Friday, February 08, 2008

Beirut - The Flying Club Cup

Zach Condon aka Beirut is the type of artist that makes you feel somewhat inadequate. When you combine his age (22), prodigious talent (multi-instrumentalist and vocalist), with his high-caliber and unrelenting output (2 albums released 15 months apart) you feel like you've accomplished so little. Well, maybe you don't but the thought has crossed my mind (with the ultimate example being John Keats). Either way, I try not to think about it and just appreciate it for what it is: an exceptional artist hard at work creating. Condon has said that he started recording music in his early teens and dropped out of high school in Santa Fe, NM at 16 to travel through Eastern Europe where he was exposed to Balkan gypsy folk music that infused his debut album Gulag Orkestar (2006). On that album he played accordion, keyboards, saxophone, clarinet, mandolin, ukulele, horns, and glockenspiel while taking up vocal duties too.

Beirut's newest album entitled The Flying Club Cup (2007) really shows off everything that was promising on his debut. His exotic but not too exotic sounds, his love of piano-driven song making, his manner of building towards an apex 3/5ths through the song, and his wonderful love of string accompaniement (arranged by Owen Pallett aka Final Fantasy). The entire album is an enormous layer cake. Layers of sound, instruments, vocal tracks, and emotions. While the music is dense it manages to remain immensely satisfying. Beirut takes you to places you've (probably) never been all while recording at his home in Brooklyn, NY. In many ways he sounds like Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Sufjan Stevens, and Jeff Magnum (Neutral Milk Hotel) all rolled into one. He displays passion and feeling beyond his years that manages to come across with sincerity, while also displaying a sense of virtuosity in his arrangements. How about a video too, since it's Friday.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Great Northern - Trading Twilight for Daylight

Great Northern is the product of L.A. - based musicians Solon Bixler (former guitarist for 30 Seconds to Mars) and Rachel Stolte coming together to create this dreamy folk-rock indie pop quartet. While all those monikers may be confusing they're able to blend personal styles and vocals to create rich layers and textures with great orchestration. Both Bixler and Stolte take turns singing, which creates some great and interesting harmonies. They occasionally take turns singing within one song which gives the feeling of dialog or story going back and forth.

This debut album Trading Twilight for Daylight (2007) is pretty solid throughout, with a few standout tracks that are, simple put, catchier than the others. The album has just enough "rock" in it to keep it from floating away or being incredibly corny. All the tunes have a firm melodic foundation, and are layered with strings and keys while still having some great guitar licks.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Clientele - God Save The Clientele

While The Clientele have been around for a number of years, it hasn't been up until recently that their music has been getting more and more notice. Their second album Strange Geometry (2005) was their first with Primal Scream producer Brian O'Shaughnessy and notable for it's scaled back reverb and addition of string orchestration. The group is made up of Alasdair MacLean (vox/guitar), Mark Keen (drums), James Hornsey (bass), and Mel Draisey (violin, keys). Even though they are from London, they are more famous in the U.S. than at home in the U.K. They are signed to Merge Records, and therefor labelmates with such acts as Spoon, Arcade Fire, M. Ward, and The Magnetic Fields.

God Save The Clientele (2007) is a bit of a misnomer. They really don't need divine intervention, because this album is already pretty holy great. Alright, that was lame. Either way, the album is a pleasure to listen to. It's reminiscent of harmonic Beatles and The Byrds. The range of emotions and dynamics on this album will make you kinda sad, breathe joy into your life, and make you coast off into a dream-line state. Each track is consistently good, and never feel like they're missing a step. While most songs are mid-tempo, or slower ballads, there are a few quicker paced songs that juxtapose the others quite nicely. This is quintessential indie pop music. It's not breaking down any archetypes, but it also isn't cookie-cutter Top 40 bullshit either. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

2 For Super Tuesday

Well, once again I have neglected my loyal familial readership. Hopefully I can make it up to you today with a double-dip of music reviews that have been simmering too long -- almost to the point of ruining the pan...if you follow that extended metaphor. Let's jump in, shall we? Good, great, grand, wonderful.

The Besnard Lakes are from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. They are fronted by a husband and wife duo by the names of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. While the band is currently a 6-piece they have had members come and go in the last ~5 years to get them to where they stand today. They presently reside on the Jagjaguwar label (with the likes of Black Mountain, Bon Iver, Okkervil River, Wilderness, and Sunset Rubdown). A few groups come to mind when listening to their current album: Broken Social Scene (for the focused wandering and orchestration), Band of Horses (vocal tone on many tracks), Beach Boys harmonies on occasion, and voluminous guitar reverb of Queen. If all that sounds intriguing or impossible, just give it a listen. It's pretty remarkable when it all comes together.

The newest album The Besnard Lakes Are the Darkhorse (2007) came out last year and was nominated for the venerable Mercury Prize. It's a pretty great album that begs to be listened to in one sitting, on a couch, in front of a couple large speakers. The volume doesn't need to be blasted, but rather let them take you through varying dynamic shifts. It's an album that I wish I listened to more often, and I can already guess I'll hear something new each of the first 10-15 times I listen to it. That's part of the great thing about albums, right...discovery? I vote Yes.


The second artist of the Tuesday Blue Plate Special is: My Brightest Diamond otherwise known as Shara Worden. She rose through the ranks as a member of Sufjan Stevens' Illinoisemakers during his tour in support of that state's album. After completing that tour she recorded her debut album Bring Me the Workhorse (2006). While this album isn't "new" I would consider it "lesser-known." Ms. Worden combines elements of opera, cabaret, chamber music, and rock throughout the album. It's a unique blend of musical styles and approaches. There are humming guitars, pizzicato cellos, and airy harmonies to create a wide array of tunes. The thing to be celebrated most is the fact that she graduated college with degree in Classical Vocal Performance, so when she belts out a note of glissando, it's impressive to say the least.

The album as a whole is pretty heady stuff. She is able to blend various indie aspects of a great rhythm section, her strummed guitar, gorgeous strings, and her powerfully confidant voice into an album whose weight would crush a lesser artist. She somehow pulls it off with aplomb. I would look out for her next release tentatively titled A Thousand Shark's Teeth through Stevens' Asthmatic Kitty label.