Wednesday, March 11, 2009


The Appleseed Cast - Sagarmatha

Released February 17, 2009

Listen to some songs here.

I am becoming steadily more convinced that post-rock is the next step after emo. Juvenile frustration becomes metaphysical agony. The end of high school becomes the end of the universe. And minor chords become epic crescendos.

Lawrence Kansas's Appleseed Cast have followed this progression. About a decade ago they were making cute, clashing punk with bright underlying melodies. Now they are making grand rock compositions.

The transition really came with 2006's Peregrine, which saw the band exploring powerful themes and large instrumentation. They expand on that here, and become even larger on Sagamartha (which, un-coincidentally, is the Nepalese name for Mount Everest).

With 5 out of 9 songs clocking in at over 6 minutes in length--and with much of the album being absent of any vocals--Sagamartha is a rather standard post-rock album. The first track even, "As the Little Things Go," has a strong semblance to Explosions in the Sky material. So if this album is nothing new or profound, why you might ask, is it being featured here? Because it is a pleasure to listen to.

The biggest achievement that Appleseed Cast find on Sagamartha, is the ability to fill hooks into their songs without using vocals. Singer, Christopher Crisci, has long been the focal point of the band, but that is not the case for much of the album. Instead, bright and playful guitars draw into steady, encouraging drumming. Despite much of the darker tones of Mare Vitalis, Sagamartha is rather uplifting.

Still, many of the highlights of the album involve Crisci's voice. And Sagamartha is not a full departure from where the band was ten years ago. The band has grown up, and its sound has grown larger, but they still create bright, pockets of hope that are fueled from life's many foibels.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Handsome Furs - Face Control

Released March 10, 2009

Listen to some songs here.

Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary is one of the best albums of this decade. It effortlessly took its place into praise and perpetuity upon release; with the Midas touch of Isaac Brock's production, and with the ability to create one indelible anthem after another.

Since then, the creativity behind the group and its members has become disjointed. Spencer Krug's Sunset Rubdown has entered the world of whimsical fantasy. Dante DeCaro's Johnny and the Moon have found solace in folk. Even the second Wolf Parade album found them exploring new, more expansive sounds. And then there is Dan Boeckner with his Handsome Furs.

The songs that Dan Boeckner has sang for Wolf Parade all come across as irreverent as they are relentless. His pursuit is no different here. Strip the band, add his wife on keyboards, and back it with some digital beats that could fit easily well on a Britney Spears album (not necessarily a bad thing) and you've got Handsome Furs.

Most of the songs on the album begin in similar fashion. Hip Hop (influenced?) beats with heavy bass thump in at a quick pace to set up Boeckner's sandy voice and guitar shreds. The keyboard adds a bit of an 80's vibe, and the song clenches and releases at just the right moments to allow equal time for rocking out and dancing. This music is meant to induce pit stains--there are no breaks, just beats.

The standardization of the album doesn't make it feel redundant. In fact, it is the songs that stray from the formula, like the interstitial "(Passport Kontrol)," that you will find yourself skipping over after a few listens. The similarity only means that Boeckner knows what works. He knows why Wolf Parade's "I'll Believe in Anything" still commands fist pumps. Boeckner knows how to write an anthem.

The most rewarding track on this album is the final song, "Radio Kaliningrad." The beats, the shred, the boards, and Boeckner's incessant shrills all come together to give that feeling like it is the last song of the night, even if it is only 3:30pm in the afternoon.

There are a number of other songs on Face Control that will make you dance and clap and sing along. This is Boeckner's addition to the wonderful Wolf Parade puzzle, which he takes and concentrates here. He writes the anthems. He sings the songs that make you forget about those pit stains while you lift your clinched palms into the air. And on Face Control, he offers a few more.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid

Released February 10, 2009.

Listen to a few songs here.

I would like to begin by stating that owning this album is obligatory to all Ohioans. Dan Auerbach is a member of the Black Keys, who have done for Ohio music what manufacturing did for the Ohio economy a century ago--except that the Black Keys have not left. This album was recorded in Dan Auerbach's basement studio in Akron, Ohio. And now, like the rubber that once streamed out of that city, the sounds of the Black Keys spread beyond state lines to show the kinds of commodities Ohio has to offer.

The songs on Keep It Hid were mostly written while Dan toured for the Keys. And subsequently, this album isn't much of a departure from their sound. Keep It Hid is instead a deeper venture into the thick melodies found on some of the Black Keys ballads like "The Lengths." Add the sound of a full band, and the stripped rock of the Keys becomes Delta blues.

Keep It Hid is a swampy excursion--with rolling, sweating riffs that stick each song to the next. The full band surprisingly accentuates Auerbach's voice, instead of drawing away from it. Dan shows off more of his vocal range than ever before, by going with a clean vibrato on "When the Night Comes" to the expected muffled rasp found on songs like the title track. The standout on the album is "Whispered Words" which finds Dan singing in a fuller, thicker timbre than ever before. The song (and much of the album) finds Dan in a much more personal tone, giving such revelations as "each and every thing she ever said...tricked me into falling one more time."

And so while this album may not have an entirely discrete sound--most of the songs could easily fit into a Keys album-- it is nevertheless a personal statement. The album was based on lyrics that Dan's father wrote for him to convert into song. And so Dan wrote, as only he knows how, and spoke for Ohio in the process.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Since You've Been Gone - What I've Been Listening to Since the New Year

Jeff Buckley - Grace

This album came out fifteen years ago, yet I heard it for the first time about a month ago. It was given to me by fellow Felstein, Randi, who was shocked that I had never heard Grace, her favorite album. I have no apologies, however, for never hearing this album until now. I get the joy of hearing it for the first time. This album is new to me.
Grace is rather legendary. It is the only proper release by Jeff Buckley, who died young in an accidental drowning before he could finish his second album. I realize that this album was never meant to be an opus, but I can't help but think that it sounds like one. Ballad after rock ballad, by the time the final song closes the album feels as finished as a weeping Roger Federer after losing the Australian Open.
I'll save you the in-depth analysis. There is enough scholarship on this album already. But if you are one of the few who like me were also ignorant of this album until recently, just know that it is Buckley's voice that makes this album so beloved. Most of the songs sound like Radiohead precursors, but Thom Yorke could never pull off a Leonard Cohen song like Buckley does on "Hallelujah." It is breathtaking, as is the rest of the album, whether you heard it fifteen years ago, or whether you are reading about it for the first time right now.

Lucky Dragons - Dream Island Laughing Language

Late last year, this LA duo released their 13th proper album--all from this decade. This album was my introduction to Lucky Dragons, and it is a mesmerizing, exciting, and exhausting collection of ideas.
At 22 songs, Dream Island bursts with all kinds of different sounds. With almost no vocals, it is filled with sundry percussion and varying electronic noises. What I can't really convey here is the rush that you get when these songs smash on to the audio canvas. Anyone who has heard "Spirit Fingers" by Four Tet will understand. For those who have not: these are sounds assorted in ways you have never heard before. They invite interaction, but leave quickly before you get to know them too well. Whimsical, bouncy beats and blips that are intellectually catchy--similar in a lot of ways to Sufjan Stevens electronic album, Enjoy Your Rabbit--the artificial sounds never seem cold.
I am not sure if there is a running theme to Dream Island. A lot of it sounds very tribal, but the constant electronics keep it from ever feeling organic. Maybe it is a testament to the shrinking barrier between real and virtual reality, or maybe it is just an exhilarating collection of songs, as random as it is novel.

Matt & Kim - Grand

One of the first few really good albums of this year, Grand is a party for those that matured from the Warped Tour circuit. Just as the suburban "punk" kids stop drinking Natural Light and/or Vick's, they too will put away the emo bands and search for something a little more filling. They will hopefully find this album, which is just as fun as walking through the Silverdome parking lot, but more rewarding.
Grand is filled with synths, whiny vocals, and more than several refrains that try successfully to get stuck in your head. It is fun. It is meant to be shared and danced to. It is meant to be sung along to at concerts. Despite all of the deep, meaningful moments in life, all of the late-night epiphanies, all of the significant achievements; Grand shows how vitally essential it is to just have a great time.

Beach House - Devotion

Released last year, this is the second effort by the Baltimore band. It follows along the same pattern of their first: hazy, dreamy vocals and instrumentation. Beach House make cough syrup music for indie-kids.
There is something very timeless about the recording. It makes you long for the days when you can dance sweetly with your significant other, as your kids grimace in embarrassment, and honestly forget when this album came out. Nothing about Devotion gives any clue that it is a record of this decade. It could just as easily be a tape you found in your attic that your mom's friend recorded during her "freedom" years in college.
The keyboards and pianos are incessant, which is not a bad thing. It helps the "hot tub" effect of when you stop thinking and just let the whole thing melt over you. Devotion is sweet, warm, and as ageless as the very relaxation that it conduces.

Francois Virot - Yes or No

I can't get away from this French singer-songwriter dude. I want to, but I can't. When I open Windows Media Player, my mouse goes for this album, that came out this past year. It is as catchy as a splinter, and I can't get it out.
Francois sings all in English. Actually, he shouts raspy English phrases mostly about romance, which in my opinion, is pretty French.
There is just something so engaging about it all. He isn't the pretty boy at the party. His voice cracks; wavers. His guitar strumming isn't exact. And there is something absolutely sinister about many of the songs, especially the "I just broke up with you, whoops!" opener: "Not the One."
It is all intriguing though, because it is so unapologetic. I had this professor that did not teach us one thing we were supposed to learn all semester. We talked about current events and the nuances of life. I admired him, though, because in the end he did not regret his actions one bit. I am not sure exactly what Yes or No is supposed to be, but I don't think Francois knows either. And I get the feeling that he doesn't really give a damn. I can respect that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dorian's Favorite Albums of 2008

If you have any good sense, your first question upon seeing this article should be: "Why the hell am I reading this?" And I will be the first person to tell you that you shouldn't. You should go out, buy the countless great albums that came out this year, and concoct your own year-end list. The band, Art Brut, has continually exhorted its listeners to start their own band. Well I'm here to instruct my readers to start their own blog. I am no more qualified than anyone else to find great music. My tastes are not superior.
While acknowledging this parity, I still aim to share with you some of the exciting, insightful, and profound musical statements I came across this past year. And I do so with the eager fervor of a child at 2nd grade show & tell. I hope to share with you sounds that made me stop and mark right where I was when I first heard them. I want you to have the opportunity to enjoy the songs that I so much enjoyed this year. I want to tell you about my 10 favorite albums of 2008.

10. Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster

A group of irreverent, Welsh brats that write songs so lyrically "emo" and have a band name so ironically, inexplicably Spanish that Warped Tour should be calling soon. What separates these kids from the typical young, punk set is that instead of using their juvenile foibles as inspiration to progress through the same chords and the same meandering existence, Los Campesinos! explode. They pumped out two albums in 2008 (this being their first) filled with aggressive anthems of lush instrumentation. Produced by a member of Broken Social Scene, these songs burst with strings and guitars and glockenspiel and unabashed European male-female harmony that make this easily the most refreshingly youthful album of the year.

9. Horse Feathers - House with No Home

I typically turn regular people off when I tell them I listen to folk. They imagine hokey, watered down Blues Traveler or bluegrass numbers like they heard in O Brother Where Art Thou that they didn't understand. They don't hear the beautiful washing colors that bands like Horse Feathers produce. Horse Feathers are a trio from Portland, Oregon. And with a guitar, cello, violin, and a soft, unassuming voice they produce tracks as beautiful as they are inspirational. The track "This is What" is one of the best of the year -- a song filled with so much hope that it is hard to remember why folk is given such a flaccid demeanor. "Horsefeathers" is a euphemism for nonsense, but this album couldn't be further from unaffecting. It is a poignant statement filled with more than a few breathtaking moments, and with an approach that is even more effective for being so soft-spoken.

8. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

I have spent several weeks trying to figure out why this of all albums has been praised by critics on a scale larger than any other album from '08. And I think I may have an answer. This year has been a tough time for America. The only thing reliable about the economy is that it is getting worse. There is hope for "change", however, but that hope doesn't take office until January 20th, 2009. So 2008 will be remembered as the fall of housing, the fall of wall street, and the (hopefully temporary) fall of America from grace. So critics and fans across the country leaned on this album -- a folk/americana collection of songs that is nothing but American. Fleet Foxes came out of nowhere, just like the other symbol of "hope," and they too caught fire. A band filled with country, folk, classic rock, and yet are still like nothing else around. I know no other band that would place an a capella song ("White Winter Hymnal") onto their debut LP. And the strange thing is, nowhere on the album is there any insinuation of bravado. This is just them: talented, full of ideas, and classically American, at a time when such a patriotic personae has become weirdly eccentric.

7. Department of Eagles - In Ear Park

I must confess, I was going to love this album no matter what. My page has Grizzly Bear listed as my #1 artist. So when a side project of theirs comes around, I am going to scrobble it up the charts just the same. But even without my enamored predisposition, In Ear Park is great. Swirling harmonies and gentle guitar plucks play against each other to create varying moments of calm and storm. The Grizzly Bear crew know how to create and then fill a void. I have seen them blow up outdoor amphitheaters with nothing but their voices. I have listened to them build sonic moments so glorious you are afraid to listen to them with anyone else --in case you might do something to embarrass yourself while lost in the moment. Department of Eagles, like Grizzly Bear, create songs so grandiose they are personal. In Ear Park is at heart just another release by my most-listened-to artist, and it is a group of songs so great you don't want to share them with anyone else.

6. The Walkmen - You & Me

I wish I could remember more of this concert. In the spirit of celebrating whiskey rock, I ended up celebrating mostly whiskey on the night of the concert, and not much rock. It was to be the culmination of months of listening to this album non-stop. A live performance of You & Me's deep rumbles and thick croons and stories of trips and romances that I explored so deeply on headphones for so many days. As much of an ode to Rock & Roll as any proper release of '08, the Walkmen came out with probably their best total album to date. Filled with raspy yelps tossed over pianos and thick guitars, You & Me's coarse delivery (like all Walkmen albums) is best served with a side of Jack Daniels. And as much as I wish I had a little less J.D. on the night of the concert, a part of me wonders if I ever really had a choice in the matter.

5. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours

I kind of want to just introduce this album as the latest effort by a set of Australian, 80's Dance-Rock revivalists and just leave it at that. That would be more than enough to stir curiosity. But that wouldn't be fair to the band. Cut Copy are one of those bands that you have no inhibitions about becoming extremely popular and over-played. Their hooks are just that good --you just want everyone you have ever met to hear them. Song after song on In Ghost Colours makes the awkward white guy in everyone want to jump out and strut their stuff. I really hope this album is blasting at a night club somewhere, because the songs on this album are going entirely to waste if they aren't causing parties to break out all the time. This was the summer album of 2008. And I wouldn't mind if everyone on the planet shared the same sweet beats and sugary vocals to soundtrack their carefree sunshine moments. This album is shameless in its intentions to provoke a good time, and is undeniably enjoyable from beginning to end.

4. The Tallest Man on Earth - Shallow Grave

Not much is known about The Tallest Man on Earth other than it is the work of Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson. He has done little publicity, but the music speaks for itself. Heavy influences of Dylan and Nick Drake are mixed with Matsson's unique voice. This is the indie teenager's wet dream: an obscure artist with haunting guitar tunes and a voice only an open mind can love. Nerdy high-schoolers these days may be lacking the nurturing effect of new Belle & Sebastian material, but they do have The Tallest Man on Earth. And I can honestly say that with this album in hand, nerds across the universe will be able to make it the other side of teenage awkwardness captivity just fine.

3. The Dodos - Visiter

Please do yourself a favor and youtube the video for "Fools" from this album. I am but one of many heterosexual accounts of having sheer awe at watching these two dudes from San Francisco wipe the sweat off their sleazy mustaches while furiously banging out an anthem resembling an Animal Collective single. These guys are relentless. Their live show was one of the most cathartic experiences of my life. The drummer actually tapes tambourines to the bottoms of his feet in order to produce more percussion. Such intensity gives Visiter moments so purely visceral that you can't help but think that these songs were written instinctively. And even with so much commotion ringing throughout, the lead singer's full, mellifluous voice almost makes you forget how hard these guys are actually working.

2. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Overhyped does not mean overrated, and despite how much talk and how much airplay this album received, it deserved every bit of it. Sure it sounds remarkably like Paul Simon's Graceland. And sure, I would feel more comfortable with my girlfriend hanging out with the Jonas Brothers than I would be having her hang out with these undeniably adorable preppies from Columbia. But just because the package is so easy to swallow does not deny that every song on this album is so ridiculously catchy that it should be released as its own single. This is by far the easiest album to enjoy of all 2008, and it rightfully earned its fair amount of recognition.

1. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

In case you haven't already heard, this album is the product of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon spending a winter in near solitude in a Wisconsin cabin. Driven there by romantic and band breakups, Vernon produced nine honest tracks about finding oneself again after losing everything. For Emma, Forever Ago is one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard, and is by far my favorite album of 2008.
There is something strangely unifying about listening to this album that is about being alone. I was lucky enough to see Bon Iver perform twice this year, and each time the effect was the same. Seeing this big, billowy lug of a man shed his soul in songs sung entirely in falsetto enraptured the audience like a car accident. The music being pushed out of Vernon's body is as natural as tears or sweat or vomit. And all those I know who have heard Bon Iver are as touched as I still am every time I listen to For Emma, Forever Ago. This album is as organic as the woods and winter that helped produce it, and it is a stunning reminder of how music often fills the emotional voids that standard forms of communication often fail to convey.

My 2008 Soundtrack: A Love Story

In keeping with the spirit of The Felstein Review, the following list is not a 'best-of' in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of music that subjectively defined my year - the songs that I carried with me through the ups and downs and in-betweens of '08. More importantly, they are the pieces of music that will continue to formulate my ever-developing musical palate as I set out towards 2009 and beyond.


1. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Justin Vernon struck a chord with the music community in 2008. His music is painfully beautiful, his heartbreak is palpable, his lyrics are cryptic yet ubiquitous. Artists like Justin Vernon only come around so often, and an album like For Emma, Forever Ago will never, ever fade away. The genesis of For Emma was truly Walden-esque, and in his scarcity and solitude, Vernon produced a soulful and priceless piece of art that was at the epicenter of my 2008 music experience.

2. The Dodos - Visiter
Visiter is a conglomeration of reckless percussion, hybrid freak-folk acoustic picking strumming, and charming pop melodies. The result is fourteen tracks of keeping shit simple, but at the same time, blowing shit up. While Bon Iver wins by a nose for being so perfectly beautiful and unique, The Visiter follows closely with the most consistently breathtaking/exhausting/viscerally exhilarating album of '08.

3. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
The critically-adored art rockers' fourth full-length may feel like an obvious choice in a blogger's top-10. And, well, it is. But I don't really know how to be unobvious here - Dear Science is the most comprehensive and - from a melodic standpoint - the most purely listenable album these Brooklynites have put out. And that is saying quite a bit.

4. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes/Sun Giant EP
2008 was a huge year for Robin Pecknold and Fleet Foxes. Evoking shades of CSNY, Fleet Foxes have arisen as arguably the best Americana/roots-rock band around. Indeed, the combination of the self-titled full-length and the Sun Giant EP stands as a tour-de-force of stripped-down rock songs about mountains, trees, snow, and death by drowning. Additional props are given for writing a song which required singing in rounds.

5. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours.
While there were plenty of great dancefloor/electropop albums released this year - from Crystal Castles to Hercules and Love Affair to Passion Pit - In Ghost Colours is a markedly superior album. The Australian gentlemen of Cut Copy have composed an album that bends the framework of dance music; it transcends the genre and implements elements of pop, grunge, and post-punk. Because of its depth and accessibility - along with the fact that I listened to this album literally every day this summer - In Ghost Colours demands a spot on the list.

6. Mount Eerie - Lost Wisdom
With Lost Wisdom, Phil Elverum has composed an album that stuns the emotions while taking its listener dangerously close to a state of comatose. Lost Wisdom is indeed a spare, occasionally challenging, and devastatingly emotive exercise in lo-fi perfection.

7. Parts & Labor - Receivers
Receivers is a heavy listen. Not heavy in a Slayer sense, but heavy in that much is demanded from the listener in order to find the soul of each track. The songs with comprise Receivers carry a crunch and thickness that can be nearly impenetrable. But amidst the sonic walls and loops and buzzing and feedback lies truly exceptional songwriting and musicianship.

8. Shearwater - Rook
Rook has the distinct advantage of utilizing at its core an instrument that that is exclusive to Shearwater: the voice of Jonathan Meiburg. Coupled with piano-heavy pop melodies, Meiburg's theatrical vocals helped make this Okkervil River offspring a viable player in the 2008 music scene.

9. Tallest Man on Earth - Shallow Grave
I fortunately appropriated this gem of an album back in September from my compatriot and Felstein Review founder Dorian. Defined by Kristian Matsson's rampantly complex finger-picking and trembling voice, Shallow Grave is a collection of effortlessly catchy folk songs that demands serious attention.

10. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrsing
And to round out the top-10, the Fuck Buttons: the most brilliantly named experimental ambient-noise band of 2008. Street Horssing is a veritable omnibus of wildly profound and gritty noise anthems that will bitch-slap your eardrums into oblivion.

Honorable Mention: (in no particular order)

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
Los Campesinos! - We are Beautiful, We are Doomed
Passion Pit - Chunk of Change EP
Women - Women
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
The French Kicks - Swimming
The Gaslight Anthem - '59 Sound
The Walkmen - You & Me
Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

The Songs of '08:

1. Passion Pit - "Sleepyhead"
2. TV on the Radio - "DLZ"
3. Dodos - "The Season"
4. Bon Iver - "Lump Sum"
5. MGMT - "Kids"
6. Fredrik - "Black Fur"
7. Crystal Castles - "Untrust Us"
8. Wolf Parade - "California Dreamer"
9. Fleet Foxes - "Your Protector"
10. Gnarls Barkley - "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Creedence Tapes - "Endless Summer"

Currently unreleased
Available for listening at

It seems fitting that this blog's first review will be of one of its own. Fellow Felstein, Pete Cottell, has produced his first widely available song under the moniker of The Creedence Tapes. And despite its semblance of a CCR B-Sides collection, the project has no similarity to classic rock whatsover.

This is IDM. Bedroom-made beats with self-recorded instruments dancing over-top. I have never asked Pete what he does in his bedroom, but I might start. Despite the (I hope tongue-in-cheek) cheesy title, the song is pretty great.

It begins like a song by The Books. An unintelligible vocal sampling paves way for a fanciful set of strings and guitar melody. And that melody is what keeps this song together. With IDM, the beat tries to take the spotlight, but just like all great artists in the genre (see Dntel, Telefon Tel Aviv), the beat is really just a platform for the melody to shine.

Hints of Explosions in the Sky crescendos and Bloc Party space guitar sounds intersperse throughout, leaving "Endless Summer" feeling wistful -- like the feeling most introspective summer moments give. The feeling isn't contrived, though, you can tell Pete's spent plenty of those moments fully aware of how it would sound on tape.

If the song has any drawbacks, it is that the beautiful beginning strings are lost too early. IDM blips and blurps take over, reluctant to relinquish their dominance. Most IDM is like this though: a battle of rhtyhms and melodies -- a yin and yang situation if there ever was one. The beats will always delight, but the IDM songs that are remembered are the ones where the melody continues to hymn long after the song is over. "Endless Summer" teeters on the edge of being able to ingrain such a feeling, and it surely has the melodic firepower to be able to do so.