Possessing a voice that is beautiful and enchanting beyond words, Marissa Nadler has created a work that lays waste to most of her contempories that are lazily lumped into the "New Weird America" bag. Sparingly produced with barely more than just her voice and acoustic guitar, Nadler's third album is bathed in cathedral-sized reverb and maintains an intense mood that Mazzy Star always aimed for. Apparently, she studied "acid illustration" and that influence comes through in the otherworldly sound. One of my favourite new releases so far in 2007.
Ever since his stunning 2003 sophomore left turn, Up In Flames, it's been clear that Caribou is capable of nearly anything. It isn't so much that Andorra sounds worlds removed from his past work. It's another densely layered, polyrhythmic, psychedelic carnival ride of an album. But his career transition from IDM glitch king to Zombies-obsessed falsetto pop junkie has been so organic, it's only when you listen to this back-to-back with his debut, Start Breaking My Heart, that you truly realize the massive scope of his growth. In other words, Andorra is fascinating and bloody gorgeous.
read our interview with Caribou here
Given the unseasonably cool weather in Toronto lately, it's hard to believe it's summer, nevermind August. Anyone looking to the replicate that hot, sticky vibe best pick up Kala. This record is more than just a collection of wickedly written club anthems, although that it certainly is. M.I.A.'s restlessly globe-trotting beat radar leaves no stone unturned, and hearing gamelan and African rhythms so effortlessly spliced with high-gloss Miami/London club crunk is as hot a blast of sunshine as any 2007 recording can boast thus far. Politically charged and damn smart too. Shake. Your. Rum-pah!
Hip-hop fans craving trunk-rattling power best take a pass on Eardrum, an album whose songs are more built on carefully constructed jazz and neo-soul sounds. The album's strength, and Kweli's strength in general, are his words. Kweli is a fantastic MC, possessed of impeccable flow and heady lyrics that are always intelligent without being showy or condescending. Boasting an impressive cross-genre guests list (everyone from Jean Grae, Madlib and Kanye to Norah Jones, Roy Ayers and Justin Timberlake), Eardrum is a little long, but has more than its share of solid, whipsmart tracks.
The third album by the younger brother of hip hop producer Madlib, Dr. No's Oxperiment is more than just a case of sibling imitation. You can't deny how similar the album is to Madlib's superb 35-track instrumental opus, Beat Konducta Vol.1&2, but Oh No's style is far more focused on melody than spooky atmosphere. Patched together from samples of Turkish, Greek, Italian and other rare European psychedelia, Oxperiment is dizzying, hooky and fun wordless hip hop that proves these brothers can eat at the same table without stealing too much from each other's plates.
A pairing of American-born David Vorhaus with BBC Radiophonic Workshop techs Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, White Noise was a definite contender for the oddest band signed to Island in the late '60s. With a more soft-pop-tinged A-side (although not without its more hardcore moments, such as the actual orgy recordings spicing up the Beach Boys bassline of "My Game Of Loving") backed by two long-form freakouts on the flip, An Electric Storm is both a novel artifact of its time and a highly original project that's still considered a high-water mark for experimental pop.
Like Will Oldham (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) or Bill Callahan (Smog), Jason Molina has the distinction of being one of indie rock's most prolific and mysterious personalities. Using his elusive psuedonyms like an undercover agent (first Songs:Ohia and now Magnolia Electric Co.), Molina is a narrator and observer of great quality and insight. This box set collects a wealth of unreleased material, both solo and in full-band lineups, that is anything but subpar. Complete with a lovely woodcut box and DVD, it won't bring you much closer to understanding the man, but it's a great pleasure being lost in his world.
Winnipeg MC Odario Williams, also as a member of hip hop crew Mood Ruff, has been working on Grand Analog for some time. Less of a linear solo project than a guy inviting his talented friends over to work on his tunes, Calligraffiti refused to be contained. The key here is that despite its grand ambitions, Calligraffiti remains focused on hip hop first and foremost. So no matter how many genres are on tap (classic rock, reggae, etc.) the foundation of the record is beats and rhymes. A further indication that it's high time Canadian hip hop gained the same cred as its indie rock.
Bishop Allen took it upon themselves to generate some buzz last year. The project? An EP a month for a year, producing an incredible 58 songs and blog-load of hype and ecstatic write-ups. Now they've taken the cream of the crop and assembled a full-length for wider consumption. The verdict? The Broken String boasts more than enough great tunes to suggest their 2006 marathon was more than just an exercise in excess. Their take on literate folk-pop has plenty of contemporaries (Decemberists, Shins, Okkervil River), but they display enough wit and hooks to prove their worth.
It's so easy to be cynical about this recent rash of reunions. So what makes Crowded House's case different? Well for starters, Kiwi songwriter Neil Finn never stopped making quietly vital solo albums in the time since the breakup; in fact, this was originally slated to be his third until the presence of CH bassist Nick Seymour shifted his focus. Or maybe it's just that the unassuming Finn is one of the most consistent, unsung writers in pop. Like all CH albums, Time On Earth is an exceptional study in lasting, bittersweet beauty. Such simple pleasures shouldn't be questioned, only embraced.
Let's get this out of the way: Bat For Lashes' Natasha Khan sounds a lot like Bjork. Ah, but which Bjork? With the Icelandic icon currently exploring life as some kind of walking technicolour apple, it's easy to understand why so many Brits are nuts for Bat For Lashes. On Fur and Gold, Khan displays a directness that many of the artists to which she's compared (Bjork, Kate Bush, Tori Amos) have forsaken, all while retaining an air of unpredictability. Handclaps, harps, and piano create a translucent fabric that dresses but never obscures the exquisite centerpiece of this confident debut: Khan's voice.
If you’re a fan of Tropicalia, you’re bound to be knocked out by this compilation. Led by the eccentric Edouardo Mateo, El Kinto recorded some of the more unique sounds Uruguay had to offer in the late ‘60s. Their trick was to blend their country’s native “candombe” music with bossa nova and British beat. Seductively melodic and slightly off-kilter, El Kinto’s songs were never even released at the time, strangely enough. The liner notes explain why in compelling detail, and also provide the English translations of their Spanish lyrics, just in case you wanna sing along.
Talk Talk had already found fame with their first three albums, so they decided to make the next one on their own terms. The result was a meandering avant-gardy, jazzish pop album that was near-impossible to tour live. EMI wasn't thrilled, of course, but critics were and so am I, because Spirit of Eden is glorious. It's been called atmospheric and lush, which it is, but with ecstatic rock-on moments, too. It's also been called timeless, and that's sure proven true--20 years on, and every time I play the album here someone gets a dreamy look in their eyes and leaves with it.
There have been recent signs that, like psychedelic rock, folk, and, well, everything else before it, 90's indie rock has been gone long enough for a new generation of musicians to stake its claim to its style. Sure enough, Blitzen Trapper bear the sonic stamp of Sebadoh, Pavement, GBV et al, where the guitar playing was sloppy and singing charmingly off-kilter. But the excellent Wild Mountain Nation warrants attention on its own merits, thanks to unexpected doses of Southern rock and country balladry to keep our 'spot-the-influence' compasses confused. The great songs don't hurt either.
Bread was one of those bands who I had resigned to the category of MOR '70s pop not worthy of a listen, but the amazing Elektra box Forever Changing included a few tracks which thoroughly piqued my curiousty. This album differs greatly from the other Bread material I was familiar with. David Gates wrote some incredibly unique and catchy pop tunes but, unfortunately for my tastes, quickly turned to making overly produced schmaltzy easy listening music. Check out "Don't Shut Me Out", "Family Doctor" and "Friends and Lovers" for some of the high points of this pop gem.
I saw Daniel Hope perform Beethoven's Violin Concerto with the Koln Symphony about a year and a half ago and it was an event. I had not seen a classical violinist play with such precise recklessness in a long time. I bought this album at the concert and it remains a favourite of mine. The mixture of Indian ragas, Romanian folk dances, and Ravel rhapsodies could have proven an awkward stab at cross-genre appeal, but Hope and his accompanists make it work through sheer will and talent. An eclectic listen that retains a strong unity of themes despite its diverse repetoire.
Some have come to know Mr. Kurihara through his work with the underappreciated Ghost, Damon and Naomi, and most recently, Boris. Well, Sunset Notes sounds a little like all of those projects while remaining completely its own. From over-the-top builds to pretty folk songs and surf guitar riffs, one of my favourite albums of the year. A++!