The Gowanus Yacht Club
(Engine Room Records)
Well, if you could only say one thing about Porter Block, it would not be that he is an underachiever. Since 2006, he has put out four, and now five albums, with Engine Room Records and Gowanus Yacht Club is the latest stone in that foundation. Recorded in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn, Mr. Block’s album is a fine blend of well crafted songs that is a summation of a rather interesting songwriting ‘experiment’.
According to his website, this album was the result of one songwriter just wanting to get together with other songwriters. It seems like a simple enough idea. But the group chosen was no batch of rookies having collectively garnered television deals as well as having songs covered by the likes of Trisha Yearwood. Hanging and writing with that kind of talent is not going to hurt you much, right? After jumping into the project with no preconceived ideas, the album bore the expected fruit of tuneful, harmony rich compositions.
Nice texturing, deft slide guitar playing and fine harmonies really give weight to the songs but my wish was that The Gowanus Yacht Club would not tend to live in the ‘mid tempo world’. It would be nice to hear the harmonies and skillful musicianship dropped into a blender with a little more speed added, something along the lines of Running Down a Dream by Tom Petty perhaps? I’m not complaining, just saying give me some of that tempo fluctuation on the next go around.
Check out the website for upcoming tour dates then get out there and support your local musicians so busy sweating it out for your pleasure!Word.
West Coast EP
West Coast EP is the debut release from Oxford, Mississippi-native – yes, Oxford – Junk Culture (Deepak Mantena). A 20-minute set of ambient soundscapes and a mix-mash of loops and breaks makes Deepak a noteworthy label mate to mashup king, Girl Talk.
While opening with the title track, a mix of melodies, beats and breaks, it makes way (but not really) as to what to expect from the remainder of the album: a 29-second-glitchy-number called “Watson Glassy Stare,” a classically meditative piece “For Elise,” and a 52-second electro-dubby number entitled “American Minute Song.” The entire project seems rushed (like this review), but it’s digable nonetheless.
1. West Coast
2. My Two Hands
3. Watson’s Glassy Stare
4. For Elise
5. That’s Not Me
6. American Minute Song
7. Daydream on Olea
8. City Side
9. Carmel Valley Girls
Hundreds of Lions
(Righteous Babe Records)
The term multi-instrumentalist is one that seems to pop up often these days and alongside it there is a tendency to be some interesting new music- Erin McKeown is one such example and with a degree in ethnomusicology from Brown she has the background to prove it. Her new album, Hundreds of Lions, was recently released on Ani Difranco’s Righteous Babe label and while the style and quality might not be totally consistent, there is some terrific music that is sure to entice the modern listener. The intro track “To a Hammer” is one of the strongest songs on the album with it’s whimsical melody and fun, eclectic instrumentation as well as the more folksy “You, Sailor” which shows the musical range on the album. The true highlight of the album is “The Foxes” which seems to mix everything that McKeown does together seamlessly in one song- its beat is quirky mixing together different sounds and blending in a funky, folk feel lyrically.
The real heart of what’s interesting about McKeown’s music is her off-beat use of various instruments in a percussive way, her rhythmical sensibility that leans at times towards a up-beat Broadway musical, and her folk rock lyrics which combine for a truly original result. The only downside of the album is the occasional lulls that arise in songs that change pace too drastically and lean toward the more traditional. In all, the album is a clear winner and appeals towards a real variety of music enthusiasts.
Late Night Tales
(Late Night Tales)
Snow Patrol’s Late Night Tales is indeed a unique album. However, if you’re looking for tracks from the band, you will find none here (with the exception of one very extraordinary INXS cover.)
Late Night Tales is a unique series of DJ mixed albums hosted by a diverse blend of artists, bands and DJs. The hosting artist is required to put together their own list of songs from artists that have influenced them in their music career, and in turn, each track is mixed together to make the album one smooth ride through mood and sound, versus separate entities of music that would otherwise be difficult to digest. Essentially this album is a mix-tape, wich explains why Gary Lightbody and Tom Simpson (of Snow Patrol) chose music over any other profession.
The album opens up with tracks from Captain Beefheart and A Tribe Called Quest, which instantly abandons any ignorance of musical knowledge on Snow Patrol’s behalf. “Dark Lady” and “I Walk the Earth” are the perfect blend of techno/ambience, and will surely remind you of early Moby and Chemical Brothers’ albums. Tracks from artists like Allen Toussaint and Bobbie Gentry are pleasant R&B surprises, while Jim Noir’s “Eanie Meany” made me want to hear more from this psychedelic-pop artist.
“Download” by Super Furry Animals and “Half Asleep” from School of Seven Bells will easily become favorites for any listener, while they both most appropriately fit the slumber-driven theme of Late Night Tales. (Click here to read my interview with the latter band.)
As mentioned previously, the one track Snow Patrol does deliver on this album is their take on INXS’s “New Sensation.” And while the original is surely all that an 80s song should be, Snow Patrol’s cover is a pleasant departure from keyboards and big hair. In fact, I prefer it ten-fold.
Late Night Tales is definitely “Music worth staying up for.” You’ll want to hear the rest of the series immediately. In the album booklet, fans can also discover how members of Snow Patrol met and their reasoning for their song selections. For more info on this album or the series, check out its website or Myspace.
Cocoon of Love
As usual, I’m all for bands that make you bounce- the kinds of music that help you bob and sway through your workday and feel a little light, a little loose. As usual, this isn’t going to be a review that delves deep into the history leading up to the bands’ success. It’s just a review telling you that right in the here and now, Princeton’s got a brand new LP out on Kanine Records and it’s got pop and sway and great Cali-vibes that are helping this fog-laden East-coast marketer get inspired and remember how the sun feels.
You know what it’s like? It’s exactly like that commercial of the kids in the VW Cabrio commercial in the 90s, where they drive all the way out to the party in the hills, Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” guiding them around each bend, and they get to the party and decide they’d rather keep riding around in that sweet, economical convertible. Throw a surfboard in shotgun, wind the clock forward to dawn and you’re there. There’s even some excellent reverb reminiscent of the ocean crashing just below those cliffs. I highly recommend you ride this wave.
Princeton’s first full-length LP Cocoon of Love will get you warmed up and keep you smiling. Go get it. Have a taste at: Myspace
Standout tracks- “Calypso Gold” and “I Left My Love in Nagasaki.”
In This Light and On This Evening
In This Light and On This Evening is the British Band the Editor’s third album, which follows their successful sophomore effort, An End Has A Start. The influences that the late 70’s band Joy Division has on the Editors remains apparent on this album, and might be most evident on my favorite track on the album, “You Don’t Know Love,” where the opening lines sung by lead singer Tom Smith sound so hauntingly similar to Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, you’d think he’d been raised from the dead. Beyond that, the album features a significantly larger use of the synthesizer, and continues their theme of dark, melodic songs. However, none of the songs appear to have the catchiness of “Munich” from their first album, or the complexity of “Smokers Outside the Hospital Door” from An End Has a Start. The most popular song on the album, “Papillon,” still falls a little flat for me. But songs like “Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool” and “Walk the Fleet Road” intrigue me and make me not want to give up on the album. The Editors are not easy listening– they require more patience, which is more often the case how I discover my favorite bands and albums. So the verdict is still out on this one.
Satanique Samba Trio
If at some point you get a hankering for some Brazilian experimental samba jazz, I would eagerly point you towards this album. If, like a majority of music listeners, you are not the biggest fan of impressionistic music that can be very distracting at times, I’d urge you to steer clear. This trio of amazing musicians plays a veritable army of instruments, more than fifteen. The short compositions of this quick album, 16 tracks clocking in just less than thirty-six minutes, can be jarring, with sudden tempo changes and oddly disjointed soundscapes of clashing music. The constants of the samba style, guitar, percussion, and horns are all there. All too often though, one if not all seem out of step with one another during the album that flows from one song to the next. I figure other musicians would best enjoy this music, for it is highly technical while being wholly original. The frantic pace of the pieces and the morphing nature of the material can cause a listener to tune out, hearing perhaps only one piece of the song instead of the whole.
Still, there are some bright spots, most notably “Auto-retrato em tripas de cachorro (Face 1)” and “Auto-retrato em tripas de cachorro (Face 2).” There is one track that is notably longer, “Diabolyn” which runs just under eight and a half minutes, that is almost a microcosm of the album. With clashing sounds, surprising tempo changes, and a variation on key, I just couldn’t get into it.
With cool horns, weird percussion, and guitars alternating between melodic Latin and squealing experimental style, Sangrou is an album for consciously select moments. Personally, I respect the musical chops to make the album and appreciate that it’s geared towards a different audience, but ultimately it’s not my cup of tea.
Thanks for reviewing the new Porter Block record!
Happy New Year!
Chris from Engine Room