Posted by: Ryan Allen + Laura Witkowski on March 10, 2009 at 10:19 am

800 Beloved, Bouquet (Moodgadget Records)

MP3: The Skeleton Collection

Uh oh. Looks like Detroit’s got its very own Joy Division. At least that’s what the uniformed will think when they hear the cold, slightly Goth-ish tones on 800 Beloved‘s icy Bouquet. While the monotone vocals, slashing guitar work, melodic bass-lines, apocalyptic synths, and dark tunnels 800 Beloved travel down certainly bring to mind Curtis & co. — and, to a much lesser extent, Interpol, for those without a decent record collection — what the band is really up to seems a lot more endearing. In all reality, Bouquet is a well-crafted continuation of a long-standing Mitten tradition of producing quality space-rock and shoegaze; one that started with groups like Majesty Crush, Windy and Carl, and Asha Vida (featuring a much-less pop inclined Casimer Pascal of Pas/Cal fame), and has continued to this day with sonic shredders like Dark Red (Rob from Paik) and the super-underrated Dykehouse (hell, we could even go out on a limb here and dub Javelins and Deastro branches on the Michigan-shoegaze family tree). So it’s with open arms that we welcome 800 Beloved to the fold. And how could we not, with certified New Romatic-era jams like “Show Me Evil” and “The Skeleton Collection” stuffed up their frilly sleeves? The band is slightly elusive (they hardly ever play around town), but fans of M83, Robert Smith-hair, and City Club will surely find something to adore about this collection. — RA


Julie Doiron, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day (Jagjaguwar)

MP3: Consolation Prize

Julie Doiron’s work with 90’s Canadian favorite Eric’s Trip has certainly helped her build a consistent solo career. More or less until this point she’s delivered solid, but relatively quiet records that only hint at the lo-fi squall of those early Eric’s Trip days. Though the title sounds like a note your adorable stalker might leave inside a mix tape under your windshield wiper, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day, also contains some of Doiron’s most fuzzed out and melodic material yet. Thickly distorted, yet melodically solid tracks are interspersed with introspective observations. Her most immediately catchy release yet. — LW


Elvis Perkins In Dearland, Elvis Perkins In Dearland (XL Recordings)

MP3: Shampoo

Elvis Perkins sound like the name of a Southern Rockabilly revivalist, but instead, he’s a revivalist of a different sort. For his second album, he’s now formed a complete band — and this additional trio of multi-instrumentalists bring something special to the music of the exceptional songwriter. With a sound reminiscent of classic Cat Stevens and Josh Ritter meets a New Orleans funeral band, Elvis Perkins In Dearland march through the streets in joyous defiance. Bursts of harmonium, trombone, banjo and clarinet punctuate clever and biting lyrics. Songs like “123 Goodbye” and “Hey” wouldn’t sound out of place a Wes Anderson film soundtrack. — LW


From Monument to Masses, On Little Known Frequencies (Dim Mak/Downtown)

MP3: The First Five

Instrumental music is always a hard sell — it’s not like Tortoise are packing out arenas these days, ya know? But, music without lyrics has quite the history. Ever hear of this dude Johann Sebastian Bach? Yeah, thought so. So, in the tradition of ol’ white-wig himself, we give you the occasionally cinematic soundscapes of the vocal-less Oakland trio From Monument to Masses. Combining the bass-heaviness of the aforementioned Tortoise, with the electro-rock of Minus the Bear, and the metallic shrapnel of, say, Mastodon (fun fact: producer Matt Bayles oversaw records by both the latter groups), FMTM often show up their instrumental peers by A) being not boring (unlike Godspeed You Black Emperor), and B) having a tasteful hip-hop influence (think Prefuse 73, not Diddy) featured throughout. It’s hardly a symphony, but this ain’t your older brothers math-rock either. — RA


Handsome Furs, Face Control (Sub Pop)

MP3: I’m Confused

Face Control will quickly become the “it” record for the ironic hipster set, so expect every person who sees gold lame’ stretch pants and rubber wading boots as essential wardrobe pieces to adore this record. But Handsome Furs bring just enough earnestness with their 80’s throwback synth sound to avoid being a flash-in-the-pan trendy favorite. Of course staying power is also improved when one half of your band is Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner. Along with his wife Alexei Perry, the two follow up 2007’s Plague Park with a fuller, more realized set of songs. Gets better with each listen. — LW


War Child presents Heroes (Astralwerks/War Child)

MP3: The Like, You Belong To Me (Elvis Costello)

Did the masterminds behind Urban Outfitters in-store playlists and SirusXMU get together and put together a comp? A quick scan of the artists that make up War Child‘s Heroes collection — the Kooks, Estelle, TV on the Radio, Lily Allen, Franz Ferdinand, Scissor Sisters, etc. — and it would seem so. Indeed, you could hear any one of these middle-of-the-road alt.rock and pop pansys blasting over the loud speakers while you snatch up your newest pair of skinnies, but this time around, the kids are covering legendary tracks by the likes of the Ramones, Iggy Pop, U2, and the Kinks, amongst others. The catch? The roster was chosen by the legends themselves. The verdict? It’s pretty hit-and-miss, with nu-Winehouses Estelle and Duffy doing predictable “SNL”-esque big-band takes on Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. Elsewhere, the Hold Steady cover Bruce (shocker!), TV on the Radio do Bowie (no shit!), and the Like do Elvis Costello (actually awesome!). Nitpicking aside, it’s for a good cause (proceeds go to benefit children affected by war), so buy it for you dad and feel good about yourself. — RA


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Posted by: Ryan Allen on November 6, 2008 at 10:00 am

The Sea and Cake, Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey)

MP3: “Weekend”

Not really famous for straying the course, Car Alarm is an album that you would expect to come from Chicago’s the Sea and Cake. If you’re into the band, then odds are you know exactly what to expect, and you will dig it. And why wouldn’t you? All the key elements have been assembled for a typically great Sea and Cake record: Sam Prekop’s smooth, breathy vocals, Eric Claridge’s impressive and tight bass playing, John McEntire’s jazzy and precise drumming and the jangly guitars of Prekop and Archer Prewitt. Like all their records, it is a combination of indie rock, pop, jazz and tropicalia. It is the obvious next step the band could have taken after 2007’s awesomely poppy Everybody, with a very subtle return to some of the electronic sounds of the previous few records (check “Weekend” for some oscillating keyboard work that makes us yearn for some of the blippity-bloop jams from 1997’s The Fawn).

After almost 16 years worth of stellar, reliable releases, Car Alarm mostly sticks to the same strategy the band always has. But, we’re huge fans, so we couldn’t care less. Never change, boys. — Aaron Quillen

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Posted by: Ryan Allen on October 30, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains, S/T (Saddle Creek Records, 2008)

MP3: “I Hate My Friends”

If somebody slipped us this new Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains album with a homemade cover on it saying “New Killers Album Inside!,” we’d probably totally believe it upon first listen to lead track “Love Can Be So Mean.” It’s all there: the synthy undertones, the double-time on the hi-hat drumming, the BIG TIME guitar riffs, the overwrought, dramatic singing. All that’s missing are some lines about Las Vegas casinos and a jacket with bird feathers on the lapel.

Thing is, we’ve heard some of the new Killers album. And, you know, it’s not that bad or whatever (although that “are we human, or are we dancers” line is pretty awful), but, it’s still the Killers: a band so un-punk and prissy that it’s almost impossible to Read more

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Posted by: Ryan Allen on October 29, 2008 at 12:50 pm

Deerhunter, Mircocastle (Kranky Records, 2008)

MP3: “Nothing Ever Happened”

It’s bizarre to review an album that has been leaked for what seems like an eternity now, and one that has been available on iTunes, even, for at least a few months. But when you craft something as monumental and mesmerizing as Deerhunter‘s Microcastle, it’s hard to just ignore it as if it’s old news.

Certainly, by now, we’re all pretty familiar with Deerhunter’s story: Lead singer and resident minor-celebrity Bradford Cox is a lanky, humorous, effeminate, outspoken, blog-addicted, songwriting machine. Besides his well-received output with Deerhunter (including the much hyped Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey EP), he has pumped out loads of stuff under his own Atlas Sound moniker, including the material released on last year’s Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, and the musical treats he consistently Read more

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Posted by: Ryan Allen on October 23, 2008 at 10:00 am

Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl, 2008)

MP3: “Id Engager”

Kevin Barnes must be a terribly difficult man to love. He laid out his case with last year’s psych pop masterpiece Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, a record that explored an extraordinarily dark period in his life including nervous breakdowns, suicidal tendencies, chemical imbalance, freaking out after his daughter’s birth and a period of bleak self-isolation in Norway. With Skeletal Lamping, Barnes continues his confessional trend by attempting to let listeners into the darkest corners of his mind. The results are jarringly erratic, emotionally unbalanced and impossible to predict –- which is to say Skeletal Lamping could go by the alternate title, A Tour Through the Mind of a Sexually Deviant, Bi-Polar Individual: The Musical. Yes, it is a harder album to digest than Hissing Fauna, as each track morphs several times making them feel more like medleys than individual songs, but despite the emotional and musical roller coaster, the high points are brilliant and addictive. Skeletal Lamping occasionally veers into rehashed or less memorable musical territory, but like Waiting For Guffman‘s Mayor Welsch says about the weather in Blaine, Missouri, just wait five minutes and it’ll change. And with the hard work Of Montreal put into Skeletal Lamping, they really have gotten it down to three or four minutes. So for a disturbingly revealing yet good time, crawl into the mind of Kevin Barnes — and make sure you bring some Zoloft along just in case things get too manic-depressive up in there. — Laura Witkowski

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Posted by: Ryan Allen on October 20, 2008 at 10:00 am

Crystal Stilts, Alight Of Night (Slumberland, 2008)

MP3: “SinKing”

In 08, “crystal” has become the new “wolf,” and we have proof: First we had electro-zombies Crystal Castles exploding all over the Internets, getting in all sorts of trouble on tour across the nation, and even accusing Timbaland of stealing one of their beats. Then PFork introduced us to Crystal Antlers, a rough and tumble rock outfit who deliver aggressive sounds akin to Shellac, Les Savy Fav, and the Jesus Lizard — and we must say, they’re pretty exciting.

Which brings us to the third band in the 2008 Crystal Trilogy: Crystal Stilts. Unlike the aforementioned bands, though, Crystal Stilts take a less modern, and much less aggro approach to their cloudy, moody rock songs. Swamped in murky reverb, and accented by vintage sounding Farfisa organ, cheap guitars, and bone-rattling tambourines, Crystal Stilts make a kind of psychedelic and stripped down doom rock that sounds like it could have come out of drug-infused late night sessions with Phil Spector, just as it could of come out of drug-infused late night sessions in the band’s own bedroom (peep “Spiral Transit” for proof, with a “Be My Baby” beat kicking things off nicely). Songs like “Crystal Stilts” and “Prismatic Room” give off the same mock turtleneck and sunglasses-at-night vibe as some of the best work by the Velvet Underground mixed in with the indie-pop quaintness of the Magnetic Fields. Elsewhere, on tracks like the mildly rocking and uptempo “SinKing” and the driving “Bright Night” the band manage to intermingle the sounds of newer acts like Vivian Girls, Aislers Set and the Shins with vintage Kinks, Rolling Stones, and even more tribal, stripped down garage bands like the Gories and the Troggs.

The question always comes, however, when you’re comparing bands to the Velvets, the Kinks, and giving them props for their Phil Spector-esque production techniques: What makes them different? What sets them apart from everybody else? In the case of the Crystal Stilts, the bizarre vocals of head mumbler Brad Hargett is a good place to start. His vocal style is all haunting and half-asleep, coming off like a strange brew of Ian Curtis’ howl (“Departure” may as well be called “Isolation”), Morrissey’s patented moan, Calvin Johnson’s effeminate baritone, and Jonathan Richman’s uncanny ability to not be able to sing, but still be totally awesome anyway. At once, it’s got all the qualities that could turn even the most adventurous listener off, and yet, simultaneously, it’s strangely lulling, inviting the curious to explore the vocal and instrumental combination that Crystal Stilts craft some more. The two can be a frustrating pairing — sometimes you just want to hear what these songs would sound like with a Jagger-esque dude at the mic who could actually sing in key. But that would make Crystal Stilts typical, and they are anything but. As you move through Alight Of Night, Hargett’s place in the ghosty, 60s garage-pop conjured by the rest of the band eventually becomes clear. Crystal clear, in fact. — Ryan Allen

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Posted by: Ryan Allen on October 17, 2008 at 10:00 am

Curtis Eller, Wirewalkers and Assassins (American Circus Records, 2008)

MP3: “John Wilkes Booth (Don’t Make Us Beg)”

Curtis Eller could be Sufjan Stevens’ crazy older brother. Both Eller and Stevens are banjo-wielding, history-obsessive troubadours born in Michigan, but whereas Sufjan’s style is more sedate and gentle–the blue-eyed angel of Indie music–Eller is a little wilder looking, a more unpredictable performer, and isn’t afraid to get in yer face with his American tales of long-dead presidents, robber barons, and of course, Wirewalkers and Assassins, the title of his newest album.

Now residing in NYC, Eller was born and raised in Detroit and the city’s mythology still lives in his imaginative arsenal of reference points, whether singing about “diggin’ up Henry Ford” in the hard-charging “Firing Squad” or invoking our legendary boxing icon in the melancholic sweetness of “Save me Joe Louis.” Other songs have Eller singing in unusual roles, such as the distressed wife of a wirewalker in “The Plea of the Aerialist’s Wife” and as John Wilkes Booth in “The Curse of Cain.” And if one song about John Wilkes Booth isn’t enough for you, Wirewalkers and Assassins gives us two. “John Wilkes Booth (Don’t Make Us Beg)” is a rompin’ boogie that asks “Where is John Wilkes Booth when you need him?” (and later, Lee Harvey Oswald) and you kind of get the feeling that Eller isn’t singing about the 19th or 20th centuries here.

You don’t need to know anything about the Volstead Act or Robert Moses or the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 to enjoy this sometimes sorrowful, sometimes foot-stompingly fun album. But it’s likely you’ll start getting curious as you find yourself singing these immediately memorable songs in your head. — Scotter Bragg

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Posted by: Ryan Allen on October 16, 2008 at 10:00 am

The Nice Device, Sorry We Killed You (Self Released, 2008)

MP3: “Crawlspace”

After a brief hiatus spent Von Bondie-ing for the better part of the last year, Alicia Gbur, Matt Lannoo, and the rest of the Nice Device are back, blazing like a slickly produced power-punk fireball on their new EP Sorry We Killed You. The five songs included on their latest set adds fuel to the band’s ever-increasing flame, delivering a blast of sweetened power pop that will leave your teeth aching and your head spinning. Gbur’s soprano voice is at the forefront of the new songs, and her saccharine coos fall somewhere between the bratty snarl of pop-tart Avril Lavigne and the new-wave cheekiness of Berlin’s Terri Nunn (with a little Kay Hanley by-way-of her work on the Josie and the Pussy Cats soundtrack thrown in for good measure). “Ask me if there’s someone new, and I’ll tell you gladly,” Gbur sings before ripping into a chorus that is equal parts sass and class in “No Apologies.” “Can’t Be Friends” is biting and anthemic, full of “oh snap!” moments (“…you couldn’t even pawn yourself at the second-hand store”) that will leave no mystery as to who the barbs are directed. But Sorry We Killed You is not just the Gbur show, and Lannoo reasserts himself as one of the city’s best guitar players, ushering in crunchy power chords, slinky, effected lead lines, and screeching feedback from his six-string with gusto and flair. Drummer Nick Gerhardt yet again proves to be the band’s secret weapon, delivering understated, driving beats that connect seamlessly with the conjugated basslines of Jeff Alber. And it’s hard to ignore the new-wave synth sound that explodes throughout the entire EP, giving the short collection a glossy sheen that seems fit to be devoured by mall rats, Rentals fans, and nostalgic-for-the-80s rockers alike. Put all these elements together, and you’ve got a dangerous combination that will have all the boy bands that pose as “indie groups” shaking in their Chelsea boots. — Elle Sawa

The Nice Device EP release show w/ Friendly Foes + Millions of Brazilians • Magic Bag • 10/17

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Posted by: Ryan Allen on October 15, 2008 at 10:00 am

Ten Kens, Ten Kens (Fatcat, 2008)

MP3: “Refined”

Despite how awesome it would be if the band Ten Kens was comprised of ten men named Ken, it isn’t. But these four guys from Toronto do manage to create the sound of ten guys. Like Broken Social Scene meets Shudder To Think, their debut album is sonic layer over sonic layer of dramatic, fuzzed out guitar-centered indie anthems. Formed five years ago by founding members and songwriters Dean Tzenos (guitar) and Dan Workman (vocals), Ten Kens cycled through various rhythm section folk before finding Lee Stringle (bass) and Ryan Roantree (drums). The album lends itself well to a game of “Name That Influence” (various tracks make hard nods to Slint, Sonic Youth, Shellac, Black Sabbath and assorted early 90s Sub Pop favorites) but still manages to bring enough new stuff to the table to avoid being derivative. Tracks like “The Alternate Biker” and “Worthless & Oversimplified Ideas” show Ten Kens have a knack for going from melodic jangle to full guitar onslaught and back without losing the coherency and melodic drive that propels the whole show. Echoing the underlying economic sentiment of our times, the album closes with a dark, down tempo track called, “I Really Hope You Get To Retire” in which Workman sings, “You’ll pass this on to me some say, afford to save some day.” Whether he’s cursing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson or just stating the obvious to his many indie-predecessors, Ten Kens should sleep tight, because they’re clearly making wise investments. — Laura Witkowski

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Posted by: Ryan Allen on October 10, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Deerhoof, Offend Maggie (Kil Rock Stars, 2008)

MP3: “Offend Maggie”

Unlike that totally undeserving-of-the-title crappy boxed rice side-dish, Deerhoof is the ultimate San Francisco treat. On their 10th full length, Offend Maggie, the band continues their tradition of making erratically melodic yet angularly discordant pop music. A lesser outfit could never get away with putting a voice as plaintive as Satomi Matsuzaki’s front and center, but Deerhoof have spent their career cultivating the perfect blend of brash and simple beauty. Of course, being amazingly good musicians certainly helps. Last year’s acclaimed Friend Opportunity showed that even down one member, they lost no ground as a three piece, but with the addition of new guitarist Ed Rodriguez, Offend Maggie ups the sonics to blissful proportions. What’s most surprising about Offend Maggie is the euphoric cognitive dissonance of listening to something that’s both challenging and additively catchy at the same time. “Chandelier Searchlight” showcases their mastery of quirky pop perfection, whereas “Eaguru Guru” has a jarring sense of urgency and build that’s more exhaustively rewarding. It’s like Chutes and Ladders for your ears — Deerhoof’s melodic bliss will send you climbing to new heights, and just when it looks like you’re about to over indulge your musical sweet tooth, down the cacophonous chute you go to start the ascent all over again. – Laura Witkowski

Deerhoof play the Crofoot w/ Experimental Dental School and Flying on 10/18

Bonus: The foot-tappin’ video for “Fresh Born”

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