Woods is a New York-based indie folk band, reminiscent of, say, a mix of the Byrds and early 70s Neil Young, as unfair a comparison that may be. The band has been releasing albums and EPs since 2007, and this is their 5th proper studio album if I'm counting right.
"Bend Beyond" (12 tracks; 33 min) starts off with the epic 5 min. title track, by far the longest song on here, and a great 70s-sounding alt-country track with even a guitar solo and an all-out jamming outro, just beautiful. It is followed by "Cali In a Cup" (1st single), the most accessible track on here, just great. After that, the album consist of many 2 min. tracks, in which Jeremy Earl, the band's lead singer and songwriter, makes a musical point and then moves on quickly. Check out "Is It Honest?", a quickie that just oozes the Byrds. With so many short tracks, at times it makes for a dizzying listen, as the song whiz by in no time, but that is not a complaint.
In all, this is a GREAT album, which I've been listening to non-stop. I had the great fortune of catching Woods in concert recently at the MidPoint Music Festival here in Cincinnati, where the band (a four-some in concert) brought a dazzling 45 min. set, including a number of tracks from this album. Live these songs sounded even better than the studio versions. Meanwhile, "Bend Beyond" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
I have been a Menomena fan for years. They have been a consistently great band, and one that I believe has been underappreciated. So, when I had heard that Brent Knopf had left the band, I assumed that Menomena was gone for good. However, then came the announcement that the two remaining members were releasing a new album. I was pleasantly surprised upon hearing this news, but quite frankly I was skeptical. The reality is that none of us could really know what would be lost when one third of the band left. The good news is that it appears that nothing was lost, there is just some change. This album is fantastic - it is the tighest and most cohesive album Menomena has put out. Now, I will admit that some of what made a Menomena album great was that there were always surprises from song to song. The difference now is that the songs are thematically tied together, and they just flow from beginning to end. Also, there are still complex song structures that allow you to find new twists upon multiple listens. Bottom line is that Menomena is still alive and well, just a little different, and in some ways maybe a little better.
In 1997 when the Swans originally broke up, I thought they finished at a peak with powerful Soundtracks for the Blind and live album The Swans are Dead (two of my all time favorite Swans albums). In the years since then I've occasionally listened to Gira's new project Angels of Light, and while I liked it, it never matched the magnificence of the Swans album. So in 2010 when I learned that Gira was making music under his Swans band name again, I was excited but also worried, so many reunion albums are disappointing. My Father was an okay album, but it also felt much like a hybrid Angels of Light / Swans album, which was okay but it was too short and didn't match up to the better Swans albums.
With the Seer everything has changed. This one seems to be a move forward to something new yet reminiscent of the beautiful Soundtracks. There is no concern with this album being commercial (not that any Swans album was), but instead it has long sections of dronish buildup and long intros before something happens. Its challenging yet amazing, if one loves the Soundtracks for the Blind era this album is a must buy (its also more cohesive than Soundtracks). In my opinion this is the movement forward that I was hoping for when I saw the Swans were being reformed, a beautiful work.
I've always felt like Robert Pollard (of Guided by Voices fame) and Ariel Pink had a few things in common: namely, their songwriting techniques. On his solo work, Pollard would crank out a ton of music, and it would range greatly in quality. Pink seems to have a similar process: these songs seem to be based on loose ideas, and some of them are fantastic while others are fall on their face. This "everything-and-the-kitchen-sink" process leads to some pretty uneven albums that are marked with some amazing highs and middling lows. Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti's new album, MATURE THEMES is a bit more consistent than the band's past releases.
Album opener "Kinski Assassin" MATURE THEMES off on the right foot -- it's a breezy, poppy, catchy tune with a sing-a-long chorus. It's the album's most immediately accessible track, and it gives way to "Is This the Best Spot," "Mature Themes," and "Only in My Dreams" and "Driftwood," making the album's first half prettyspectacular. "Only in My Dreams" in particular seems like it could serve as a hit for the album with its beach-based guitar riff and 80's production. The album ends with a cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson's "Baby;" it does double duty here as the album's lead single and the closing track. Pink sends the song into space and layers it with a distant coat of reverb -- it's a smooth track, and a pleasantly calm one on an album maddeningly full of ideas.
The album isn't without it's lows: "Schnitzel Boogie" feels slapped together; its stream-of-conscious subject matter and muffled production make its 4:35 running time feel twice as long. The track is followed with "Symphony of the Nymph," a track that finds the singer crooning "My name is Ariel, and I'm a nympho." The 1-2 punch of these two songs make MATURE THEMES stumble in its middle third. The penultimate track "Nostradamus & Me" also brings the album to a crawl -- it's spacey production and vocals never materialize to anything interesting. These handful of duds are bound to occur with a songwriter like Ariel Pink, but the rest of the album more than makes up for them.
While the album doesn't seem to have a runaway hit like "Round and Round," there are plenty of songs here that come pretty close. MATURE THEMES lives up to the reputation of Ariel Pink and his Haunted Grafitti band: it's largely a scattered, thrift-store glam, loose collection of ideas (some good, some not). As an album, it's decent enough, but the real joy comes in placing each of these songs by themselves out of the larger context of it all. Listeners who didn't enjoy BEFORE TODAY won't be assuaged over to the band's side here, but those that did are in for a treat. Essential songs to sample/download: "Kinski Assassin," "Only In My Dreams," and "Mature Themes."
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