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MUSIC REVIEWS: Thao, Bell Horses, Neon Indian, The Raincoats, Yo La Tengo, Tim Cohen, Floating Action

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
Know Better Learn Faster
(Kill Rock Stars)

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Know Better Learn Faster is Thao with the Get Down Stay Down’s second album, which follows the release of We Brave Bee Stings and All in January 2008. Lead singer Thao Nguyen rejoins Frank Stewart on guitar, Adam Thompson on bass, and Willis Thompson on drums, for an album that feels very much like Part II, a continuation of their first album – nothing new or different, but consistent, with Thao Nguyen’s sultry and raspy voice all over the collection of short, mostly upbeat cadre of songs. Unlike the song “Bag of Hammers” from their first album, Know Better Learn Faster unfortunately seems to lack a clear hit. The song I most like and expect to be the album’s first release is “Easy,” which features a catchy guitar arrangement and a lot of punchy, terrific background harmonies which contrast well with Nguyen’s voice. Thao fans that loved the first album, wanting to see more of the same will enjoy Know Better Learn Faster, but new fans or old fans that enjoy evolution or experimentation may find the album to be a bit stale and too safe. The band is preparing for its US and Canadian tour with The Portland Cello Project and David Shultz and The Skyline, which kicks off October 15th, but will find its way to the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on November 4th.

Paul Kim

Bell Horses
This Loves Last Time
(Trysquare)

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Xian Hawkin’s latest Bell Horses’ release, This Loves Last Time is a competent release of soundscapes making up eight songs in total. From the forlorn “Small Hours,” the slow moving (in a good way) “Headmess” and the U2-like “The Comb,” Xian, Jenny, Alex and Co. (as the band members are named on their Myspace page) create some dreamy dreamscapes that you can dream along in when you dream. But sometimes the weird and wacky gets in the way of otherwise pretty neat little tunes.

The ethereal mélange gets a bit much on “Billowing,” a nice acoustic tune with great subtle drum touches, and on the opening tracks “Still Life.” Do we really need all the sweeps and slurs behind the well-played acoustic and drums? This might be what Bell Horses are about, but I think their style might be taking away from some otherwise good songwriting.

But there are standouts here. Jenny Owen Youngs sounds great singing “The Storm,” “Photograph” has a nice 4×4 beat (you can dance to) and the closer ” Dust Of Us” is as up front and solid a tune as you’re gonna get here.

Sure these eight songs sound a bit more similar then they ever do different, but if you’re into floating away with Bell’s Horses you could do worse then This Loves Last Time.

Ralph Greco, Jr.

Neon Indian
Psychic Chasms Review
(Lefse Records)

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Only recently have fans and followers discovered the true identities behind the synth-beat, dream-pop machine that is Neon Indian, made up of Alan Palomo (also in the band VEGA) and visual artist Alicia Scardetta. On my first listen of Psychic Chasms, I was admittedly confused on whether I was stuck in a robo-trip or if lying incapacitated in my bedroom had somehow caused auditory hallucinations.

“Deadbeat Summer” opens up the album with full-synthesizing-force and does indeed remind you of walking the hazy streets of summer, with nothing but boredom and a good buzz. “Laughing Gas” starts off sounding like a warped Earth Wind & Fire song, until it transforms into an MGMT-esque ride through space. And for some reason, the very 80s-oriented “Terminally Chill” reminded me of the beat from George Michael’s version of “Last Christmas.” The melancholy-mellowness of “6669 (I don’t know if you know),” makes it one of my favorite tracks on the album, and it seems like it’d fit all too perfectly in a John Hughes film. “Should Have Taken Acid with You” is another fun song, filled with tons of ambient, psychedelic goodness (and with that title, rightfully so!)

“Mind, Drips” is easily my favorite chasm. Think Howard Jones’s “No One Ever is to Blame,” mixed with some Tears for Fears (Although I can’t pinpoint it, there’s definitely an 80s sample used here in the lyrics, “time before”).

Speaking of John Hughes, you know that scene in Pretty in Pink when Duckie lies on his floor-length mattress and sulks over Andy? (If it existed in 1986), this is when “Local Joke” would play.

While Neon Indian fits perfectly into the ever-broadening spectrum of psychedelic synth-pop that is taking the world by storm, I like this band because their music actually sounds like vintage eighties music, especially the vocals of Palomo. Psychic Chasms is the mix-tape for brokenhearted acid-heads with new-wave haircuts. And that’s awesome.

Lucy Tonic

The Raincoats
The Raincoats
(Kill Rock Stars)

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Legendary all-female post-punk group The Raincoats just re-released their self-titled debut album from 1979. Vocalist/guitarist Ana da Silva and vocalist/bassist Gina Birch formed the group while at school in England in the seventies. This debut album may be most famous for the cover of the Kinks song “Lola,” an interesting and well-made version indeed, but there’s a lot more to this album that will explain why many say it’s a must-have.

But if it’s true that all genuinely new art should appear ugly at first, this is what may happen upon first listen to this album. It does seem that, with so much discord, it’s a record for a particular mood. The instrumentals and vocals are raw, scratchy and somewhat scathing, but they are also fresh and energetic, with somewhat of a tribal beat. Favorite tracks of mine include, “Fairytale in the Supermarket,” “No Side to Fall,” and, to agree with Kurt Cobain, “Void.” In fact, this band was one of Cobain’s favorites. Although we weren’t there to hear them in the making of this album, I agree that this album does create the feeling that we are upstairs in the attic having a secret listen to them as they create these songs.

Whatever your musical interests may be, give this album a few listens and decide what mood it puts you in.

Christine Thelen

Yo La Tengo
Popular Songs
(Matador)

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Popular Songs marks the release of indie giant Yo La Tengo’s 16th album and also the band’s 25th anniversary. Admittedly, Yo La Tengo has been one of the biggest indie bands that I’ve been unable to truly get. However, most of my favorite bands – Interpol and Sufjan Stevens for example, have taken me a while to get, so I keep trying, but outside of “Autumn Sweater” which I really love, many of their songs just seem a little too mellow, cute or silly for my tastes. Popular Songs is a terrific effort that is consistently good and has helped tremendously in my understanding of this band. It follows a 60’s/70’s blueprint in terms of overall sound – there are songs reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian, some part Nick Drake, and even a little Radiohead. The album is a must own for all Yo La Tengo fans, but is also a good gateway for new fans to become acquainted with them. It features ten regular songs and two extended jam sessions 10-15 minutes in length each. My favorite song on the album is “When It’s Dark” – one of the few Yo La Tengo songs that seem to have a bridge. Also check out “All your Secrets” and the catchy “I’m on My Way.” The iTunes version exclusively features a bonus track – their remake of “You’ve got a Friend.”

Paul Kim

Tim Cohen
The Two Sides of Tim Cohen
(Secret Seven)

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Take one part Radiohead, another part the 1960’s Beatles and another part of hipper bands like Cut Copy and you will have a good idea of what Tim Cohen’s The Two Sides of Tim Cohen sounds like. The CD is not your basic folk music CD and it isn’t just some guy with a guitar; no, Tim Cohen has style. “Heidi Please” sounds like a song that would be playing at the local county fairgrounds. The song is quick (really quick!), whimsical and hyperactive. It explodes towards the end and the last 30 seconds of the song take listeners through the cool off period. One of the strongest songs on the album, “Unjeweled Splendor” shows the contrast to “Heidi Please.” The song sounds like something directly off a Beatles B-side. With a steady rhythm, the song pulls listeners in.

“Amazing Visions” is a large song. The song fills the room with atmosphere and anticipation as it dredges on. The song is perhaps Cohen’s closest take at producing something similar to Radiohead. Along with “Burden of Being,” Cohen’s voice coos on and creates a signature tone for the artist that listeners can take with them. The CD is recommended for anyone in need of a album to listen to on a quiet night with headphones on.

Tania Katherine

Floating Action
Floating Action
(Park the Van Records)

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If you’re above the age of 13, you remember when you would go to the record store and browse artists according to “genre,” right? One cool thing about a lot of bands today is that they’ve completely outdated that system because you can’t categorize them in terms of one distinct sound. This definitely holds true for Floating Action. Even more impressive is the fact that one-man-band Seth Kaufmann recorded and played every instrument on the album himself. Drawing from tons of influences from reggae to folk to bossa nova, Floating Action delivers an easy, breezy yet somewhat experimental listen. Comparatively speaking, it makes a lot of sense that this album was mixed by the same guy who worked on several of Dr. Dog’s recent releases. This is not a thinking man’s album, albeit the remarkable single-handed creation and execution – it’s more of a drinking beer by the pool type of recording as well as a good show of musicianship and experimental song composition.

Patricia Scull

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