Grade: 9.05 (A-)
It's good once in awhile to look up at the beginning of the year to see what are some anticipated artists' work in the coming months. My best case in point for paying dividends is Damien Jurado, and his latest LP "Maraqopa". The fact that this Seattle based singer-songwriter has been at it for ten albums since the end of the 90's (I may have seen him on end of year lists or new releases occasionally, but never looked any further) is heard throughout "Maraqopa". Beginning with the fueled guitars that give an aura of Hendrix coming from both speakers, "Nothing Is The News" is a swirling dirge that creates a very lively feel. Plus the space given to let the song just soar along works wonders. And while the rest of Maraqopa never gets as lively as "Nothing Is The News", there are plenty of smart and adventurous songs to keep the listener at attention. Some of the best cases in point are the exchange between Jurado and a children's choir on "Life Away From The Garden" encompassing a sort of melancholy that has to be heard to be believed ("All of us, All of us free"...indeed). "Reel To Reel" takes on a complete nocturnal feel with bells giving a warped merry go round type feel to it. And "Museum Of Flight" has a frail but lovely bridge leading into Jurado almost attempting falsetto on a gorgeous chorus. Here, like many songs on "Maraqopa" he touches on heartbreak with delicate success. What makes all ten songs work on "Maraqopa" is that with repeated listens, there is something new revealing itself each time through the gentle haze and Jurado's soft vocal delivery. The lush production also helps as well. While "Maraqopa" could have used maybe one more "Nothing Is The News" or something lively to deliver it to must have status, there are plenty of songs to hear to warrant repeated listens. It's my sleeper pick of 2012 so far.
JHO Picks: Nothing Is The News, Life Away From The Garden, Reel To Reel, Museum Of Flight
Grade: 8.63 (B)
Whit Rabbits' previous LP "It's Frightening" was produced by Spoon's Britt Daniel. And while Daniel is not along this time around (sometime Spoon producer Mike McCarthy is in control this time out) some of that leftover minimalistic approach is carried forward on "Milk Famous". The thing for me is "It's Frightening" felt a little too close to a Spoon LP. On "Milk Famous" a lot of the elements are still there, but the songs sneak along in a more mysterious tone. They all deserve a few spins to give them fair judgment. Take opener "Heavy Metal" at face value and it can slide by without notice. But repeated listens show an intoxicating keyboard loop, paranoid vocals, sly bass lines and shards of guitars falling in from left and right. The moody "Hold It To The Fire", the smart and slick "Temporary", and the immediate intensity of "Danny Come Inside" all show the capabilities of a band growing tremendously in their abilities to write hooks. And if there is nothing as immediately catchy and a couple misses here and there through the mid to later part of the album, White Rabbits more than makes up for it with the closer "I Had It Coming" which shuffles with authority and reaches new heights in self pity and paranoia, the latter being the band's best trademark. Simply put, "Milk Famous" is the sound of a band growing. While they are far from being at the top of the class, the strives here are enough to give a nod of approval. Even if comparisons to Spoon are rightfully expected, you have to admit, that mysterious underbelly is enough for you to care less who they are familiar to. That's why "Milk Famous" deserves a few listens. Hold it to the fire....
JHO Picks: Heavy Metal, Temporary, Danny Come Inside, I Had It Coming
Grade: 8.16 (B)
A couple listens to the first few tracks' percussion and aura, one has to be reminded of Yeasayer's debut album "All Hour Cymbals" on the debut LP from Brooklyn's indie rock outfit Young Magic. I mean, even the front cover has a resemblance to that album's faceless individual. So it took a couple listens to shake comparisons before I could really start enjoying "Melt". Besides the obvious comparisons, there is plenty to enjoy here. Opener "Sparkly" runs that Middle Eastern "All Hour Cymbals" Yeasayer vibe true all the way down to the percussion which sounds like coins jangling in an aluminum cup. Also neat on "Sparkly" is the soaring vocal chants that feel like they're about to disappear behind a nearby mountain range. Other winners on "Melt" are the world tribe, hypnosis of "You With Air", the striking keys and airy vocal arrangements on "Night In The Ocean", and the Afro rhythms and druggy babble on "The Dancer". True, a couple instrumentals and a short running time is the major gripe I have, with so many different textures and genres floating around, it would've been nice to discover them more. But "Melt" is a nice sampler for anyone looking for artists like Yeasayer or other contemporaries like Vampire Weekend or Here We Go Magic. Time will tell if they can break out with a unique identity of their own or not.
JHO Picks: Sparkly, You With Air, Night In The Ocean