Into The Great Outdoors With Great Lake Swimmers

Great Lake Swimmers

Great Lake Swimmers are a band at home in the wild. Listening to them, you get the feeling that you’re in the wilderness yourself—maybe in an old, creaky boat surrounded by gray water. You’re in no particular hurry. You just let the waves push you where they want you to go, comfortable just letting them lap against you until you realize that you’ve been taken to a completely new place.

This is not a far stretch, really. Great Lake Swimmers have been known to make a studio in the wildest of places; places you have to hike to; places you have to ferry gear across in little boats. Their latest album, New Wild Everywhere, is no exception. The song “The Great Exhale,” for example (quite possibly the record’s high point), was recorded in an abandoned subway station in Toronto.

Continue reading

Album Review: “High Violet” by The National

The National High Violet

By Steven Spoerl

After hearing leaked tracks and seeing a few of the new ones performed live last year at Milwaukee’s gorgeous Pabst Theater, I had very high expectations for The National’s High Violet.  After finally getting my hands on a copy and giving it an inaugural listen, I was completely satisfied with the fluidity and strength of the record, but wondered about its staying power as it hadn’t gripped me as intensely as Alligator or Boxer did.

Then I thought back to Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers and was a little uplifted as I had the exact same trepidations after listening to that record for the first time.  It was one that I ultimately revisited almost as much as Alligator and Boxer. With that in mind, I found myself being pulled back in for another round, to give High Violet another try.

Continue reading

CD Review: Manic Street Preachers, “Journal For Plague Lovers”

Journal For Plague Lovers

In November of 2008, Richey James Edwards (lyricist and guitarist for The Manic Street Preachers) was declared “presumed dead,” following his mysterious disappearance in 1995 at that cursed age of 27.  Just months earlier, the band had released The Holy Bible, what many critics consider to be the most depressing album of all time.

Continue reading

CD Review: Bob Dylan’s “Together Through Life”

Together Through Life

The release of Bob Dylan’s 33rd studio album, Together Through Life, came as a surprise to even his most devout fans.  News of the album’s release came only weeks before it hit stores, setting the music community in a frenzy, drooling for a taste of the new tunes.
Continue reading

CD Review: The Boy Least Likely To, “The Law of the Playground”

The Law of the Playground

It’s been said that The Boy Least Likely To sounds like what would happen “if all your childhood stuffed animals got together and started a band.”  A slightly terrifying thought, but there really aren’t too many other descriptions that so neatly classifies the sweetly innocent tunes that the band produces.

Click here to keep reading the review

CD Review: Glasvegas, “Glasvegas”

Glasvegas

While absorbing the aural exquisiteness that is the self-titled debut from Scottish foursome Glasvegas, I experienced more than a few pinch-me-this-can’t-be-real moments. Now I realize, as any die-hard music fan can probably relate, confessing your adoration of a new band every few weeks is a bit like crying wolf. No matter how sincere your passion for an artist’s work may be, it’s hard for people to take you seriously when there always seems to be another “best band in the world you have to hear” waiting in the wings. Words like “amazing,” “gorgeous,” and “brilliant,” tend to lose their meaning when applied to every new album being reviewed. I keep this in mind. Really, I do. But seriously, you have to hear this band.

Glasvegas

Glasvegas

Glasvegas is, in short, a tidal wave of sound riddled with swirls of glittering, otherworldly guitars crashing over a wall of 60’s pop. The music’s grand, anthemic character is bigger than anything physically tangible. Vocalist (and Joe Strummer lookalike) James Allan cries his band’s songs with a passion assured to tickle the hairs on the back of your neck with every listen.

Just when you think the band has hit their stride–built a song to epic proportions and are just waiting for the fall–they’ll rocket your emotions to yet another dimension. (Take 2:48 of “Go Square Go” for instance.) Whether they’re provoking you to riot with euphoria (“Here we, here we, here we fucking go!”) or break down and weep (“So this is the grand finale/The crescendo of demise/This is the happy ending/Where the bad guy goes down and dies/This is the end”), Glasvegas’s music is nothing if not an emotional rollercoaster.

“Daddy’s Gone” is one of the best of the bunch. Imagine The Raveonettes with a heavy Scottish brogue and even heavier subject matter. “I won’t be the lonely one/Sitting on my own and sad/A fifty year old reminiscing what I had/Forget your dad, he’s gone,” promises Allen.

If you’re more in the mood for something to dance to, or at least pump a fist to, be sure to check out the power loaded fight song, “Go Square Go.” Between gentler, jangling interludes of what NME called “shiver-inducing guitars” the song erupts into the best candidate for the Universal Anthem of Youth that you’re likely to hear.

As much as this is a band that anyone, anywhere can fall in love with, it’s worth noting the particular importance of a band like Glasvegas across the pond. Much like classic UK bands such as The Kinks, The Clash, Blur, The Smiths, Pulp, and The Jam, Glasvegas’ music is very much an expression of the society from which it came. Though I’m a massive fan of all the aforementioned groups, I acknowledge that their music carries a layer of cultural weight unique to my own experiences growing up in the United States that I will probably never be able to fully appreciate.

Take The Clash’s “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” for example: with a minimal amount of research, anyone can discover the sentiment behind lyrics about Hitler’s limousine and “the all-night drug prowling wolf.” It’s an undeniably brilliant song-from the music itself, to the clever poetry of Strummer’s lyrics and poignant take on alienation-though your chances of actually living the song firsthand are greatly increased with British citizenship. Similarly, Glasvegas’ musical appeal is universal, but since so much of their song content is flavored with cultural specifics, they are secured an especially adored place in the hearts of Scottish youth.

The presence of geographic nuances aside, Glasvegas’ debut is, in every way, a massively important musical document–something that transcends the charts, international press, and my own rambling reviews. This album simply sparkles.

-Shelley Peckham


Check out the band on their official page, their myspace, and on YouTube:

“Daddy’s Gone”

“Geraldine”

(To leave a comment, click on the title of the blog entry and scroll down.)

CD Review: Noah and the Whale, “Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down”

 

Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down

 

Like a soundtrack to some hip indie film about the awkward wonder of growing up and discovering the world, Noah and the Whale’s debut album Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down unfolds itself to reveal moments of sorrow, charm, confusion and hope, making for a pleasantly introspective and centering experience for the listener. Pitchfork be damned!

Right off the bat, set to springy, urgent Kimya Dawson-like acoustic guitar plucks, vocalist Charlie Fink ponders the big questions in “2 Atoms in a Molecule”:

And if love is just a game
Then how come it’s no fun?
If love is just a game
How come I’ve never won?
I guess maybe it’s possible I might be playing it wrong
And that’s why every time I roll the dice
I always come undone

Questions and conclusions–resignations, even–like these are scattered throughout Peaceful…, likely making it one of the most philosophical bodies of modern musical achievement that will sweep through your ears. Life, death and love are never far from the band’s consideration. Take an especially poignant verse from the closing track, “Hold My Hand As I’m Lowered” for instance:

O Death, do not feel like the victor
‘Cause my poor life makes you none the richer
Oh, your cold hands are clutching at cloth
I leave nothing on Earth that won’t rot

In “Give A Little Love,” the band updates the famous Golden Rule-inspired lines of giving what you get that The Beatles made famous in “The End”:

Well I know my death will not come
‘Til I breathe all the air out my lungs
‘Til my final tune is sung
That all is fleeting
Yeah, but all is good
And my love is my whole being
And I’ve shared what I could
But if you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own
Don’t break his heart

Brutal Spartan ideas in “Jocasta” (“When the baby’s born / Oh, let’s turn it to the snow”) are juxtaposed with the comfort and reassurance found in “Do What You Do” (“So if you trust what’s in your heart / Oh, what better can you do / Than if you do what you do / Yeah, you’ll do fine”).

Though Noah and the Whale frequently take on heavy subject matter in their lyrical compositions, the soothing musical backdrop of acoustic guitars, violins and rousing horns makes the meditative journey a gentle, enjoyable one that listeners will want to frequently make.

Hints of influence from artists such as the Magnetic Fields, Belle and Sebastian, Devendra Banhart, Rogue Wave, Fleet Foxes, The Boy Least Likely To, and Damien Jurado color Noah and the Whale’s lush melodies and charming approach to their art.

However much the band evokes memories of these other critically acclaimed indie folk gods, their unique mixture of Americana and British twee make their final sound something entirely their own. Peaceful… is a gorgeous, intelligent debut from a band that is sure to make big waves in the near future.

–Shelley Peckham

Check out the band’s official site, and their myspace.

(To leave a comment, click on the title of the blog entry and scroll down.)