Monday, March 5, 2012

New Music Reviews: Shearwater, Tennis, Sleighbells, Plants & Animals

Occasionally, I fall behind on sharing thoughts on some new music I've been checking out. The last few weeks I've been in that pattern. So catching up with a few short thoughts, here's a few albums I've given a listen to in the last few weeks.
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Shearwater-Animal Joy
Sub Pop Records
Grade: 8.39 (B)
Available At: eMusic, Amazon MP3 & CD, NPR

The latest from the Austin outfit Shearwater has some good moments scattered throughout it's eleven tracks. Fans who've listened to their music for the last decade should still be satisfied while newbies looking to jump into a sound vaguely familiar to, say, Arcade Fire won't be disappointed either. The real winners on "Animal Joy" are on the first half of the album. The cathartic way of comparing love and life as animal instincts works well on "Animal Life", and the rush of songs like "Breaking The Yearlings", "You As You Were" and particularly the quick rush of the short "Immaculate" are great standout efforts. All of "Animal Joy" breezes by with a feeling of confident wistfulness. It is a solid, sonically literate affair. My two drawbacks would be the
album gets lost in a little bit of mediocrity in the mid section and most songs don't offer a proper climax, something that can be said of a lot of Shearwater's previous material as well. It's a solid effort though. I'd recommend listening and downloading the songs you really like first and deciding if you want more later.

JHO Picks: Animal Life, You As You Were, Immaculate
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Tennis-Young And Old
Fat Possum
Grade: 7.60 (C)
Available At: eMusic, Amazon MP3 & CD

I wasn't a fan of this duo's first album "Cape Dory". It came across as a lot of empty calories and way too lighthearted for my liking. The idea of an album of sailing songs bored me....terribly. But I sometimes give music a second check. And I'm glad I did, because "Young And Old" is a tick better. It could be because Patrick Carney of The Black Keys lends production and he gives Tennis' lighter side a bit more of a menacing romp. Songs like "Origins" and "My Better Self" have a bit more ferociousness in their tones and rhythms. And Alaina Moore's vocals are stronger this time around as well. She carries the opener "It All Feels The Same" and brings some blue eyed soul to "High Road". But this still isn't recommended music for me. For me it's more enjoyable than "Cape Dory", but half of the songs on "Young And Old" are quite forgettable after several listens. I'm glad I did give Tennis a second chance because a couple songs are going to be on heavy rotation in my IPOD the rest of the year ("Origins" and  "High Road"). But the low points still keep me thinking there is just something missing from this married duo to make them standout from similar groups.

JHO Picks: Origins, My Better Self, High Road 
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Sleigh Bells-Reign Of Terror
Mom & Pop Music
Grade: 8.59 (B)
Available At: eMusic, Amazon MP3 & CD

Even though the formula remains similar to their debut "Treats", Sleigh Bells provided more of a 360 turn for me on their sophomore album than Tennis did. I think it's because through the sonic attack, there is quite a bit of earnestness and maturity peaking through the fun, sonic assault. "Treats" reminded me of a sugar coated headache, mixed too loud with cheerleader chants. The same messy sweetness remains ("Crush", "Born To Lose", "Demon") but the messy feels like it has more substance to it. "End Of The Line" and "Comeback Kid" are two of the finest anthems on "Reign Of Terror", offering the Sleigh Bells recklessness swagger with thoughtful choruses. The drawback to "Reign Of Terror", as with many high energy albums, is that it feels exhausting to get to the end of, no matter how short the running time is. By the time "You Lost Me" comes along, I've pretty much had enough. But I enjoyed the ride much better this time around. "Reign Of Terror" may disappoint a few fans of their debut "Treats" because it was full of mindless energy. "Reign Of Terror" shows the duo Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller flexing their intellectual songwriting muscle a bit more and that's good enough to get my attention. Even if the volume is still turned up way beyond 10...


JHO Picks: Crush, Comeback Kid, Demon, Leader Of The Pack
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Plants & Animals-The End Of That
Secret City Records
Grade: 7.87 (C+)

The latest album from Canadian indie rock band "The End Of That" reeks of transitional album to me. I mean the title says it all. Are they ending their run of smart good-natured pop songs with a certain sense of youthful nostalgia? Are they growing up and out of those youthful exuberant tunes I've grown to like? The truth honestly lies in between those two questions. A lot of "The End Of That" borrows from the band's first two albums but my favorite strengths have disappeared."Parc Avenue"'s lush workouts are tough to find. And the more rocking affairs that made their last album "La La Land" a fun experience are sparse as well. But there are a few shining moments: "Song For Love" is bittersweet bliss, "Lightshow" makes the most of it's energetic, repetitive riff, and the driving "Control Me" reminds me of my favorite moments from their first two albums. As for the youthful energy disappearing it a bit, look no further than lead singer Warren Spicer's words. On "Crisis!" he proclaims, "Everyone is gettin' married or breaking up/ And the stroller situation on the sidewalk is way out of control". It shows the youthful fun side from an individual who hasn't fully realized he needs to grow up a bit. And that creates a bit of a conundrum with "The End Of That". It sorely misses it's footing, creating an environment of overly snide songs without strong hooks to overlook its shortcomings. Maybe that's what they were striving for, but they've had better efforts in the past. I guess that's "The End Of That".

JHO Picks: Song For Love, Lightshow, Control Me

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