two sentence reviews of new albums i listened to in february

speakers in code interview: oberhofer

First, unrelated: couple of weeks ago I shot an interview with Oberhofer for Speakers In Code; it’s up now, and you can read it and see my photos here.

And now: two sentence reviews of new albums I listened to in February (and a few in January that missed the cut-off for that edition, but whatever, shut up about it):

A Hawk and a Handsaw — Cervantine: as always, mostly instrumental, superbly complex world-influenced music with a heavily classical bent; this time around, very Southwestern, very Mediterranean feeling, and even more classically influenced than usual. RIYL: Beirut, DeVotchKa, 1997.

The Joy Formidable — The Big Roar: I somehow ended up on these guys’ mailing list; I have no idea how, but as they started sending out press for their new album, I got more and more intrigued, mostly by their band name. And this album is a roar, there’s no other word for it — wave after wave of crashing guitar, the simplest of driving drumming, and Ritzy Bryan’s half screamed, half sung vocals breaking over all of it. And as powerful quiet — the first two minutes of “Llaw = Wall” — as they are at full bore — album highlights “Austere” and “Cradle”.

The Mind Spiders — self-titled: Denton, TX punks with a distinct late ’60s Detroit rock and roll feeling, plus part surf rock, part ’70s Batman TV show theme music — simple catchy choruses, great drumming, and these guys can all really play. It’s not brainy, but it’s hella fun. Locals, RIYL the Static Minds, and the Static Minds, recommended that you drag these guys up here for a bunch of double bills.

Cameron McGill & What Army — Is A Beast: this is just a preview — you’ll get a full review when it drops officially in April — but this album is dark and lush and creeping, a back alley dark apartment dive bar in Chicago kind of album, and good god damn, I love a songwriter who’s well-read. Sharp lyrics, thick instrumentation; I cannot wait for the world to hear this.

The Civil Wars — Barton Hollow: I wish I liked this more than I do; it has the hallmarks of stuff I love — gorgeous guy/girl harmonies (and, oh, her voice is stunning), solid songwriting, unobstrusively lovely piano-and-guitar music — but I don’t know, I just kind of find it boring. I think it might be a very good album that just doesn’t click for me, for some reason.

Admiral Fallow — Boots Met My Face: Think Frightened Rabbit crossed with the chamber orchestra folk group of your choice; a little poppy and a little experimental and a lot of huge choruses and soaring crashing horn section finishes to songs, all laid over with a Scottish accent and lyrics somewhere between gorgeous and terrifically sad. (March 19 at Fullsteam w/ Wylie Hunter, locals. I won’t be there but it’s a show Speakers In Code are putting together.)

North Mississippi All-Stars — Keys To The Kingdom: this is a very back to their roots album for the Dickinson boys; made in the wake of their father’s death, it’s a striking album about living, dying, and all the pieces in between those two things. There’s the expected quiet and personal moments, but it rocks and rolls and rambles just as hard as some of their earlier albums in other places, and it’s a stellar tribute to their dad, who was one of the greats in shaping roots rock into what it is today.

The Only Sons — American Stranger: I described the Only Sons, fronted by Kent Goolsby, to Ash as sounding like “a band that hangs out in Murfreesboro with Glossary”; and indeed, Joey Kneiser had a production hand in this album, but the Only Sons slant more country than Glossary’s rock. To be perfectly honest, the sound and pacing get kind of same-y the further you get into the album, and the songwriting is not always as sharp as I’d want it to be (or know Kent can be), but when it’s good, it’s a twangy and deeply dark, vaguely disturbing album, full of creepy licks and sadness. RIYL Glossary, Drive-By Truckers, Lucero.

Dave Hause — Resolutions: I feel guilty relegating Dave to two sentences, but I don’t want to wait until I have a free Tuesday to review this; this is, maybe, the best album that’s been released so far this year. It’s one of those albums that toes the line between hopeful and heartbreaking, Dave is an absolutely fantastic songwriter, and the first time I listened to album opener “Time Will Tell” I burst into tears at my desk. It’s like a great Loved Ones album, stripped down and a little more poppy, and it’s Dave, and it’s phenomenal.

Over The Rhine — The Long Surrender: I’ll freely admit that though Over the Rhine are one of my iSchool friend Ellen’s favorite bands, I don’t know much about them or their back catalog; I do know that the power of this album hinges on the power of Karin Bergquist’s raspy and powerful voice, and her delivery of lyrics that are mostly sad and full of broken dreams in a way that makes you want to get up and try again. It’s way more alt country than I expected, too, heavy on piano and the slide of steel, and oh, my, where it’s good, it’s great.

Laura Jansen — Bells: Released in Holland in 2009, Jansen’s debut album drops here in the States 3/22, and it’s lovely in a way that I forget I love; she has a bell-clear voice and the girl-with-piano vibe is broken up in a fascinating way with electronic backbeats and chiming percussion. The songwriting can be a little middle of the road, but her voice, layered over synths and over itself in harmony, sells it anyway. RIYL: Regina Spektor, Vienna Tang, that first Nina Gordon solo album that was really great.

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