MUSIC REVIEWS: Yo Gabba Gabba!, Volcano Choir, Slow Club, Massive Attack, The XX, The Lovely Feathers, DJ /rupture + Matt Shadetek

Yo Gabba Gabba!
Music is Awesome!
(Filter US Recordings)

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Yo Gabba Gabba! is a television show aimed at children and psychedelic drug users. On it, a bunch of fuzzy monsters and an effeminate old-school DJ have lots of fun and learn a thing or two. Through watching this, children learn valuable lessons while getting a subliminal music education. My favorite example of this is the segment in which a Lynval Golding look alike encourages kids to clean their toys simply by toasting “Pick it Up! Pick it Up!” The heavy use of music is not surprising when you learn that the show was created by The Aquabats, a kid-friendly ska band and fave among the Warped Tour set. Through their connections they’ve managed to get an impressive array of indie rock and hip hop acts to make guest appearances on the show. The primary viewership of Yo Gabba Gabba! are too young to appreciate these guests but their parents might, if their parents are young and hip.

Many of those guests show up on the first album spawned from the series, Music is Awesome! For me, the best songs are the ones that don’t sound so much like they were written specifically for kids. The Shins’ “It’s OK, Try Again” sounds like a typical Shins songs with slightly, and I do mean slightly, more precious lyrics. Mark Kozelek’s “Bedtime Lullaby” is just a good singer/songwriter track and while they are clearly stepping outside their comfort zone, The Roots manage to make “Lovely, Love My Family” a pretty funky song. Other acts such as Chromeo and Of Montreal turn in decent songs but they sound too much like kiddie pandering and a commercial for toothpaste respectively to really be appreciated by someone with a discerning aural palette. That is the point though, I suppose and I shouldn’t have been expecting more from this album. The majority of it is silly songs sung by the cast members who are set over electronic beats and synthesizers. I can’t imagine these having any interest to someone over the age of 7. I found the breathy, sultry singing of what sounds like a very young girl on the song “Nice & Easy” to be particularly disturbing in fact but of course a child wouldn’t see anything wrong with it. While the musical content greatly adds to the TV show and probably makes it far easier for parents to watch with their kids, most of these songs don’t do much on their own. This CD is a good companion for a child who is a fan of Yo Gabba Gabba! but despite a few great guests, as an album alone it doesn’t really hold up.

Jonathan Zuckerman

Volcano Choir

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Unmap was often a skeptical journey through complex and experimental rock, yet its purpose was surely not to imitate or recreate the sounds of either of its separate entities (Bon Iver and Collections of Colonies of Bees). Rather, this album takes you on a trip through the moods of Mother Nature, focusing less on vocals and more on sound to conjure up emotions both dark and surreal.

Unmap opens up with “Husks and Shells,” a layered and soothing acoustic track that definitely sets the album’s tone forthright.

“Island, IS” is by far the most appealing track on the album, with its subtle island-techno beat and seemingly cynical lyrics that’ll have you missing but accepting the loss of summer. Filled with varied guitar, clapping and hymn-like harmonies, “And Gather” appropriately makes you feel like you’re sitting beside a fire with friends by your side, while the combination of instruments used in “Mbira in the Morass,” along with Vernon’s haunting Nina Simone-like vocals, make this tune an eerily ominous yet sensible fixture.

“Cool Knowledge” is a smart and catchy track that starts off sounding like a song from The Jungle Book but gets a nasty beat twenty seconds in that’ll surely have you snapping your fingers. However, just as listeners start to groove along, the song comes to an end, with Vernon’s voice trailing off as he sings, “But I’m already gone;” almost as if this minute-long track was only inserted to tease and remind us of how easily and quickly time passes.

Vernon’s vocals gracefully overlap the music of Collections’ in “Still,” which is essentially Bon Iver’s brilliantly auto-tuned “Woods,” accompanied by music. This is beautiful simplicity at its best.

If you are looking for a melodic, sing-along album that can be easily digested, Unmap probably isn’t for you. However, rarely will you find an album with enough atmospheric ambience to leave you longing for a winter landscape. (Vernon’s Wisconsin influence, perhaps?)

Lucy Tonic

Slow Club
Yeah, So
(Moshi Moshi)

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If you have ever wanted to give up caffeine but didn’t know what you would replace it with, try listening to Track 1 (“When I Go”) on Slow Club’s Yeah, So album. “Giving up on Love,” is another heavily infectious ditty from the Sheffield, England duo. This is a punchy, in-your-face song filled out with a fat dose of chunky guitar strumming (always a nice combination). Great production quality and a simple package make it even more appealing.

Slow Club is comprised of the very down to earth pair of Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor. Do not be fooled however, as this unassuming pair is busy working the various angles to bolster their visibility. Their songs have been used by Ritz Crackers (“When I Go”), Lay’s Potato Chips (“Drinking, Thinking, Sinking, Feeling”) and NBC’s Chuck also picked up “Christmas TV.” It seems that “Giving up on Love” cannot help but follow suit. It is quirky, satisfying and at the end of the day, it just hits the mark.

Remember that even if you haven’t heard of them, you’ve probably heard their music. And there is nothing like a cool gig where you can stay home, write great tunes and bring in a paycheck without having to climb into a van and spend the nights on the floor of some unknown residence or in a dilapidated motel (unless, of course, that totally rocks your world). Slow Club has the myspace happening and plenty of clips on youtube to round out the mix. You can also check out interviews of Rebecca saying how much she digs Rod Stewart. Charles says, ‘I’m not so keen on him to be honest.’

I’m interested in hearing more of Slow Club. And by the looks of things, I won’t have too much of a choice. Check these guys out and be happy that you did.

Dan Connolly

Massive Attack
Splitting The Atom EP
(Virgin [EMI])

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Legendary trip-hop pioneers, Massive Attack are back with a small taste of what’s to be their fifth full-length studio album. (Sixth if you include their soundtrack for the film Unleashed aka Danny The Dog.) Splitting The Atom is comprised of four songs from the forthcoming full-length, two of which being remixes. It features guest vocals from Horace Andy, Tunde Adebimpe, Guy Garvey and Martina Topley-Bird who has recently toured with Massive Attack as an opening act and guest vocalist.

Time or success has definitely not brightened up the “Bristol Sound” Massive attack helped establish back in the early ’90s. They continue to create atmospheric music that can sometimes inspire you to dance or just serve as good company on a rainy day.

The title track seems like something that would serve as a creepy, sing-a-long for a memorial wake. “Pray For Rain,” which follows it, is no different, as it starts out with music appropriate for marching to a burial. However, this track, like the weather the song implies, builds to a surge of what is musical sunshine, only to be overtaken again by the dreary rain-soaked sound of the song’s first half.

I find remixes typically aren’t as strong as the original songs they play off of, and without yet hearing the original version of Splitting The Atom‘s third track, “Bulletproof Love,” I’m going to guess this rule applies. While not a bad track by any means, there just isn’t much to it, other than a calm vocal line, steady drumbeat and various soundscapes that fade in and out during the almost seven-minute running time. The final (and second remix) track, “Psyche,” comes across much stronger and could easily be the original composition of that song.

Splitting The Atom is a nice appetizer for Massive Attack’s forthcoming full-length serving, which will undoubtedly be, based on this EP, another memorable release.

E. Grey

The XX
(Young Turks)

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Most have probably heard of The XX by now. They’re a four-piece group of South London 20-year-olds who write sexy, sultry minimalist 90’s rock that is getting them major attention, both abroad and within the U.S. They produced their self-titled debut album, which could explain the simplicity of it. Certain songs on it build nicely, such as “Night Time” and “Infinity.” I’m also quite fond of the song “Intro,” a purely instrumental track; it creates a moody, tense thesis that really carries itself through the whole rest of the album. So indeed, some may say this album is cohesive and others may say they don’t rock it like they can, or that many songs roll into each other so much that it all sounds too similar. It will be interesting to see if they take it to a (slightly) higher level on the next album.

Christine Thelen

The Lovely Feathers
Fantasy of The Lot
(Sparks Music/Tommy Boy)

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Upbeat and catchy, Fantasy of The Lot by Montreal-based The Lovely Feathers is an energetic indie pop/rock album that feels at times danceable and lively. Anthem-like, the album moves more like a pep rally motivating listeners to get up and circulate. The lyrics are on the simple side, but the musical arrangement is upbeat and fast paced. The vocals are mellow enough and at times can come across as soft in an intimate and confessional style.

I found the guitar lines were the most enjoyable feature of the album. My favorite track is the album titled song “Fantasy of The Lot,” where the guitar arrangement sounds a bit like a young John Frusciante being channeled. Other notable tracks include opener “Lowiza” and “Gifted Donald” – both are fun, light, and pretty breezy.

By the second half of the album, the tempo rises considerably and the songs become quicker paced and energetic. By the end of the album, I did feel rather worn out as the music’s tempo has that kind of effect on you.

On the good side, there’s really nothing boring nor predictable on the album, however at the same time, there’s nothing really that stands out either as too memorable. The songs are catchy enough though that you become fairly acquainted with them pretty quickly and hearing them a few times brings about an easy recognition and pleasing familiarity.

As a fun and quick paced album, overall I think this is a pretty good collection. I like the energy and effort behind the songs, even if by the last track I am feeling somewhat spent in a fun semi-good way.

Trish Nguyen

DJ /rupture + Matt Shadetek
Solar Life Raft
(The Agriculture)

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Brooklyn-based DJ and producer DJ /rupture has teamed up with producer Matt Shadetek for the creation of a 25-track mix of beats, bass and space tunes. Solar Life Raft, ranging from dubstep and dancehall to hip hop and downtempo, filters in hypnotic sounds recorded live over three turntables. As a call and response to the recession, Rupture (who has lived in Barcelona for the last few years) decided to stay local and collaborate with nearby friends. With native-New Yorker Shadetek co-producing and a number of fellow-Brooklynites (vocalist Jahdan Blakkamoore, experimentalist Gang Gang Dance and electro-girl duo Telepathe) making appearances, Solar Life Raft is a mixtape unlike any other hip hop mixtape – an Afro-Caribbean mix of beats, bass and dub.

As beats and lyrics unite; poetry and emotions marry for a special blend of mashups. On the Philadelphia-inspired “Overture: Watermelon City” by poet Elizabeth Alexander (who also spoke at President Obama’s inauguration), rupture blends her melodic flow with dub guru Matty G’s “Laying in Bed” and Austria’s-own Lloop’s “Autumn Rain” for a deluxe bag of love. Also, multilingual poet Caroline Bergvall brings culture to the dub-induced “More Pets.”

Other standout tracks: “Strength in Numbers” (Shadetek), “Mr. Money Man” (Pulshar), “Long Road” (Jahdan Blakkamoore), “Underwater High Rise (rupture & Shadetek),” and “Buds” (Pumajaw).

ND McCray

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