud "Got It All (This Can't Be Living Now)"
In summer of 2009, Title Fight released their debut full length album The Last Thing You Forget. It was a compilation of everything the band recorded since they formed in 2003. The band started out as just three teenagers until 2005 when they brought in another guitarist to round out their sound. Last thing You Forget introduced the band to a wider audience and jumpstarted their journey towards the top of melodic hardcore.
In May of 2011 Shed was released. Shed is the follow up to Last Thing and their first LP made of entirely new material. At just under a half-hour, Shed is driving, droning, descriptive, and emotional. There are songs here that leave your brain working in overdrive while running on autopilot. These thirteen songs are definitive proof that punk music is alive and well.
Title Fight’s lyrics exhibit their influences from emo, pop-punk, hardcore, and melodic hardcore. Guitarist Jamie Rhoden and bassist Ned Russin’s singing often covers the struggles of regret, rejection, depression, internal conflicts, and self-realization and self-change.
Title Fight is the only band in history that can get an audience to tear across a pit with unbridled ferocity one minute, sway like a Culture Club show the next, and mosh again soon after. TF songs are characterized by catchy rhythms, interwoven guitars, courtesy of Rhoden and Shane Moran, and determined bass and drum work from Ned and twin-brother Ben.
“Crescent-Shaped Depression” shows TF at their best. A soft, sultry opening leads into an overwhelmingly drawl blast of noise lasting for two and a half minutes. It snakes its way through your ears, into your brain, and leaves you determined to hit repeat just one more time, every time.
Title Fight showcases their hardcore orientation front and center with the lead track “Coxton Yard.” An addictively aggressive intro sets up a furious pace that’s maintained throughout by Ben’s furious drumming and broken only with occasional half-time breakdowns. Shed’s track order ensures that you won’t hear two similar songs in a row.
Shed will be in music critics’ top lists for 2011. The album leaves a strange sensation because it satisfies a wonderful musical itch, but you’re slightly disquieted because there won’t be any new material for a while. Shed exceeded the anticipation built from the release of The Last Thing You Forgot and will build up anticipation to an even greater level for their next album.
Listen to "Crescent-Shaped Depression" -
Seapony, a three-piece act from Seattle, dropped its 12-track debut album, Go With Me, last month. Be prepared to chill out. Relax. The band’s raw combinations of simple drum patterns and catchy guitar rhythms are made to do just that. Best Coast fans should be impressed.
Not unlike many other bands, Seapony holds strong influence of the light and dreamy 60s pop. Jeni Weidl’s pretty vocals are subtle like a light summer haze. Each song offers fun and infectious melodies with simple, not overbearing, drum rhythms.
Standouts include the leading track which is a cheerfully infectious tune, “Dreaming” (it was also released as a single last year); “I Really Do,” as Weidl’s charming vocals complement the driven drum beats over a strong chorus; and “Blue Star,” which offers the perfect combination of another strong chorus, sing-a-long lyrics and tumbling guitar chords. After that the remaining nine songs seem to follow suit and contain a similar tone of fun catchy beats.
For its debut album, Seapony did well. The album is an easy listen, perfect for more than just a few summer days. And hopefully, with its next album, Seapony finds a way to vary from its blueprint and standout from the crowd.
Listen to "Dreaming":