Tag Archives: new release

strokes

Album Review: The Strokes – Future Present Past

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Future Present Past is the first release by New York City garage rock band The Strokes in three years. Now their second EP (the first being their 2001 debut The Modern Age), it is a huge milestone for the band. Since 2011, The Strokes have been toeing the line of audience’s favour once they regrouped post-hiatus to release their fourth album Angles. This marked the start of The Strokes’ later period, a clear deviation from their raw, gritty, calculated garage rock that fans fell for (and held onto with a vengeance). Their fifth album, Comedown Machine (2013), was an even larger step away from their early sound (i.e. Is This It), and while many diehard fans continued to follow the band’s artistic journey, others wondered whether The Strokes had lost their touch. Continue reading

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Album Review: Emily’s D+Evolution – Esperanza Spalding

31d39fa4Esperanza Spalding is not an artist who disappoints. Nor is she predictable.

Her latest release, Emily’s D+Evolution, has shown an exceptional rebirth of creativity and innovation from the prodigal bassist/singer-songwriter. Using her jazz background as a pedestal, she constructs an intricately structured opus incorporating funk and alt-rock elements to create an experimental blend of performance art, theatre, improvisation, and classic storytelling through song.

The title, Emily’s D+Evolution, is based on Spalding’s “alter ego,” a free spirited young girl named Emily (Spalding’s middle name). Spalding sings about the world as seen through Emily’s eyes, using her as a musical muse. She claims using this alter ego gave her a fresh start to her work, a way to approach the concept of music anew. The album represents a rebirth of creativity for Spalding, a return to the childlike wonder and ingenuity. Emily’s D+Evolution opens with the lyrics, “See this pretty girl / Watch this pretty girl flow,” an immediate introduction to the muse behind the melody.

As for the artistry, Spalding does not disappoint. She has tremendous vocal talent, easily ranging multiple octaves from a honeyed alto to a soaring falsetto in one breath. Her lyrics are complex and intelligent, a mix of story, song, and spoken word poetry. The instrumentals are expertly layered, with intricate melodies and subtle key changes; at times an ebb and flow, at others an overwhelming roller coaster of emotion and rhythm.

While it is recommended to listen to Emily’s D+Evolution all the way through to get the full experience, some tracks deserve high praise. The opener, “Good Lava,” is all at once a dissonant, explosive, and seductive first track. It shocks the listener, screaming at them to pay good attention – without ever raising its voice. “Judas” provides a respite from this overwhelming sensation. Spalding’s vocals are lilting and low, fluid in tempo and rhythm; a hybrid of song and spoken word. Her bass-playing is prominently displayed, with stripped-down cymbals and accompanying electric and acoustic guitars.

“Rest In Pleasure” is intimate, and again the production has been pulled back, letting Spalding’s lyrics and vocals shine through. She is accompanied by a female call-and-response for the chorus, adding a layer of sensuality and delicacy to the track. A crescendo is present in the latter half of the song, where the volume, intensity, and instrumental layering all increase. “Ebony and Ivy” is a dead-ringer for a poetry slam performance put to music, starting out with rapid-fire, monotone lyrics that soon swing into pensive vocals and a jolting melody.

Emily’s D+Evolution ends with a peculiar track, “I Want It Now,” which apparently is an homage to Veruca Salt of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. More theatre than song, it is an ending both surprising and surprisingly fitting: seeing as the muse is supposedly a young girl, the emulation of unfettered desire through a popular literary character is a perfect, though subtle, solution to end such a complex album. Overall, Emily’s D+Evolution is a piece of art, off-kilter and unhinged just enough to be unique and noteworthy. It pushes boundaries without being disorganized, and flirts with the blurred lines between performance and production in a way that leaves the listener exhilarated. Though it is unclear what paths she will pursue next, Spalding is certainly one rising star to watch closely and with great excitement.

Album released: March 4, 2016

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

 

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Album Review: Dr. Dog – Psychadelic Swamp

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Fifteen years in the future, Dr. Dog has cracked open the time capsule of The Psychadelic Swamp. The band’s ninth studio album is not only a concept album about a rambling and mysterious journey through a swamp, but also an official release of the OG Dr. Dog’s self-released Psychadelic Swamp from 2001, heretofore only found as bootlegged copies. The band has worked exclusively off of old material, either revamping original tracks from the first Psychadelic Swamp or taking inspiration from old tracks to form new, better ones: a glimpse of the evolution of a band in action.

Ex-member Dave O’Donnell, part of the original group when Dr. Dog formed in and around the turn of the millenium, returns to feature in the album, reprising his role as guitarist and occasional vocalist before his departure in 2004. Toby Leaman, one of the main vocalists of Dr. Dog, has admitted that the original Psychadelic Swamp was almost unlistenable; the long-term plan of the band has always been to revisit and reshape their first album, and make it more accessible to listeners. While most of the 2001 version is keyboard, the official release has the “whole studio treatment.”

As a concept album, the swamp wanderings are very well-suited to reflect the layering, variability, and telltale creativity that Dr. Dog incorporates into their music. The style reflected in this album is still at its core classic Dr. Dog, with heavy influence from 1950s-70s pop rock. However, as a personal homage to the band both old and new, the tracks bounce around from sleek garage rock (think Spoon, White Stripes) to low-fi psych rock (Of Montreal, Tame Impala).

The album eases the listener in with “Golden Lion,” an acoustic/electric guitar blend with the deep, subdued vocals of O’Donnell floating above. The chorus changes style abruptly, echoing a sound associated with the Flaming Lips. The end of the track brings a crescendo of synth, cymbal, and vocal harmonies, all resembling waves. On “Dead Record Player,” the classic Dr. Dog sound returns in force with whining electric guitars, thumping drums, rhythmic clapping, and vocal harmonies ever-present in the background. The absurdist lyrics serve as an ode to vinyl and the joy of listening to records, ending in a shouted verse: “The music is killing me/The high and low fidelities are attacking my brain/And it’s terrific/The music sounds just great/Just terrific.”

“Bring My Baby Back” and “Engineer Says” serve as brilliant musical foils to the same lyrical theme, a melancholy lament about love lost. In “Bring My Baby Back,” the self-described “emo” lyrics are disguised behind a light pop ballad, modernized with synth snippets. “Engineer Says” returns after a few tracks to the story, but this time the music is sparse, dark, and foreboding: the harmonies are sinister, the guitar snarling and rowdy, the saxophone solo rambling and urgent.

There are other peculiar gems in the sprawling album: “Badvertise” begins with retro video game audio over a dark base melody before erupting into a rollicking garage pop song. “swamp inflammation” is a weird and unexpected bit of performance art, involving spoken ramblings about a swamp to a new wave background. This funky little interlude lasts forty-two seconds before it is swept away. The album ends with “Swamp Is On,” which closes the album neatly as an homage to both the concept running through the tracks, as well as the band itself. It serves as a message to loyal followers that the OG Dr. Dog may be gone, but is certainly not forgotten.

Album released: February 5, 2016

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam