Suz – “Shape of Fear and Bravery”No.Mad Records-out now While we’re kicking off the end of the year with this Italian electronica/ Trip Hop band, let’s cut to the chase so you can resume your festivities: try out “The Gathering” and “Fear” for their flavor, but leave the rest behind. The main weakness of this album lies not with the backing sound effects and rhythm section (which is often strong), but rather in the somewhat monotone range of singer Susanna’s vocals here: as the central focus of this album, the vocals need some more tension and modulation. Many of the tracks don’t diverge enough vocally,Read More →

Tegan and Sara – “Sainthood”Sire/Wea-out now4 / 5 Almost the perfect bookend to Phoenix’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” Tegan and Sara churn up a beat-oriented popfest in their sixth full-length. While this album isn’t quite up to par with Phoenix’s there is still plenty here to recommend it: driving music, great melodies and choruses, and simple, sugary fun. Out of the thirteen presented here, “Arrow,” “The Cure,” and “Alligator” are the sure bets, with the best choruses out of the bunch, but that’s not to say there is a weak track in the mix. Rather, the biggest complaint is that, like Phoenix, these songs are fairlyRead More →

Karen O and the Kids – “Where the Wild Things Are” (Soundtrack)Interscope Records-out now4 / 5 With a fuller version of her excitable Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O would seem like the exact opposite of the person you’d want to make a soundtrack for a famous children’s book adaptation. But here she plays dead on, with playful, organic music that both adults and children will enjoy. Her second album released this year, she loses no steam in conducting a fuller orchestra, bringing an incredible innocence by utilizing a children’s chorus, fingersnaps and claps, and acoustic instruments. Performances on the simple and somber “Worried Shoe” andRead More →

John Vanderslice – Romanian NamesDead Oceans-out now While there is much to enjoy, including the opener, “Tremble and Tear,” John Vanderslice’s seventh studio album just doesn’t quite cut it. Throughout the album, there is simply a feeling of sparseness, a sort of desertification of sound, and while that plays rustic and well for some, it leaves “Romanian Names” feeling unfortunately plain instead. “Carina Constellation” suffers especially from this, repeating the chorus a few too many times, and “D.I.A.L.O.” also falls victim, with only vocals, synth and percussion. In addition, the somewhat unpleasant chorus to “Fetal Horses” doesn’t help, either, but the main culprit is aRead More →

The Antlers – “Hospice”Frenchkiss-out now4.5 / 5 The Antlers have taken a giant gamble on this ambitious concept album, and in many ways, it has paid off. Their fourth album is replete with synthesized sounds, hushed Grizzly Bear vocals, electronic buzz, and perplexingly, an achingly slow pace. But this all serves to the Antlers’ advantage, as they pull off several strong tracks: “Sylvia,” which burns slow and soft until the brash chorus; the strange opening lullaby of “Bear;” and the plaintive pulse to “Two.” In general, you’re likely to run into a good track on “Hospice,” but it still has its few detractors: extremely softRead More →

The Felice Brothers – “Yonder is the Clock”Team Love Records-out now Another in our yearly recap is the Felice Brothers, from whom Simone Felice broke off. While their albums don’t necessarily merit comparison, there is little doubt that Simone’s “Duke and the King” duo took the greater part of the talent in the transaction. To be sure, “Yonder” will please the Felice Brothers fanbase, but does little to reach beyond. While tracks such as “Run Chicken Run” and “All When We Were Young” display the range of their talent, with the former’s Louisiana swing propelling it, and the latter’s slow rag-time piano, the album onRead More →

Hey Mama – “Hey Mama”-out Dec 114 / 5 Formerly Avi and Celia, “Hey Mama” officially marks Mr. Salloway’s and Ms. Woodsmith’s first release under their new name and band. While the songs of their previous release “Let it Rise” sometimes eclipse some of the songs here, “Hey Mama” still gives a heady rock and roll, with fantastic bluesy vocals from Woodsmith. For those who are unfamiliar with the young prodigy, she smacks of old jazz singers, blue smoke-filled bars, and importantly, displays impressive range and technique. The backing band, whether it be guitarist Salloway with rhythm section Ben Kogan and Jared Seabrook, or ifRead More →

Radian – “Chimeric”Thrill Jockey-out now The first few industrial notes of ambient “Chimeric” are miserably slow, and it’s sad to say, but Radian here doesn’t offer much more. The songs are incredibly sparse, lacking the depth and layering of more noise-oriented artists (Merzbow), and don’t display song arcs or give the listener much footing in which to orient themselves (Aphex Twin, The Flaming Lips most recently). While sonic experimentation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is when other aspects, such as song construction and meaning, are being experimented upon. And that is how the listener feels: experimented upon. To be sure, there are a fewRead More →

Sufjan Stevens – “The BQE”Asthmatic Kitty-out now An ambitious project on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, “The BQE” is clearly marked as Sufjan Steven’s magnum opus. A classical suite in a foreboding thirteen parts, “BQE” is anything but: it is grand, magnificent, and patient. Commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music and performed on November of 2007, fans of Steven’s much-awaited suite are treated to audio, an intimate video, and even a 40-page booklet. Those same fans will note immediately that this piece, unlike “Illinois” or “Michigan,”is far less personal, and lacks the vocals and intimate stories, as well as stand-out tracks of the previous two. TheRead More →

St. Vincent – “Actor”4ad Records-out now4 / 5 Surprising song arrangements make Annie Clark’s second solo album a deep, complex treat. Clark, aka St. Vincent, has a penchant for constructing songs that demand multiple listens; after the initial shock of “The Strangers” and its bizarre instrumentation (Clark’s whispery voice supported by keyboard and a basic beat), the album fills in with several songs of warmth and worth. One such song is the gorgeously personal “The Party,” whose simple cadence and contemplative vocals highlight an awkward moment together. The lyrics here (“my pockets hang out/Like two surrendered flags”) capture the beauty of the moment and speakRead More →