Aug 012011

Little Dragon_ritual-union_album-review_kisses-and-noiseLittle Dragon is back with a new album in Ritual Union and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve followed Yukimi Nagano and her crew of Swedish masterminds for a few years now. After my first exposure I noted that it is only a matter of time before LD “blows-the-fuck-up” to quote myself exactly. They possess the elusive mixture of great musical composition, pop sensibility, underground hipness, mass appeal, and explosive live performances. Topping it off: a gorgeous front-woman with an elegant, understated charisma.

A brief review: In 2009, a friend in San Francisco starts telling me about this great little band. Little Dragon visits Orlando in 2010 and plays an astounding show for about 40 people. Although the crowd is small, they are wildly engaged.  Later, Yukimi makes an appearance on Gorillaz 2010 album, Plastic Beach. LD returns to Orlando in early 2011 to play another mind-blowing show, this time, for a packed house. Since then, they worked with Big Boi (after he was tipped off by Andre 3000), performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (at the request of Questlove), and contributed to albums by David Sitek and Rafael Saadiq. This leads us to Ritual Union.

Ritual opens with the title track and it sounds like Diamond Life going down on Amnesiac marrying layered, dreamy pop with soulful vocals. “Brush the Heat” is reminiscent of later Dee-Lite with Yukimi’s playful sultry voice sliding gracefully through the skating rink disco beat and piles of synth. “Shuffle the Dream” swaggers through 80’s pop territory with its steady, walking electronic bass line and “Nightlight” reveals a more mature and progressive sound while maintaining all that is great about Little Dragon. “Summertearz,” a song debuted on their last tour, is one of my favorites. Riding a slinky beat and loops of percussive instrumentation, harmonized vocals charge directly out of my speakers and down through my man parts. This band is just getting bigger and bigger and Ritual Union is the oversized party bus to drive their fat sounds farther.

Ritual Union by Peacefrog Records

Written for Tampa’s Suburban Apologist

Jul 262011

besnard-You-Lived-in-the-City-review_kisses-and-noiseThe Besnard Lakes are good. They are able to create grand, atmospheric alternative rock music and disguise it within the indie genre which, for some reason these days, earns it more street cred. A big reason TBL is able to achieve this is the dreamy vocal pairing of the husband-and-wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. Jace sounds like Brian Wilson in space while Olga’s ethereal croon is also retro and incredibly distinctive, complimenting her partner perfectly. They are one couple I would love to hear argue … if they sang their displeasure at each other.

This release, You Lived in the City, is a strange entry as it highlights the best of TBL in “We’re Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time)” and “The Corner.” The songs have the same hazy, psychedelics and grandiose approach that drew me to the band initially. The downside is that it highlights only half of Besnard’s vocal tag-team with Goreas taking lead duties on both.

The other two songs are instrumentals and, although haunting and expansive, it reduces this EP to two songs and two slow, dirge-like instrumentals. “Holiday Sin” sounds like it could easily fit on the soundtrack to Kubrick’s 2001 and “Some Colour in the Sky” would be a great intro song for the band in concert, but the two are too similar to be on a four-track collection. The overarching objective could be another EP featuring Lasek so the two releases compliment each other, but the end goal is yet to be seen.

The real keeper here is “The Corner” – a big, powerful, driving tune of epic magnitude. The end of the previous instrumental bleeds seamlessly into “The Corner” and the song subtly builds on the lingering stream of synth lines. Then the driving drum beat is added with a crunchy bass progression until the layers of guitar distortion swirl in chaos around the sweet, calming anchor of Olga’s voice and the song fades quietly away.

[media id=68]


Written for Suburban Apologist, Tampa’s Best Music Blog, 7.26.2011

Jul 152011

washed-out-within-and-without_kisses-and-noise_reviewNow that the fervor over the chill wave has receded maybe we can sit back and evaluate the music for what it is (or isn’t). Whatever chill wave was – or is – it really only turned out 3 “bands” that I can recall: Toro Y Moi, Neon Indian (maybe my favorite), and Atlanta’s Ernest Green, aka Washed Out.

Within and Without represents Washed Out’s first complete album of new material as the first two EP’s are the summation of Green’s earlier recordings. This effort allows Green to dig in, taking the waves of muted synthesizer and 80’s new wave pop feel to a more expansive and complete body of songs. “Eyes be Closed” and “Echoes,” the first two tracks, establish a mood and the broader musical sensibility Green is communicating. It harkens the ethereal and slightly dark feelings of another one-man-band that gets it right, Active Child, with an emotive and even chilling sense of longing.

The third track, “Amor Fati,” which I think is Italian for I love fat chicks, picks up the pace and delivers a little pop gem in the vein of the Thompson Twins. This song, and the whole effort actually, conjure images of crazy hair and bleak English streets in a Joe Jackson / Human League video sort of way – the time when MTV ruled the world. I think it is that feeling, the ability to strike a deep emotional chord with a seemingly innocent pop song as some of the best 80’s pop did that draws me to “chill wave.” Or it could be the ability to capture that sound in a modern way that makes it emotional to me. Who knows?

I will admit that the first listen or two didn’t really grab my attention, making me lament the advent and conflagration of the ubiquitous guy and his computer “band” dominating the indie scene. As I listened the scope of the album settled in and I warmed to the concept. Something about it just feels like summer. “Before” is another excellent track and has a vocal sample that I can’t recall for the life of me (someone help me out here), and the album stays strong – with the exception of “You and I” which is kind of a yawner, through the beautiful outro of the last song, “A Dedication.”

Before by Washed Out

Album review written for Suburban Apologist

Sep 232010

kissesandnoise_the-love-dimension_album-reviewIs it just me being a harbinger of music to come or is this a trend that the masses are influencing? I find myself being drawn to more music with overt 60’s derivations. Bands like Best Coast and Cults on the pop side then Tame Impala and new Smashing Pumpkins (see the latest “Spangled,”  “A Stitch in Time” or “Astral Planes”) on the psychedelic front.

San Francisco’s The Love Dimension oozes retro-rock glory. “Dark Night of Your Soul” floats on a cloud of organ notes, weed, and love grounded by fuzzy guitars and lead by Jimmy Dias’s vocals – a sort of Eric Burdon tinged with Jim Morrison. In fact, TLD comes across like The Animals resurrected through the vessel of BRMC.  “Living in Atlantis” continues the garage barrage with a touch of The Strokes coursing through it.

“I Found Gold” adds a subtle twist to the psychedelic party by harkening the journeyman sounds of Johnny Cash with a quick strumming guitar and a drilling snare cadence whipped by brushes. It makes you feel like you’re on the open road or walking into a Quentin Tarantino scene.

kissesandnoise_the-love-dimension_album-review2The Love Dimension walk a very thin line between derivative late 60’s flower rock and nuanced hat-tipping to a bygone era with their slavish attention to genre. The token sounds of tambourine, Hammond organs, and fuzzed-out guitars loaded with reverb could, in the wrong hands, evoke the term, “knock-off.” TLD manage to pull it off with grit and passion while re-introducing new ears to a straight-forward interpretation of rock n roll – something to be admired and noticed in a market of squawking electronic indie music.

Listen and Download The Love Dimension

Check out The Love Dimension’s YouTube Channel

Sep 092010

kisses-and-noise_album-review_chelsea-tkSan Francisco based artist, Chelsea TK, has her first official full-length release in Terra Attero. It is a boisterous and swirling amalgamation of style and soul infused with layers of instrumental loops, driving drum work, clever electronic bits, and Chelsea’s expansive, entrancing vocals.

TK glides from soul diva to alt rocker from track to track and sometimes within the same song. “No Man’s Land” opens with a simple guitar intro – almost like a “Cat Scratch Fever” on qualudes  - followed quickly by her vocals singing over layers of her own soulful backing tracks. The acute groove is accompanied by gliding organ strokes in the verses, while the bridge builds mightily to the chorus, creating a great sense of build and release.

“Exciter” fights with “No Man’s Land” for strongest single in the collection. “Exciter” (Not to be confused with the KISS song of the same title) combines the same intense drum work and the weaving rhythm guitar present on nearly all the tracks while adding precise, big sounding horn lines and trippy electronic interludes.

This album is mostly the work of Chelsea and producer / drummer Rick Perez. Chelsea is currently gigging with a complete band, The Tzigane Society (Ugh, a silent “T” and a “z”!) that is sure to invigorate the textured layers of looped instruments found here – breathing even more life while adding some edge to the presentation.

Terra has touches of neo-soul and indie rock peppered with electronica and world music, with dashes of jazz and 60’s psychedelic beat poetry (especially on “Your Voodoo”) and a twist of 80’s goth sexuality – like the slinky sensuality of “Tender Call.” Efforts to label Chelsea’s work and draw comparisons has me chasing names like Florence and the Machine, Beth Orton, and late Radiohead, but not finding an exact fit, asserting the notion that something very original is unveiling itself on Terra Attero.

[media id=48]

Learn more about Chelsea TK and The Tzigane Society’s music

Aug 232010

Arcade Fire_The Suburbs_kissesandnoise_Orlando music blog_album reviewArcade Fire’s newest album, The Suburbs, is a musical encapsulation of the experience growing up in the suburbs, USA (maybe Canada). One perspective is the oppression and banality of tract housing and strip malls that angst-y youth rail against. Another is that of the reminiscent adult waxing whimsical and romanticizing a misspent youth, the sneaking out of windows at night or taking a parent’s car to pick up a summer love  – the powerful memories tied to youth that makes suburbia so magical and fun in retrospect.

The first half of the two-part composition, “Sprawl” and “Sprawl II” are at the album’s end, but speak directly to the dual view of a life in the burbs. Sparse and chilling, Win Butler opens by moaning, “I took a drive into the sprawl / To find the places we used to play” – the sentiment of a middle-aged man trying to find the lost memories of childhood.

“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” spunky and sassy like Blondie meets Siouxsie Sioux is sung by Win’s wife Regine Chassagne. This could be the best song on the album. It saunters and shambles with driving pop energy, but fits perfectly within the concept on The Suburbs. She sings, “Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small / That we could never get away from the Sprawl / Livin’ in the sprawl / dead shopping malls / rise like mountains beyond mountains / with no end in sight “– the anecdote to Win’s introspective journey back to the place Regine seeks to defy.

The Suburbs pulls the best pieces of AF’s previous two albums together; the large sweeping orchestral and anthemic pop of the first album with the drive and rock edge introduced on Neon Bible. From the opening Wilco-ish track, “The Suburbs,” where they sing, “All of the houses they built in the 70’s finally fall” and “Ready to Start” which has a touch of 80’s Springsteen Americana, to the killer single, “Modern Man” with its “Jesse’s Girl” rhythm guitar, the songs relay the tribulations and triumphs of those who know suburbia. It’s like white people’s Straight Outta Compton. Arcade Fire makes a powerful album, successfully juggling all the feelings that go along with growing up there (here).

Written for REAX Online 8.21.2010

Jul 242010

activechild_curtislane_kissesand noiseCurtis Lane is the debut album from Active Child, the namesake of L.A songwriter Pat Grossi. Blogs and journalists are bubbling with giddiness and positive reviews for Active Child. I assume the warm reception is because this EP comes across like a more elegant, ethereal Animal Collective. The first song, “I’m in Your Church at Night” sneaks into the speakers like a church hymn and then builds with echoing 80’s drums, graceful synthesizer, and Grossi’s angelic croon (He was actually a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir). The opener may have the most cinematic scope of the 6 songs on this disc, but they all carry a somber, haunting tone that enriches the impact of Curtis Lane and hints at the prospects of an interesting newcomer on the scene.

Check out Active Child live from The Social

Written for REAX Online, 7.23.2010

Jul 242010

mia-maya-cover-kissesandnoiseM.I.A’s new, grinding cacophony MAYA is an album crafted for the new “connected” society. Themes and sounds are piled in a shaker, swirled violently and poured out in clumpy snippets of odd melodies and mish-mashes of style and presentation. It is like MAYA was made by and for the ADD, short attention span of the modern human.  The album shifts and jerks mercurially from boastful hip-hop and college party anthems to subversive political propaganda.

From the albums title MAYA, spelled out in slashes – /\/\ /\Y/\ – to song titles like “Space,” “Caps Lock,” and the fun, slammin’ Afrika Bambaataa sounding “Internet Connection” along with social media references like “XXXO’s” “Tweeting me like Tweety Bird on your iPhone” MIA is reporting from the crossroads of information and art. This is a place suited to both the hipster partier and incendiary politico within her.

“Lovalot” seems to tell the tale of repressed Muslims, shedding light on what pushes youth to become martyrs. She slurs “I fight the ones that fight me” and her south London drawl on the chorus, “I really love a lot” come across like, “I really love Allah.” Her first single “Born Free” charges aggressively with punk agitation and apoplectic, electronic fervor serving as a global anthem to fight oppression.

MIA’s affinity for noise pop – she loves Sleigh Bells and signed them to her label – is evident in the overloaded approach to this album. In fact Derek Miller from Sleigh Bells works the giant guitar sound on “Meds and Feds” although the riff sounds like a rehash of “Treats” from SB’s album of the same name. MIA works with Diplo again among others and applies some noise pop to her already jittery arsenal of heavy beats, fondness for clicks, whistles and sirens, and mash-up of cultural influences; from Arabic vocals and instrumentation to incorporating the heavy dub scene in Brooklyn.

MIA’s political overtones, you know the self-righteous tone liberals get with too much college and NPR, seems to be diluted by songs like “Steppin’ Up” where she declares “You know who I am / I run this fuckin’ club” and “Teqkilla” with raps about Captain Morgan and doing too much coke. The “sticky icky, icky weed” part is pretty cool though. Despite all the layers and splintering sounds, the party songs, and the political call to arms, it is the straightforward, softer edged pop songs that stand out. “It Takes a Muscle,” “It iz What it iz,” “Tell me Why’” and  “Space” are less abrasive and hum along with smooth pop grooves. While MAYA is criticized for being “all over the place” it is a true representation of the times and becomes more understood with every listen.

Written for REAX Online, 7.22.2010

Jun 212010

Australia’s Tame Impala is what I’ve been waiting for. The alternative music scene is bustling with lush pop songwriters, nifty duos, and electronica hybrids which are all great, but sometimes atame dude needs a little rock! It is nice to hear a fresh treatment to straight-forward guitar rock and Tame Impala is able to do so with a contemporary twist on 60′s rock ‘n roll.

Two trends in indie / alternative seem to have a strong hold at the moment. There is the 80′s influence evident in the likes of Julian Casablancas, Cold Cave, and Yeasayer with another retro movement focused on the sounds of the 60′s – from the Brill Building pop emulation of She & Him, and Cults, to the late 60′s psychedelia of the new Smashing Pumpkins material, Hot Rats, and Tame Impala.

Their first full-length album, Innerspeaker, manages to bring the musical charge of guitar rock pioneers Blue Cheer and meld it with a late-era Beatles charm. “Desire Be Desire Go” slogs out a thick, chunky fuzz riff with a McCartney-esque lead vocal that breaks into an expansive middle-end jam reminiscent of Cream. “Alter Ego” floats on mind bending, space-age layers of guitar and synthesizer while the vocals swirl in reverb. Fancy little stops are thrown in to reveal a band with tight song construction and while the track progresses faster and faster to crescendo, it never becomes too hard – the gloopy, drooling paste of psychedelic charm seems to smooth out the edges.

This band is going boldly where other band’s have gone before, but using some of the best tricks in the bag to breathe life into the modern rock scene. Impala digested the finer points of the past to produce some of the freshest sounds in alternative music which is a difficult maneuver; reinventing a sound and feel whilst steering away from derivative retreads.

Written for REAX Online 6.20.2010

Jun 152010

cults_kissesandnoise_reviewDuos, duos, duos – what the fuck? They are everywhere, crowding the music scene with interesting variations of electronica, pop, and rock. Of course there are The White Stripes and The Black Keys, but it goes way beyond that. Let me see, there’s The Big Pink, Sleigh Bells, Phantogram, Crystal Castles, The XX, Ratatat, Dirty Projectors, Xiu Xiu, Matt and Kim, Japandroids, YACHT, and what seems like hundreds more. It may have something to do with the economy, the new music model, technology or more likely a combination of all three. By that, I mean with profits falling, touring becoming more costly, and technology allowing artists to create richer, fuller music and perform it with limited live instrumentation may be causing an underlying tendency to streamline the concept of the traditional band. Whatever the reason, duos are ruling the indie scene and Cults is one of the newer groups to enter the fray.

Cults is a band steeped in mystery – at least for now. This could be purposeful in order to develop a rock facade or unintentional due to the quickness of their proliferation. With heavy airplay on satellite radio and a far reaching groundswell rumbling on the blogosphere Cults quickly became a band to watch. With only a Band Camp site and 3 songs available for download Cults seems woefully unprepared or deftly calculating.

Go Outside is the first single from the EP. A song that feels light and uplifting reveals, on closer inspection, a sad and desperate plea to overcome depression. The track is eerily low-fi and simultaneously sugary sweet. It begins with a creepy recording of Jim Jones pleading with his flock, then a simple melody on xylophone. Next come the spectral layered vocals given the bottom-of-the-well production treatment, light guitar, organs, and a chunky bass line mashed out on a synthesizer.

Cults may be the strongest entry in the wave of 60 retro pop because of the power of melody and musical nuance. “Most Wanted” and “The Curse” like “Go Outside” embrace pop vibrancy while simultaneously imbuing dark undertones. These songs sound like they walked right out of the Lesley Gore or Ellie Greenwich songbooks and got smacked around by Pro-Tools and strokes of modern irony along the way.

Written for REAX Online 6.12.2010