Looking Ahead to 2011

Posted by Greg , Friday, December 31, 2010 12:56 PM

With only one day left in 2010, it's time to check in on the release schedule for 2011. The new year looks to be full of new music from great bands. Just the first quarter alone features confirmed releases from Iron & Wine, R.E.M., Bright Eyes, the Decemberists, and Cake. New albums from the Strokes and the Get Up Kids may also be released within the first three months of the year.

Rumored or confirmed:

Blind Pilot - TBD
Bon Iver - TBD
Bright Eyes - The People's Key (Feb 15)
Cake - Showroom of Compassion (Jan 11)
Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys (spring 2011)
The Decemberists - The King is Dead (Jan 18)
The Get Up Kids - There Are Rules (Jan 25)
The Good, the Bad, and the Queen - TBD
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (Apr 12)
Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean (Jan 25)
Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (May 10)
Beth Orton - TBD
R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now (Feb 7)
Radiohead - King of Limbs
Red Hot Chili Peppers (summer 2011)
The Shins - TBD
The Strokes - Angles (March 22)
Young the Giant  (Jan 25)

Last updated March 5, 2011.

Wolf Parade, Expo 86 [2010]

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, December 29, 2010 10:46 PM

Better late than never, eh?  In the inevitable winter music dropoff, i.e. the time between mid-December and - oh, I don't know - let's say March (don't get hung up on the timing; I'm just making this up as I type), it seems most musicians avoid putting out new releases.  Maybe they think no one is paying attention during the holidays.  Or maybe it's because everyone needs a break, and what better time to take one than Christmas?  Nevertheless, this gives me some time to catch up on music I missed earlier in the year.

I overlooked Expo 86, Wolf Parade's third LP (and their last one, if the band's "indefinite hiatus" is a permanent one), when it came out on June 29, 2010.  I was underwhelmed by its predecessor, At Mount Zoomer, and although I acknowledge that album is probably a grower that needed more time, it didn't get me excited for the band's next release.  Perhaps because of that (or maybe because I happened to be getting married in June), I barely paid any attention to the album's leadoff single, "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)."

For anyone who hasn't heard of Wolf Parade, the Canadian band is comprised of dual lead singers/songwriters Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, drummer Arlen Thompson, and guitarist/percussionist Dante DeCaro.  Krug, who plays keyboard, had been involved with several other bands, most notably Sunset Rubdown.  Boeckner, guitarist, also fronts husband/wife duo Handsome Furs.  Thompson has been involved with Arcade Fire, and DeCaro was a guitarist and songwriter for Hot Hot Heat.  So they're sort of an indie rock supergroup.  The band first gained attention with their 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, with At Mount Zoomer following in 2008.

Expo 86 opens with the crazy rantings of Spencer Krug.  (The guy could be brilliant - at least everyone says he is - but I don't know what the hell he's singing about.)  Something about a hammock, dreamcatchers, scorpions, and jumping over mountains like a gazelle.  Yeah.  The thing is, though, the song rocks.  But even when it seems ready to explode into a storm of ferocious drumming, guitars, "oh oh ohs," and "na na nas," it almost disintegrates into nothing.  For over a full minute in the song's midsection, it's as if Krug and the band forgot what they were doing.  It's all just tension-building, though, for the eventual eruption into the song's titanic, energetic closer.

Likewise, Krug's "What Did My Lover Say" is a monster of a song.  It snakes into your head and feasts on your brain.  Because, you know...snakes are really just zombies with sharper fangs.  Anyway, the band has pulled off somewhat of an amazing feat by crafting a song that is infectious without actually being catchy.

Random Thought, by the way: If Spencer Krug's voice is as distinctive as everyone says, why is it I can't tell him apart from co-lead singer Dan Boeckner?  If anyone actually commented on these posts, I might get slayed for that comment, but at least it's honest.  The dudes sound the same.  You can usually pick out each guy's songs, though, as Boeckner's aren't insane.  Maybe inscrutable, but not batshit crazy.  Naturally, this lets us create a handy cheat sheet for when you find yourself listening to or discussing a Wolf Parade record:
Trust me, the insane/not-insane cheat sheet is usually foolproof.  It has gotten me out of countless conversations where I just wanted to say, "Man, I don't know who the fuck is singing on 'Ghost Pressure.'"

Case in point.  While Krug does his best Bowie impression on "What Did My Lover Say," Boeckner's "Palm Road" reminds me of Springsteen.  Now, if you had to fit Bowie and Springsteen into our cheat sheet, where are they going to go?  Yep.  By the way, "Palm Road" doesn't actually sound anything like Bruce, but his spirit is there.  Or the mythology of his spirit.  Something like that.  I grew up in Jersey; I'm allowed to make random Boss-comparisons.  (Or maybe that means I'm supposed to avoid them?)

That being said, Boeckner contributed some of the truly standout tracks on this record, including the wistful yet upbeat "Yulia," rocking stomper "Pobody's Nerfect," and soaring "Little Golden Age."

Overlooking this album was a mistake.  Expo 86 is a triumphant success, combining elements of each bandmembers' work in their various side projects into a unified whole.  Hopefully the band's hiatus is not a permanent one, as Expo 86 shows they were just starting to find their groove.

What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Go This Way):


Yulia:

Bright Eyes, "Shell Games"

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, December 22, 2010 8:39 PM

Bright Eyes has released "Shell Games," the first song from his/their upcoming album, The People's Key, in stores February 15, 2011 from Saddle Creek.  You can grab the song for only the price of your email address, or head over to label's website for preorder options, two of which include non-album tracks "Singularity" and "The Real World."

Favorite Albums of 2010

Posted by Greg , Friday, December 17, 2010 1:41 PM

I try to avoid writing "best of" lists, as I find it difficult if not impossible to say that one record is "better" than another, especially considering they all have divergent styles, motivations, and goals.

Furthermore, there's only so much time in a year, and I like to actually listen to these albums more than once!  I understand that major music news outlets have teams of people creating their lists, but I'm blown away when I see individual people making Top 50 lists for a single year.  Fifty albums?  That's an album a week.  I buy a lot of music, but I'd think an album should have some staying-power before it gets considered for a best-of list.

It makes me wonder how honest those lists really are...or whether other music fans are just adding albums because of one great song (or, possibly, because everyone else says it's good).  That's why you won't find Mimicking Birds, for example, on my list.  I love "Burning Stars" and "Cabin Fever," but I haven't heard the rest of that album.  Likewise for the New Pornographers, Shout Out Louds, Freelance Whales, and others.  Unfortunately those albums fall into the black hole of best-of lists: Not heard in 2010 and not eligible for 2011.

With that too-long disclaimer out of the way, here are my favorite albums released in 2010:

20. Vampire Weekend - Contra

Highlights: "Cousins," "Holiday," and "Giving Up the Gun."


19. Rocky Votolato - True Devotion

Highlights: "Sparklers" and "Red River."



18. Warpaint - The Fool

Highlights: "Composure," "Shadows," and "Baby."



17. Glen Phillips - Tornillo
   
Highlights: "Better Off Here" and "Let it Pass."




16. Eels - End Times

Highlights: "A Line in the Dirt," "Mansions of Los Feliz," and "Gone Man."
15. Local Natives - Gorilla Manor

Highlights: "Wide Eyes" and "Cubism Dream."


14. Secret Knives - Affection

Highlights: "Wicker Park" and "The Northwest States."


13. The Black Keys - Brothers

Highlights: "Tighten Up" and "Everlasting Light."


12. We Are Scientists - Barbara
   
Highlights: "Nice Guys," "I Don't Bite," and "Central AC."



11. Joe Pug - Messenger

Highlights: "Bury Me Far From My Uniform," "Unsophisticated Heart," and "Speak Plainly, Diana."

10. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

Highlights: "American Slang," "Orphans," "The Diamond Church Street Choir," and "The Boxer."

9. Wolf Parade - Expo 86

Highlights: "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)," "Yulia," "Cave-o-Sapien," and "Little Golden Age"

8. Gold Motel - Summer House
  
Highlights: "Safe in L.A." and "Summer House."


7. The National - High Violet

Highlights: "Bloodbuzz Ohio," "Conversation 16," "Sorrow," and "Terrible Love."



6. Spoon - Transference

Highlights: "I Saw the Light," "Written in Reverse" and "Got Nuffin."
5. Guster - Easy Wonderful 

Highlights: "Hercules," "This Could All Be Yours," "Do You Love Me," and "Do What You Want."

4. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Highlights: "Swim Until You Can't See Land," "Nothing Like You," and "FootShooter."
 

3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

  Highlights: "Deep Blue," "The Suburbs," and "Ready to Start."

  
2. Ra Ra Riot - The Orchard

Highlights: "The Orchard," "Boy," "You and I Know," "Shadowcasting," and "Too Dramatic."


1. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - III/IV

Highlights: "Breakdown into the Resolve," "Star Wars," "The Sewers at the Bottom of the Wishing Well," "P.S."

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, III/IV [2010]

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, December 15, 2010 2:30 PM

People who review music need to justify why their assessments are worth being called something more than just another opinion.  The most common way to do that is to spend several paragraphs attempting to identify an artists' influences and inspirations, often without really knowing where the artist was coming from when he or she wrote a particular song.  This sickness seems to particularly afflict reviewers of Ryan Adams' music.  (Just look at anyone else's review and you'll see what I mean.)

Of course, I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else.  After all, without giving you some information you didn't already know, other than "it's good" or "it's bad," what's the point?  Luckily, I think, my wife is mostly immune to this.  Whenever I ask her what she thinks of a song, she'll usually say "meh" or "it's okay."  And that's if she likes it.  When she hates a song, I usually get a "You like this?"  (No, honey.  I'm listening to this song because I hate myself.)  Anyway, when listening to "Numbers" on the IV disc of Ryan Adams & the Cardinals' new release III/IV, I thought aloud, "Who does this sound like?"  She replied, in her typically matter-of-fact way, "It sounds like him.  If you played this for me and I didn't know it was him, I'd say it sounded like him."  So there's that.

Interestingly enough, III/IV really does not sound like anything you've heard from Ryan Adams & the Cardinals.  The band's first two records were alt. country masterpiece Cold Roses and 60s-country inspired Jacksonville City NightsEasy Tiger and Cardinology, while still country-tinged, were more commercially appealing singer/songwriter folk rock albums.

By contrast, III/IV rocks out.  The easy comparison is to Adams' 2003 solo album Rock N Roll, without the underlying bitterness borne of a major label telling him he couldn't release the album he really wanted to (Love is Hell).  But this feels more like the demos recorded under the moniker Sad Dracula, briefly released online in 2006.  For whatever reason, Adams' demos and unreleased material have always felt unrestrained in ways his more recent official releases may not, and finally we have a record that exemplifies this.  Maybe Lost Highway (the band's former label) really was holding Adams back as much as he always said it was.  It's no surprise, then, that III/IV plays more like a Cardinals live show (at least those of the electric, "Red Cave" variety) than any of the Cardinals' studio releases over the past 5 years.  It's like we've been given a snapshot into the essence of this band at the height of its creative power.

III is the more straightforward rock record.  All those positive things critics said about Easy Tiger - concise, focused, etc. - can just as appropriately be said about III, albeit for a much more upbeat sound.  With roughly 60 songs from which to choose, the band clearly took its time to find the right tracklist for each LP.  The story told by Jamie Candiloro on Adams' PAX-AM label's website rings true:
"Probably the thing I remember most about these session was a chart system that we used on the back wall of electric lady [note: Electric Lady is the studio in which III/IV and Easy Tiger were recorded - GTI] to keep track of things. It had album titles and song names with the song’s progress. I think at one point we had four albums and even a b-sides list! We were constantly moving songs around to find the perfect sequence. One album that started to form seemed like a bit of a folk record to me. It was around thanksgiving that I presented a cd that was essentially the cuts that would become “easy tiger”. My version had sixteen songs though! Another record that was at the front of our attention was something Ryan called vol. 3 & 4. The idea being that “cold roses” was vol 1 & 2 and this was a logical step that the cardinals had taken forward as a band effort. The tracks shared the democratic process of a band, which always gives a record more depth to me."
"Breakdown Into the Resolve," arguably the best track on III, opens things up on a strong note.  "Hi, hello, it's me again ... You probably heard I went away" Adams announces, and one could easily forget this was recorded 2007 and he's not referring to his brief hiatus from music after the Cardinology tour.  Adams seems to take a parting shot at Lost Highway, or the criticism he endured for releasing three albums in 2005: "So, it's one for every year / It's pitiful what I hold dear I throw away."  Please, Ryan, don't listen to the naysayers.  Keep doing what you love.

"Dear Candy" continues the story that began in Jacksonville City Nights' "Dear John," this time from John's perspective.  "Dear John" insinuated marital infidelity: "I knew what you were doing / That summer when Candy came around."  Finally, John gets to explain himself and rebuffs Candy: "This was all a fantasy of yours / This was just a dream you had / And I was never here."  Maybe John is in denial about his own transgressions.  Maybe he's an innocent victim of an obsessed stalker.  Either way, Adams hasn't shared a story this juicy since 29's "Carolina Rain."

John's defiance is replicated elsewhere, such as on "Lovely and Blue," a scornful word of warning to an ex-love's new man: "You're the one she thinks she wants / She thinks she wants the world / It's hers and you'll never get through."

As good as the III-half is, IV is where things start to get really interesting.  The band takes more chances with genre-switching and complex song structures, resulting in a more enjoyable experience.  "Numbers," with its singalong "We're fucked!" chorus, starts out as a New Pornographers-esque punk song before seamlessly shifting into a sweet, slow melody sung by Catherine Popper.  Likewise, "Icebreaker" dabbles in metal, until it surprises with a soaring, anthemic middle section.  "Sewers at the Bottom of the Wishing Well" fakes out the listener with an intro that sounds like well-worn Cardinals territory before erupting into a snarling rocker featuring one of the best lyrics on the record: "My heart isn't black / It's just dirty from the floor."  "Typecast," with its slide guitar and lovelorn subject matter, could have fit in nicely on Easy Tiger or Cardinology, although it's sequenced perfectly here.  And "P.S." is a slice of pure power pop goodness.

The highlight of IV, and perhaps the entire double album, is the lighthearted and charming "Star Wars," Adams' wish for a girl to love him as much as he loves Lucasfilm's epic space odyssey.

It really says something about the talent of Ryan Adams & the Cardinals that a bunch of their unreleased tracks from 2006/2007 comprise the best album of 2010.

III/IV is available in its entirety for streaming at PAX-AM.

The Mountain Goats, "Tyler Lambert's Grave"

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:43 PM

The Mountain Goats have released a free song, "Tyler Lambert's Grave," about the death of Dana Plato's son.  (Plato played Kimberly Drummond on Diff'rent Strokes).  The song will not appear on the band's forthcoming album, All Eternals Deck (to be release via Merge Records on March 29, 2011).  According to lead singer/founding member John Darnielle, the track does not fit with the mood of the new album.  Quiet and reflective, it features only Darnielle on piano with some backing strings by Leanne Zacharias.  The final stanza is particularly affecting:

Young man in a yellow tie
Hair gel in his hair
No context for the picture
Just kind of standing there
Tyler step outside your shadow
Of your great catastrophe
Dream all night of freedom
Never wake up free
Download

 

Ryan Adams, new tracks "Dirty Rain" and "Ashes of Fire"

Posted by Greg 8:07 PM

Photographer Farhad Parsa, who posted the video of Ryan Adams and Mandy Moore rehearsing "Oh My Sweet Carolina" from the 826LA benefit for "I Found This Funny," has just posted two more clips from that rehearsal, presumably of new songs from Adams' forthcoming solo release.  Both sound really, really good.

Dirty Rain

Ashes of Fire
 

If either Mr. Parsa or Mr. Adams has a problem with me sharing these links, please let me know and I will take them down.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, III/IV [preview 2]

Posted by Greg , Monday, December 13, 2010 10:37 AM

Fans who preordered III/IV are beginning to see packages at their doors.  Ryan Adams' own PAX-AM label was kind enough to start sending these out in advance of the release date to beat the holiday rush and make sure that the preorderers got their copies by Release Day.

My copy showed up on Saturday.  A longer review will follow after I digest all of this new music.  But for anyone wondering, III/IV is going to rock your socks off.  If you lost interest in Adams after he went country (it's your loss, but I understand), now is the time to come back into the fold.  If you liked "Nuclear" from Demolition, "Lost and Found" from last year's digital singles, or the Sad Dracula demos, you're going to really like III/IV.  It's easily the most energetic album Adams has ever released, and his best since 2005.

Toad the Wet Sprocket, "It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas"

Posted by Greg , Saturday, December 11, 2010 9:13 AM

I don't usually care for holiday music, but Toad the Wet Sprocket's new song, "It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas," is significant in that it's the first new music recorded by this band in 13 years.  They began touring together again in 2006, but avoided any questions about whether they'd get back into the studio together.

The new song shows that Toad hasn't lost a beat since their last release, 1997's Coil.  Download it for free below:

Joe Purdy, This American, free in December

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, December 8, 2010 8:30 AM

Joe Purdy has made his thirteenth album, This American, free for download from his website for the month of December.  It will be available for purchase on vinyl and CD in 2011 from Mudtown Crier Records.

You can preview the entire album here; my early favorites are the first two tracks, "Highways" and "Ride Off on a Cloud."

Glen Phillips releases "lost record," Tornillo [2003]

Posted by Greg , Monday, December 6, 2010 10:08 PM

Glen Phillips, lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket (who broke up in 1998 but have since reunited and tour sporadically), has dug through his unreleased back catalog and unearthed his "lost record," Tornillo:
I finally went back to the vaults and collected the tracks from my "lost record", Tornillo. It was recorded in 2003, features many of the songs which later appeared on Winter Pays for Summer, and has never been heard by the general public. I leave it for you to decide if shelving it was a good idea or not. It is available now at Bandcamp for $7 (or more if you wish), and is streamable for free. I hope you enjoy perusing the historical documents, such as they are. And just in time for the Holidays, too!
Phillips has had an ambivalent relationship with the demos of his solo work.  After Toad broke up, he began releasing some of his new material online in 1999.  Fans were excited, especially as new songs emerged every few weeks.  However, Phillips' debut album, Abulum, was greeted with complaints over the reworked versions of these songs, or over those that were not included at all, such as "Easier."  Some time afterward, Phillips remarked that the experience made him unwilling to release unfinished demos in the future.  (Paraphrasing, of course; I'm going off memories from a decade ago.)

Fans were further surprised when Winter Pays for Summer was released on Lost Highway/Universal Records.  The album's slick production diverged strongly from Phillips' live shows, which were predominantly solo acoustic affairs.  Tornillo is a more natural extension of those live performances, albeit with more instruments.

Somewhat surprisingly, Tornillo's best selections are those that never saw a major release.  The album leads off with "Better Off Here," which may be the best Phillips song we've heard in years.  "Let it Pass," another heretofore-unreleased track, rollicks with energy rarely seen since his Toad days.

Some of the tracks that eventually showed up on Winter, such as "Courage," sound much better in the more stripped-down arrangements found here.  "Half Life" may be even more haunting (although the version on Winter was excellent, as well).  "Thankful" benefits from a noisier garage rock presentation, compared to the "official" version, which always seemed a bit overproduced.

Overall, Tornillo is great listen.  You can buy or stream the entire thing here.

Iron & Wine, Walking Far From Home [single]

Posted by Greg , Friday, November 26, 2010 5:26 PM

As part of Record Store Day's Back to Black Friday event, Iron & Wine have released "Walking Far From Home," the leadoff single from the band's new album Kiss Each Other Clean (due on January 25, 2011).  Vinyl and CD versions are available exclusively at independent record stores starting today.  Digital downloads will be available on November 30, 2010.  My wife and I rushed off to a record store almost 20 miles away to luckily snatch up the last vinyl copy in stock.

"Walking Far From Home" track list:
1. Walking Far From Home
2. Summer in Savannah
3. Biting Your Tail

A quick look at the song titles for Kiss Each Other Clean reveals that Sam Beam is still preoccupied with religious metaphors, animals,and rivers.  However, if the new single is any indication of the upcoming album's sound, Kiss Each Other Clean is going to be an even bigger departure than The Shepherd's Dog was.  Structured a bit like "The Trapeze Swinger" (only in that neither song has a true chorus), the title track leads off with distorted vocals and guitars before breaking into gospel-tinged backing ooh-ooh-ahh's.  The single's b-sides veer into R&B territory, and Beam actually lets his voice elevate beyond a whisper.  "Summer in Savannah" employs saxophone and synths, while "Biting Your Tail" dabbles with electronica.  It's astonishing (my wife accidentally put side B on first, and our necks snapped in each other's direction as "Summer in Savannah" began), but somehow it all works.

Kiss Each Other Clean track list:
1. Walking Far From Home
2. Me And Lazarus
3. Tree By The River
4. Monkeys Uptown
5. Half Moon
6. Rabbit Will Run
7. Godless Brother In Love
8. Big Burned Hand
9. Glad Man Singing
10. Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me

Guster, "Do What You Want" [video]

Posted by Greg 8:15 AM


Do What You Want from Guster on Vimeo.

"Neil Young" and Bruce whip their hair

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, November 23, 2010 9:08 PM

Effin' brilliant!  For a moment I wasn't even sure if this was really Jimmy Fallon.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, III/IV [preview]

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, November 16, 2010 7:34 PM

The Cardinals' previously unreleased III/IV is almost here.  Head on over to the product page on amazon.com for clips of the new songs.  From even this small preview, it's clear that this is going to be nothing like any other Cardinals release, but somehow sound exactly like it should.  That last sentence probably doesn't make any sense.  I'm sorry, I'm excited.

And don't misunderstand me, I love the old Cardinals albums.  Cold Roses is one of my favorite records.  Jacksonville City Nights got me to appreciate country music.  I continue to find hidden gems on Easy Tiger and Cardinology.

What I mean is that I always felt like the Cardinals were a rock band hiding in cowboy boots.  You heard it in songs like "Beautiful Sorta" or anything from the Sad Dracula demos (from which III/IV takes "The Sewers at the Bottom of the Wishing Well").  As much as Adams effortlessly plays the lonely country troubadour, it's no secret that the dude just wants to rock out.  III/IV sounds like it could be his legitimate rock masterpiece.

You can head on over to Adams' PAX-AM record label and sign up for the mailing list for more information as it becomes available.

Breakdown into the Resolve [live 7/22/2006]:


UPDATE: If you signed up for the mailing list you already know this, but the pre-order just went on sale today.

Secret Knives, Affection [2010]

Posted by Greg , Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:03 PM

I've been spending a lot of time listening to indietronic / shoegaze-revival bands lately.  In particular, the New Zealand band Secret Knives have really caught my attention in a big way.  Their album Affection is like a gorgeous, hazy daydream, heavy on effects and chiming guitars.  The vocals sound somewhere between Passion Pit and Elliott Smith, with touches of Connor Oberst's unpolished fragility.  Like any blissful daydream, Secret Knives have an uncanny ability to make the listener unaware of the passage of time.  "Wicker Park," one of the album's highlights, feels like it ends far too soon, despite being the standard 4 minute length.  The band could have dragged it out twice as long and I'd still be disappointed that it was ending.

Secret Knives' record label, A Low Hum, is offering a free download of Affection and the band's debut EP, The Wolves, from their website.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Wicker Park:


The Northwest States:

Ryan Adams and Mandy Moore, "Oh My Sweet Carolina" [rehearsal]

Posted by Greg , Monday, November 1, 2010 9:32 PM

Ryan Adams performed for the first time in over a year on 10/29/2010 at "I Found This Funny," a benefit for 826LA, an afterschool writing program founded by David Eggers.  This rehearsal was filmed by Farhad Parsa, photographer for the event.



Adams, along with new bandmates Marshall Vore (drums), Sebastian Steinberg (bass), and Jamie Candiloroo (piano), also performed a few new songs ("Ashes & Fire," "Dirty Rain," and "Shining Thru the Dark"), although it's not clear whether these are from his in-the-works new solo albums or songs from the hopefully soon-to-be released "old" (but unreleased) Cardinals III/IV or Black Hole.

Warpaint, The Fool [2010]

Posted by Greg , Monday, October 25, 2010 9:39 PM


The Fool, Warpaint's debut LP (they've already released an EP, Exquisite Corpse, produced by former Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante), is out today.  There's nothing as kinetic as "Elephants" (from the EP); instead, the band paints a hypnotic, moody, and pensive tapestry of sound across these nine songs.  Heavy on bass and dreamy atmospherics, Warpaint do not really sound like any other active band.  Imagine a female-fronted Radiohead circa "There, There" with emphasis on interwoven guitars and bass.  Mind-altered college kids are gonna love this one.

You can stream the entire thing via the Hype Machine.  Or, ya know, here:

Pete Yorn, self-titled [2010]

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, September 28, 2010 9:45 PM

I'm almost disappointed that this wasn't called something like Fifth of Whiskey, after Yorn's last (and I'm sure coincidentally fourth) album was called Back & Fourth.  Sigh.  (By the way, I'm not counting his duet album with Scarlett Johansson, Break Up.  If I was, we could call this The Sixth Sense.  But, given that Break Up doesn't have anything to do with the number five, I suppose the numerical nomenclature fad is truly dead.  Sad, I think.)  Anyway, this was actually recorded over 5 days in 2008 during the B&F sessions.  Produced by Black Francis/Frank Black (of Pixies fame), the album is Yorn at his most raw.  It's somewhat interesting that, after calling his first three albums a trilogy, Yorn's latest three barely resemble each other.  Ya know, if you find that sort of thing interesting...

Velcro Shoes:


Paradise Cove I:

Reviews are about the reviewer, a Voxtrot retrospective

Posted by Greg , Thursday, September 16, 2010 9:48 PM


"Every day I picture things falling down..."

My job is not physically demanding, but it is exhausting nonetheless.  Nearly every day, I fall asleep around 5:00 on the car ride home.  I have a new home and plenty of things to fix in it, but I spend most of my evenings in front of a television or a computer monitor, because to stand up just takes too much energy.  I've put in a full day, after all.  And of course, when the weekend comes, who wants to work?  I put in a full week, after all.  Right?

Every day, I see ugliness of all shapes and forms, often in unintentional ways.  (I like to assume it's unintentional, at least; because if it wasn't, some people are really fucked up.)  I see fathers unwilling to take responsibility for their children.  Mental health agencies unwilling to help the seriously mentally ill.  Youth protection agencies trying to escape protecting youth.  Mothers looking to get paid (and paid well!) for taking care of their kids.  People who spend more energy working the phones to complain than actually working on their problems.

"We hear our lives inside these sounds..."

So, I've been a little bummed out lately.  I don't know if it's job-related, state-of-the-world related, or just my man-time of the month.  Still, I need a soundtrack to self-doubt and moodiness.  It's like I know when I need (want?) to be gloomy, but I can't fully get there without a morose tune to take me the rest of the way.

This has led me back to Voxtrot.

Their music is about the ugliness of human interaction, wrapped up in an often cheery exterior.  It's much like how we pretend we're fine, when everything is really, really falling apart.  Lead singer Ramesh Srivastava's lyrics unfold like journal entries, at times scribbled in rage, but always with the incisive precision of a scalpel.

In business (and incidentally, in Diablo 2 - which isn't related, but I'm just saying), I think they call this "synergy."  Mid way through "Kid Gloves," Srivastava bursts into self-awareness: "Cheer me up, cheer me up, I'm a miserable fuck / Cheer me up, cheer me up, I'm a tireless bore."  And all I can think is: Yeah man, I am a miserable fuck.  And cheering me up is the last thing this is doing.  But in a weird way, it's comforting.

"Come steady my shaking knees..."

Still, even among all this reality-based pessimism, I think Srivastava found something positive in our relationships, as in songs such as "Every Day," a highlight of the band's lone full-length release (and from which all lyrics in this post were taken).  At a time when it'd be so easy to just let the disappointment and frustration wash over, this song gave me pause.  There is strength to be found in each other.  I see it in a woman who's beaten back cancer before, and still finds the courage to do it again, even when a doctor tells her there's nothing more he can do.  And every day I find it in my wife, who, watching me come home after another day of dealing with human ugliness, always finds a way to make me smile. 

"And these things come rushing from behind
Life is changing so fast and there's nothing I can do to stop it
But when I crane my neck to kiss your head, I know
That there is something that I can rely on
And when I strain my thoughts to push this thread I sew
Some kind of future that I can be sure of

Because I love you, because I love you

Because I love you, because I love you"


GTI on the move?

Posted by Greg , Monday, September 13, 2010 1:58 PM

Well, friends, we have reached the end of the road...or at least a road.  I had been using Google Sites to host song files, apparently unaware that I had a 100 MB maximum.  I exceeded that threshold with the previous post, and now have no more room to host files unless I start deleting old ones.

Furthermore, I've been advised that Google may not be the best place to host a music blog, since it's been known to shut them down without warning.  I was aware of this when I created Given and Taken in Ink, but I had experience with Wordpress for a previous (non-music) blog and wanted to try something new.  I think, in the back of my mind, I always knew I'd have to switch back at some point in the future.  Now may be that time.

I've also been advised that it's probably safest for me to self-host this blog, which will probably happen as soon as I pick a host.  If you have any suggestions about a good host, please leave a comment about it!  I've heard DreamHost is pretty decent, although it's been frustrating that all hosting sites seem to have very little information available.  I'm sure that has something to do with people's rush to get on the Internet; in our haste, we may neglect to read the fine print.  I don't generally operate that way, and I'm going to take a little time to do some research.

What this means is that GTI will eventually have a new address, although I can't reserve one until I have a host.  Stay tuned for more on that!

Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard [2010]

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, August 31, 2010 8:28 PM


The Orchard is not as uniformly upbeat and joyous as Ra Ra Riot's debut The Rhumb Line, which is somewhat of a surprise, given that the band does breezy upbeat chamber pop so well.  Still, there's something unexpectedly captivating about the band's new album, which represents not so much a change of direction as it does a commitment to exploring a greater variety of arrangements and moods.

In the pretty, melancholic opener "The Orchard," lead singer Wesley Miles is complemented by an achingly beautiful combination of Rebecca Zeller's violin and Alexandra Lawn's cello.  The song serves to re-orient the listener's expectations: This is not going to be a rehash of the first record. 

Still, it transitions perfectly into lead single "Boy," which sounds like it could have been lifted from The Rhumb Line.  While this is Ra Ra Riot's bread and butter, "Boy" is the result of a more experienced, self-assured band.  No matter what direction they pursue in the future, Ra Ra Riot will probably always have the ability to write a great song like this.

"Boy" is not the only upbeat song on the record.  The hyper "Too Dramatic" augments the band's typical sound with retro synths.  "Shadowcasting" bounces along before delivering a soaring chorus.  In both songs, Miles sounds more confident and mature than ever.  His growth as a front man is perhaps The Orchard's greatest accomplishment.

That being said, The Orchard also marks the first Ra Ra Riot record to feature cellist Alexandra Lawn on lead vocals (on "You and I Know").  It's always refreshing when the female singer in an indie band does not sound like every other female singer in an indie band (that is, sort of cutesy).  One of the album's highlights, "You and I Know" smolders like Stevie Nicks at her most heart-wrenching.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive comments above, The Orchard is a bit of a grower, especially for anyone expecting the carefree joy of the band's debut.  After repeated listens, though, it is clear that Ra Ra Riot have defied the so-called sophomore slump and crafted a record that exceeds its predecessor.

The Orchard:


You and I Know:


In addition, "Boy" can be found here.

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs [2010]

Posted by Greg , Monday, August 23, 2010 10:13 PM


The characters in Arcade Fire's third album are suffocating.  The Suburbs describes the disappointment of growing up in a modern, middle class life, forced to focus more on punching a clock than being alive.  Much of the imagery is viewed through the driver's seat of a car, winding through well-traveled streets in search of lost youth, meaning, purpose...anything more than the stifling monotony of everyday existence.  The album is pervaded by a serene melancholy, a yearning for the joy of youth mixed with a recognition that we can never go back to it.

Lyrically, the album is remarkably cohesive, with themes (and even particular phrases) introduced in the opening tracks recurring later in the album.  The title tracks touches on many of the topics explored later in greater depth, acting almost as a table of contents for the rest of the album.  This is a level of discipline that is largely absent from the works of Arcade Fire's peers.

Not all themes on the album are confined solely to the suburban experience.  In "Deep Blue," lead singer Win Butler expresses apprehension about the dehumanizing aspects of modernity.  Through a reference to the defeat of chess champion Garry Kasparov by the computer Deep Blue in 1996, the song ponders the impending uselessness of humanity in the face of increasingly sophisticated technology.  Butler doesn't let us forget, though, that this is something we've brought upon ourselves, by our increasing preoccupation with technology that ultimately alienates us from the world and each other:
Hey, put the cellphone down for a while.
In the night there is something wild.
Can you hear it breathing?
And hey, put the laptop down for a while
In the night there is something wild
I feel it, it's leaving me.
This loss of feeling is another recurring theme on The Suburbs, first appearing the opening title track ("I can't believe it, I'm moving past the feeling").  Butler wishes for a child so that he can "hold her hand, and her show some beauty, before this damage is done"; or, in other words, before adulthood steals it all away from him.  In "Ready to Start," he'd "rather be alone, than pretend I feel all right."  And in "Modern Man," he "feel[s] I'm losing the feeling."

Still, there are places when "the feeling" hasn't entirely been stamped out, namely in the darkness of sleep (as in Sprawl II: "but late at night the feelings swim to the surface").  In Half Light, "the night tears us loose, and in the half light we're free."  And even though Butler claims to have moved past the feeling, he admits, "In my dreams we're still screaming."

It's a dark sentiment, but perhaps screaming is better than feeling nothing at all.

The Suburbs:


Ready to Start:


Deep Blue:

Ra Ra Riot, "Boy" EP [2010]

Posted by Greg , Monday, August 9, 2010 10:57 PM


In advance of their second album, The Orchard, Ra Ra Riot have released an iTunes-exclusive EP for the album's lead single, "Boy."  For the price of two songs, you'll get three: "Boy," a cover of the Sparks' "Saccharin and the War," and a stripped-down version of Orchard-closer "Keep it Quiet (Bear)."

Or, if spending money on music isn't your thing, you can download the song from the band's website for the price of your email address.

The Orchard will be released on August 24 via Barsuk Records.

Boy:

Local Natives, Gorilla Manor [2010]

Posted by Greg , Friday, August 6, 2010 9:21 PM

Imagine a Saturday afternoon in May on the first comfortably warm day of the year.  Your favorite book rests in your lap.  Kids are playing frisbee in the park.  A gentle breeze caresses your cheek.  This is the best day of the year.

On the surface, the preceding paragraph has little to do with Gorilla Manor.  Local Natives are not content to sit still and enjoy the world from a park bench.  Instead, the evocative songs on their debut album form a sonic adventure that needs to be experienced in its entirety.  It's an effect that cannot be reproduced by simply posting two tracks (although I'm still going to do that).  Local Natives find joy in the wonder of discovery, and the listener cannot help but be pulled along for the ride.

That sense of adventure is reinforced through the band's use of percussion.  Unlike bands that may have a drummer to simply keep the beat, Local Natives' Matt Frazier is featured as an anchoring backbone for the theme of each composition.  Just as any good adventure involves considerable walking (or running, skipping, jumping), percussion on Gorilla Manor is the foundation on which all else is built.  Percussion gives movement and fluidity to the songs, as in "Camera Talk." Opening-lyric "We're running through the aisles" is a line both heard and felt.  Indeed, the best tracks on Gorilla Manor are those that have Frazier leading the way.

That being said, Local Natives' sound is dominated by pretty vocal harmonies, such as on Talking Heads cover "Warning Sign."  Elsewhere, the vocals of "Cubism Dream" suggest Jeff Buckley's more subtle moments.  The band has also drawn comparisons to Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and Ra Ra Riot (with the latter perhaps more for its similarly joyous percussion).

All of these elements are pulled together on the standout opener, "Wide Eyes."  Propulsive beats, an insistent harmonized refrain about self-discovery ("Oh, to see it with my own eyes"), and just when the song doesn't seem to know where it's going, it explodes in burst of guitars.  It's an apt summary of one of the finest debuts of the year.

Wide Eyes:


Cubism Dream:

We Are Scientists, Barbara [2010]

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, August 3, 2010 11:52 AM


I was apprehensive when I heard that We Are Scientists were releasing a new album.  The band's 2006 major label debut, With Love and Squalor, was a blistering set of post-punk revival tunes about getting drunk and waking up on an unfamiliar floor, and one of my favorite records of 2006.  However, its follow-up, Brain Thrust Mastery, took a step away from this scene towards a more 80s/new wave revival vibe.  I suppose this makes sense, as despite being an American band, We Are Scientists have had more success in the UK, where they fit in nicely with British bands such as the Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, and the Arctic Monkeys.

On the surface, lead singer Keith Murray hasn't changed his focus at all.  There is no shortage of inspiration from girls and drunken nights, and the bad decisions that arise from combining the two, but the lyrics also suggest a deeper reading.  Particularly, "Rules Don't Stop" may be less about youthful defiance (as the chorus "rules don't stop me / don't stop me" might suggest) and more a response to the band's critics:

Don't be alarmed, it's not the end of the world.
If we're breaking the rules, it's fine.
I disregard this kind of problem every time.

It's not as if it's gonna kill anyone.
If there's no victim then there's no crime.
Just draw another if you think we've crossed the line.

(Or maybe it's just about drugs...)

But Barbara has taught me a lesson, one which I probably should have learned by now: 30-second iTunes/Amazon clips can be misleading.  Despite my initial impressions that the album would be dominated by the synths prevalent on Brain Thrust Mastery, it actually manages to incorporate the energy of With Love and Squalor, as in "I Don't Bite" and "Nice Guys."

Part of the reason for that is a beefed-up rhythm section.  After the departure of drummer Michael Tapper, We Are Scientists employed session musician Garrett Ray for Brain Thrust Mastery.  For Barbara, they recruited former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows, and the change seems to have revitalized the band.  The mid-tempo tunes from Brain Thrust Mastery are mostly gone, and the band plays to its strengths: crafting bouncy, energetic rock songs.

While a part me still misses With Love and Squalor, it's not like that album has gone away, and the band has clearly gotten better in the intervening years.  Barbara is a hybrid of the band's last two albums, and as a result, just might have more staying power than anything they've released previously.  It'll be interesting to see where they go next.

Nice Guys:


Break it Up:

Guster prep new album

Posted by Greg , Friday, July 30, 2010 8:51 AM


Guster are set to release their six full-length album, Easy Wonderful, on October 5 on Aware/Universal Republic Records.  "Bad Bad World" is available for free download here.  Check the news section for tour dates and more information.



From the band's official announcement:
HOLY SHIT, GUSTERRHOIDS !

OUR NEW ALBUM, "EASY WONDERFUL" IS COMING OUT OCTOBER 5TH ON AWARE/UNIVERSAL REPUBLIC RECORDS

I've been waiting two years to announce that. At some points this recording process was neither Easy nor Wonderful for the Gusters, but we persevered and came out on top. Our new album is twelve songs deep, simultaneously adventurous pop and classic Guster. The "results are in the pudding" -- as it is said -- we couldn't be more proud of where we ended up. Here's your track list:

1. Architects & Engineers
2. Do You Love Me
3. On the Ocean
4. This Could All Be Yours
5. Stay with Me Jesus
6. Bad Bad World
7. This Is How It Feels to Have a Broken Heart
8. What You Call Love
9. That's No Way to Get to Heaven
10. Jesus and Mary
11. Hercules
12. Do What You Want

We've only played a few of them live, so go ahead and analyze the titles all you want, it won't help. Yes, some long and awkward names in there. Yes, two more songs with the word "Jesus" in them from a band of chosen ones.
It's hard to believe that Ganging Up on the Sun came out four years ago, but for Guster fans, the wait is almost over.

Ryan Adams to release new solo album, Blackhole, Cardinals III/IV

Posted by Greg , Sunday, July 18, 2010 7:37 PM

 Photograph copyright of David Ryan Adams

From his Facebook page:

Tomorrow starts the first day of two weeks of recording part one of a new solo album. This is the one I have been working on that is so far written on my old acoustic and I plan to keep these recordings simple...I am dubbing this the "west coast"sessions...THEN in two weeks I am off to NYC to record part two of the cra...zy NYC sessions which started as a "Cold Roses evil twin" minus the noodling vibe but now sound like some weird extension of Love is Hell. Where there was excessive jamming ( which I was shit at ) there are now cool chord passages and feedback and neat rhodes organ fills. Exciting times! Fingers crossed it all works.

This is on top of his announcements that Blackhole (written in 2005) and Cardinals III/IV (written in 2006) will soon see the light of day.  It sounds like all three will be available on CD, vinyl, and digital formats via Adams' own PAX-AM label.  The early/draft pressing for the Cardinals III vinyl looks particularly badass:


Tomorrowland (from Blackhole):

Jimmy Eat World prep new album

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, July 14, 2010 7:36 PM


Big news from Arizona.  Jimmy Eat World will release Invented on September 28.  The record was produced by Mark Trombino, who produced all their best work: Static Prevails [1996], Clarity [1999], Bleed American [2001], and Stay On My Side Tonight [2005].  For the first time since Clarity, the album will contain a song with vocals by guitarist Tom Linton.  Remember "Blister"?  That's Tom.

The first single, "My Best Theory," should be out soon.

Barenaked Ladies, All in Good Time [2010]

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, July 6, 2010 6:38 PM


Buried within All in Good Time is Barenaked Ladies' hardest-hitting record, if you take the time to find it.  The messy departure of vocalist Steven Page weighed heavily on the band while writing these songs, and this is no more obvious than in those sung by former co-lead (now just lead) vocalist Ed Robertson, particularly on the ballad "You Run Away," angry rocker "I Have Learned," and jaunty "Golden Boy."

The trouble is, though, that the potent bitterness of this "breakup" album is diluted by more introspective, outside-looking-in contributions from keyboardist Kevin Hearn and bassist Jim Creegan.  Undoubtedly, the remaining members made a decision to feature every vocalist in the name of band solidarity.  But while their combined five songs provide a probably more accurate/complete account of Page's exodus, they divert attention from the more cohesive picture presented by Robertson.

An argument can be made that it's important to include these perspectives, but the record suffers artistically for it.  While Creegan is a revelation (where have they been hiding this guy so long?), Hearn has written better songs, particularly on Barenaked Ladies Are Me/Are Men.  Indeed, even Hearn's best track from these sessions (at least among those that have been released), "Let There Be Light," was inexplicably relegated to vendor-specific bonus track.

Likewise, the track order gives the impression that the record is more mid-tempo, burying Robertson's heavier tracks in the second half.  For an album with so many rockers, the listener should not need to wait seven tracks to hear the first one.  With that in mind, I'd like to propose an alternate track order:

1. You Run Away
2. Ordinary
3. Four Seconds
4. I Have Learned
5. On the Lookout
6. Every Subway Car
7. Summertime
8. Let There Be Light [iTunes bonus track]
9. How Long
10. Golden Boy
11. I Saw It
12. Moonstone [Amazon bonus track]
13. The Love We're In

"You Run Away" retained the leadoff track position only because there are no other songs in from these sessions that have the feel of an album-opener.  Ideally, I would have like to put it as track 3 or 4, the typical location of a ballad radio single.  Either way, I would have released "Every Subway Car" as the lead single, with "You Run Away" as the follow-up.

Still, this tracklisting achieves a stronger rock feel than the original All in Good Time, while retaining vocal contributions from Hearn and Creegan.  For a shorter, tighter album (11 tracks), any two of "On the Lookout," "I Saw It," or "Moonstone" could be removed, but I think that pushes the album too far into Robertson-solo territory.  After all, it's supposed to be a Barenaked Ladies album.

Either way, with the modified album above, reviewers could confidently call All in Good Time the hardest rocking record in the entire BNL catalog, moreso even than Stunt or Maroon.  That's the review I'd like to give, and it'd be accurate with the original version if your attention is focused on the latter part of the record.  It's frustrating, too, because notwithstanding a few logistical missteps, All in Good Time is the best Barenaked Ladies album in a decade.

Every Subway Car:


Golden Boy:

Gold Motel, Summer House [2010]

Posted by Greg , Thursday, July 1, 2010 10:26 PM


Gold Motel is the lovechild of Greta Morgan (formerly Greta Salpeter) of The Hush Sound, members of This is Me Smiling (Dan Duszynski, Mike Minx, Adam Coldhouse), and Eric Hehr of the Yearbooks. Their debut LP was inspired by Morgan's 2009 trip to California, which is abundantly clear from the first notes of album-opener "We're on the Run," or a standout track like "Safe in L.A." The band evokes a sound similar to the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, or more contemporary acts such as She & Him, latter-day Rilo Kiley, or a happier Anna Nalick.

Safe in L.A.:


Duszynski, Minx, Coldhouse, and Hehr are a refreshingly positive influence, channeling Morgan into more upbeat arrangements than one might expect from other female-fronted summery 60s throwback bands. Imagine if Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward spent less time writing sugary sweet pop songs and more time rocking out - well, they'd sound like Gold Motel.  Summer House is damn catchy, and feels like a natural progression from The Hush Sound's last album, Goodbye Blues. On that album, it seemed like the band was trying to make a statement that it was a Serious Band. Unfortunately, this played against The Hush Sound's youthful exuberance, which was always its greatest strength. It's no surprise that the best songs on Goodbye Blues (e.g. "Honey" and "Love You Much Better") wouldn't be out of place on Summer House.

Summer House:


Minor disclaimer: I don't mean to disparage Goodbye Blues.  I liked that record, and if you're interested in Gold Motel, you probably will too.  It's just that Summer House is so much more carefree.  The poignant loneliness that occasionally emerged in The Hush Sound's music is nowhere to be found here (with the possible exception of "Who Will I Be Tonight?").

This shift is a result of what seems like a conscious decision to downplay the piano (always a beautifully melancholy instrument) in favor of sunny guitars.  Piano's minor role on this record is surprising, though, considering Morgan is a classically-trained pianist, and This is Me Smiling play a style of piano-driven power pop similar to that of a more energetic Ben Folds Five.  Still, when the summer of 2010 begins to fade, I'm confident we'll look back on Summer House as one of the most fun records of the season.

The Verve Pipe, Villains [1996]

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, June 23, 2010 5:45 PM


In the 14 years since 1996, there hasn’t been anything quite like The Verve Pipe’s Villains. It’s not the album’s swagger or its punch; other bands have very successfully emulated both. It might have something to do with that funny movement that developed in the early 2000s, when a groundswell of angry/sad, often tattooed men with high, somewhat childlike voices remarkably drowned out the adult males in rock music. (Yes, I’m talking about emo.)

Every time I listen to the title track from Villains, I’m blown away that I used to hear this song on the radio.  It's the kind of song I always wish bands would release as singles but never do.  A brooding rocker about the media’s elevation of criminals to celebrity-status, “Villains” is not a catchy song.  The insistent refrain, “See how they twist and shout,” is more harpoon than hook.  And although the song didn’t track higher than #22 on rock radio, I still find it amazing that it was released as a single at all.  Only in the 90s would a major label even consider releasing it as the follow up to a smash like “The Freshmen.”

Villains:


Speaking of The Verve Pipe’s only #1 hit, it must be bittersweet for a band to write its best song so early in its career.  Songs like “The Freshmen” are truly once-in-a-lifetime gems that only very, very luckiest songwriters stumble upon.  The guys in TVP had to know they could never top it.  “The Freshmen” first appeared on the band’s 1992 debut indie release, I’ve Suffered a Head Injury.  It was strangely removed from the album’s second pressing released later that year, was left off the 1993 follow-up Pop Smear, and then got reworked for Villains.  Even then, it was not released as a single for a full year after Villains hit stores, preceded by minor hits "Photograph" and "Cup of Tea."  Years later, Vander Ark admitted that the story of his best friend’s callous treatment of a girlfriend who had an abortion was actually autobiographical (albeit without the suicide).

While Villains immersed itself in the distorted, heavy guitars of mid-90s post-grunge, it added subtle layers of texture, such as the keyboards in “Penny is Poison,” a pretty but somber tune about resignation to reaping what we sow.  While Penny may be awful to the song's narrator, he accepts it ("Penny is poison but I don't mind), admitting that he's been just as awful to other women ("Starving the love of the marvelous / I was the Penny to previous").

Penny is Poison:


Indeed, Villains is pervaded by similar themes of numbness and disinterest.  The characters are world-weary, but rather than grow bitter, they are afflicted with ennui.  They have given up.  The subject in "Villains" begins to lose interest in the "villain on the cover / of every major magazine" by the simple act of a dropped subscription card (perhaps also a comment on making money off the celebration of evil?).  In "Drive You Mild," Vander Ark acknowledges he "should drive you wild," but settles for underwhelming.  Elsewhere, he "scraped the bargain basement / bought a lover less than fantastic / Spoke to me barely, if at all."  Whether in love or grander themes, the album as a whole suggests that the true villains are within us.