Morning Benders, Emanuel and the Fear, Holly Miranda, Last Man Standing, Charlotte Gainsbourg, OK GO, Danny Ross, Kung Fury

The Morning Benders
Big Echo
(Rough Trade Records)

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The Morning Benders take indie to a whole new level of magic in Big Echo. Big instrumental pieces and light voices make up the album. “Excuses” opens the album, pulling in many different instruments and making fantasy come alive. Vocalist Christopher has a high, melodic voice that gives the music an original vibe, his voice is unique among the many albums coming out today. This is true feel good music that you could sail into the sunset with. “Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)” has a catchy rhythm with smooth vocals that had me tapping my feet the whole time. It is rare to find a band with an indie label that has such a great balance of rock and dare I say, tame. If you want the challenge of looking for bands to compare them to, I could pick up possible influences from The Beatles and the instrumentals sound like pieces plucked out of the 70’s.

A massively unique mix of percussion, guitar, vocals and many other things make this album hard to dissect. Then again, there is no reason to go leafing through the music. The steady, calming sounds could be listened to in almost any setting. I found Big Echo the perfect music to get work done to. The Morning Benders have a large US tour spanning most of the spring and I suggest everyone shake off their boots and go to a show. I don’t think there could be any disappointment.

Miranda Dillworth

Emanuel and the Fear
(Paper Garden Records)

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Fusing a classic orchestral sound with indie pop/rock to achieve an innovative and cohesive sound, Emanuel and the Fear is a burgeoning force to be reckoned with. It’s hard to believe that many of the members of this eleven-piece band are so young, but nonetheless, they have created a socially conscious narrative that really lets the listener peer into the complex worlds of today’s twenty-somethings. Musically, Listen is very emotive and compelling, ranging from an earthy “Jimmie’s Song” to all out brilliant orchestral madness on the fittingly titled track “The Finale.” The power of having such emotions expressed so succinctly through the collaborative efforts of so many band members is rather impressive. Singer Emanuel Ayvas has a very distinct voice, not only aurally but lyrically as well. Through his storytelling, by the end of the album, we not only have a fairly intimate understanding of who Emanuel himself is, but also a better idea of the fear the band’s name describes – as that of leaving this world untouched, unchanged.

Patricia Scull

Holly Miranda
The Magician’s Private Library
(XL Recordings)

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If you’ve grown into the New York City based quality independent music scene, names like The Ludlow Lions, Holly Miranda and Kevin Devine probably sound like home to you. Miranda’s last album with The Jealous Girlfriend’s is a great segway to the sound of this album. It is magical, inspiring of happiness and just plain good. Don’t believe me? Feel free to buy the album and say otherwise.

The strongest song on The Magician’s Private Library is “Waves,” which is also the most radio-friendly track. The first thirty-something seconds are quiet and lulling until Miranda’s voice fills in the dream-like feeling. For those not familiar, Miranda’s voice sounds lush and velvety brimming with natural talent that you would expect to enjoy with a glass of fine wine. The track feels like a wave of pleasant sounds. Listening to it, I often forgot that this was a song: it feels more like a feeling. Looking for something more dance-like? “No One Just Is” starts out shaking (literally). For sound-alikes to the track, think Bjork. After every note in the song, it sounds like another instrument is going to come out of the woodwork, just like with “High Tide.” Similar in sound to “No One Just Is,” “High Tide” features less of Miranda’s lush voice and more of her sweeter tones. Really, anything that comes out of her mouth is sweet but the higher pitch feels like sugary goodness.

Tania Katherine

Last Man Standing
False Starts and Broken Promises
(Wildflower Records)

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Here’s something you don’t hear everyday. False Starts and Broken Promises sounds like a man taking everything he’s got inside of him and throwing it on a record. That one man is Max Vanderwolf. Last Man Standing are a band but from what I can tell he’s the one running everything. This album has the feel of a concept album although I’m not sure what the concept is. Vagrancy? Drunkenness maybe? Whatever it is, it can’t be denied that False Starts and Broken Promises is grand and ambitious. I found it to be very reminiscent of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, another quasi-concept album. The most Bowiesque elements are the soulful sax that pops up now and again on the album and chorus of backup singers that are prevalent throughout.

The albums opens with an instrumental and then goes into “Queen of Kong.” It’s an okay popish song but the best ones are the weirdest. “The Dean Street Stumble” has a cabaret groove and drunk swagger which makes it all the more enjoyable. “Everything Must Go” is a fun stab at trying to write a Tom Waits song. The lyrics, which satirize capitalism and corruption, are amusing even if they overdo it at times. But Last Man Standing really takes it over the top on “Go Home.” Aside from a mostly instrumental closing track, this is what the whole album builds to. On “Go Home” Vanderwolf indulges every one of his classic rock inclinations and excesses including his own version of The Who’s “See Me, Feel Me” thing. It may not live up to all of its ambitions but it sure is fascinating. In fact, that can be said about the whole album. It’s not crucial listening but it wouldn’t hurt.

Jonathan Zuckerman

Charlotte Gainsbourg

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A good album starts with a good story. IRM, the French abbreviation for an MRI, is the title of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s latest album because it’s an ode to the MRI she received after suffering a life-altering brain hemorrhage from a water skiing accident in 2007. In short, she has turned a normally-frightening experience into an existential exploration of herself.

While 2006’s 5:55 was written by Air, Beck takes the controls on this album, as producer, mixer, co-writer of the lyrics, and even backup vocalist. This collaboration is refreshingly different and proves to make Gainsbourg’s music effloresce even more because it pulsates more and contains an interesting variety of song and even vocal styles. One particularly interesting song is the mechanical “IRM,” an LP off the album, the music of which is supposed to mimic the noisy sounds of the MRI machine as Charlotte walks us through this out-of-body experience, singing, “Take a picture, what’s inside? Ghost image in my mind.” Ghost imagery abounds.

I’m actually dancing to this album, which I’ve never really done with Charlotte’s voice in the air. There’s more to explore. A really bizarre coincidence of sorts occurs in the first track, “Master’s Hand,” for which Beck actually had written the line, “Drill my brain all full of holes,” without being aware of Gainsbourg’s accident. This helped Charlotte open up more to him, thus fusing their collaborative relationship even more.

Other favorites of mine include “Voyage,” and “Me and Jane Doe.” All in all, Charlotte’s quiet, intimate voice still soothes my soul, but what’s more phenomenal on this album are her lyrics and the sublime blending of Gainsbourg’s and Beck’s styles.

Christine Thelen

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
(Capitol Records)

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OK Go are music video whores. It’s much appreciated. They won a Grammy in 2007 for Best Short Form Music Video for their ultra-clever treadmill music video “Here It Goes Again.” (Seriously, how many times have you watched it? At minimum – twenty exposures.) Even before that, “A Million Ways” became the most downloaded music video of the time with over nine million downloads. (Obviously not as good as the treadmill video, but nothing beats perfection.) Clearly the group is amazing at getting exposure with their home-videoesque YouTube creations (with the help of lead singer Damian Kulash, Jr.’s sis and choreographer, Trish Sie).

Kalush has been very vocal as of late on the topic of the regulations surrounding these music videos. (He recently wrote an op-ed piece on it for the New York Times.) The issue being that EMI, the group’s record company, has a clause forbidding the group or anyone else to embed their videos on websites without paying the company any royalties. Fans have to watch the videos, such as this video for “This Too Shall Pass” off their new album, directly on YouTube. According to the LA Times Music Blog, the group is working on a second video for this song, which could be the reason Kalush is so adamantly trying to get EMI to reconsider its rule. The new video is rumored to feature a two-story, ridiculously over-the-top contraption – fingers crossed avid YouTubers.

Some of their new album Of the Blue Colour of the Sky has a stylized static sound to it. There is a distinct fullness to the songs due in part to the intricate percussion. The substantial sound of their music pieces bass and drums together well with keyboard and guitars. One of the better songs on the album, with its high-pitched vocals, “White Knuckles,” sounds a bit like a Prince tune. “Skyscrapers” starts out simple and quiet and builds into a moody, screamy piece.

“I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe” has lyrics that paint a vivid picture for this cool, mellow track: “In your faded raincoat and tangled winter hair, cheeks a little rosy in the February air, and running through the subway to catch the uptown train…” Still, I miss the poppy, catchy sound of some of their earlier stuff. I will, however, be on the lookout for their next music video spectacular.

Amy Hamblen

Danny Ross
One Way
(Danny Ross)

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Want to take a break from rock? There is no better way to do it than go the Danny Ross route. One Way is an arrangement of guitars, percussions, all around fine-tuned instrumentals and kick ass vocals. “Oh, Christine” is a catchy prime example of the aforementioned. Think lazy day curled up with a book or a drive down a country road. The influences of The Beatles and The Who are subtly noticeable. Every song has a small hook that will pull you in and soon have you moving. His young voice is original to the type of music he plays, an old soul is in there somewhere. “Woman” should be played at every bar where there is room to dance. Its harmonica highlights beg for someone to be twirling with a beer in their hand. All songs light and airy, One Way should be bought and played at dull times. This one’s a must.

Miranda Dillworth

Kung Fury
(Kung Fury

Kung Fury didn’t bring it with this release. Based on the name of the band and title of the EP, I expecting something hard, loud and fast, but instead what I got was an average indie rock record at best. There isn’t anything new being presented here that hasn’t been done before. They reminded me more of Johnny Lives than The Stooges. Bring more pop than rock and more indie than punk. If you are looking for something loud, fast and furious, then skip Kicks! and listen to Kick Out The Jams by MC5.

Michael Santarpia

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