I made the mistake of not checking the van stereo’s volume before pressing play on “Letting Go,” the first track on Wild Nothing’s new LP Indigo (released August 31 on Captured Tracks). The kids and I all nearly jumped out of our seats at the opening sixteenth note hits on the snare. The keyboard, bass, and interlocking guitars join in to make it a great opening track (the album’s first single).
“Oscillation” is next, which—without taking away from its originality—sounds something like if members of The Cure and James and Amusement Parks on Fire formed a supergroup… in 1982.
The rest of the album maintains a (glorious) 80s vibe, complete with ethereal keyboard riffs and attention-demanding lead guitar lines. I kept thinking: this is what Prince would sound like if he covered early 80s CCM classics! (That’s praise, not a complaint.) The album’s saxophones fit perfectly, even if their first entrance on the album was a surprise.
I took great pleasure in having a traveling companion/listening partner try to guess what year the album came out. “2018” was not the expected answer!
The production is excellent on the album, the melodies are catchy, and all the instrument parts are interesting. It’s got a sweet vibe. I still like 2012’s Nocturne better—it feels a little more effortless—but Indigo is still a great record.
Check out the artist site here, the label site here, and the album at Amazon here.
Thanks to Wild Nothing’s PR team for early access to the album so we could review it.
The gap between the last two Innocence Mission albums was five years. Now, a mere three years after releasing Hello I Feel the Same (reviewed here), The Innocence Mission has put out Sun on the Square (Badman Recording Co).
The album begins with two measures of a nylon string guitar arpeggiating a major chord, which quickly turns minor as the vocals enter, instantly evoking a yearning for connection. This first track, “Records from Your Room,” uses piano sparingly and gorgeously. The haunting high-register melody perfectly compliments the lyrics: “I meet you there out in the air // I’m listening.” It’s a compelling way to link this album to ones before it, setting the stage for something new but familiar.
The second track, “Green Bus,” offers an exquisite interplay of guitars—soft and understated, but precise and tight. “I cannot find a thing beautiful enough for you again,” Peris sings. The song’s strings are beautiful, expressing more ineffable longing.
In “Look Out From Your Window” (featuring a Peris kid on viola!) Peris still wants to listen: “All I cannot say I hope you know // All you cannot say I hope I can hear.” There is a theme of disconnect mingled with hope, acknowledging the reality that we cannot achieve ultimate communion with one another, even asbut that we hold out hope that one day we will. It is on this track that there is (at last!) some percussion.
“Shadow of the Pines” is an instant classic, and easily a top 10 Innocence Mission song. The muted piano is as if they decided to use toy instruments and coaxed all the beauty they could out them. The song is like stepping out of the Metro in Paris on a spring afternoon, encountering a fantasy made real. The instrumental closing of the track gives the listener layers of melodic, moving riffs, which—were this any other band—could have built for another five minutes. (The song is a modest 4:01.)
The spare use of electric guitar on “Buildings in Flower” is a nice touch. Don Peris’s guitar is tastefully employed and never over-shimmery (if that’s even possible!). More drums! (But only for the last quarter of the song.) If “And it’s hard to know, now, where we should go” is the call, the response (in question form) is, “Will the lifting of a window let the Spirit in, and then we begin to vividly live?”
The sixth and title track, “Sun on the Square” is probably the most complex song on the album and maybe one of their most ambitious compositions ever. Loads of string swells as the rhythmic song goes on, which is a great sound for the band. “Let there be more kindness in the world,” Peris sings.
If the next track “Light of Winter” sounds familiar, it’s because a previous version (called “From the Trains”) appeared on a sweet EP called “the snow on pi day.” It could be a Radiohead song. The first version—which we like a little better—had a little more backbone to it—bass and drums where there is piano now. The songs are different enough that renaming it made sense. The new version is still great. The theme of light–and seeing it–continues.
Track 8, “Star of Land and Sea,” is practically brutal in its child-like expression of hope in a dark world. There are echoes of the same two-note, high-pitched guitar riff from the previous track, which ties them together nicely.
The second to last song is “An Idea of Canoeing,” the chords and mood of which are reminiscent of Lakes of Canada. Where else are you going to find a melodica? More wondering: “Will I cross the street to you / in the traffic breaks / in the light of this / in the light of this love / here and now?”
“Galvanic” is a nice way to end the album. She sings in hope, “I believe we are going to see, things will come right this time.”
Overall, this is a very good album (can the band create otherwise?) with a lot to dig into, both lyrically and aurally. The band seemed to write and record this album with a soft touch, not risking too much. But you’ll only find gratitude here for the ways this record returns to the lush notes and tones of My Room in the Trees and Befriended.
As with all their albums there is an undeniable authenticity that comes through in their music. Amazingly, the band’s songs could produce the same emotional response in the listener, whether or not they produce them with multiple instruments. Karen’s voice and heart-rending lyrics come through with every composition. Also amazing is her ability to write so skillfully (and for such a long time now) about such universally human themes as loneliness, disconnect, hope, light, and vision. The hope is uniquely Christian, or at least one that looks up. It’s this—and the unique and always moving music—that keeps us coming back to them.
Check out the album here at Badman or here at Bandcamp.
Thanks to Badman for early access to the album so we could review it.
It’s not until about 30 seconds in to Amusement Parks on Fire’s beautiful new three-song EP, “All the New Ends,” that you hear their signature, shoegazy lead guitar. It sneaks in and out of the first track, an homage to the band’s heavier sound of previous releases, even as recent as November 2017’s excellent two-song EP Our Goal to Realise.
That APOF would begin their 20-minute (!) EP with a mellow (by their standards), lilting 6/8 waltz is surprising, but this band is so good–and had been on hiatus for so long until last year–that their fans will welcome any new direction. It’s still APOF after all: a beautifully crafted song with melodic vocals and layered but not overproduced guitar parts.
That first track, “All the New Ends,” seamlessly moves into “Temporal Rinse” with a wall of distorted, tremolo-picked guitars, overlaid with high-register, ascending diads that I can only describe as reminiscent of the soundtrack of Final Fantasy IV on Super Nintendo.
The listener expects that the band will, at some point, break through the wall of distortion and into a hard-rocking groove, much as “So More It Be” transitions to “Blackout” on their album Out of the Angeles, or as the final 40 seconds of “Road Eyes” prepares us for the almost danceable beat that begins “Flashlight Planetarium” on the Road Eyes LP.
Instead, the title “Temporal Rinse” turns out to be descriptive of the song’s role. It’s a sort of palette cleanser that moves listeners from the mellower “All the New Ends” to the epic and heavier final track, “Internal Flame.”
Rare is the song that eclipses six minutes and holds the listener’s attention the whole time. I think of the Smashing Pumpkins B-side, “The Aeroplane Flies High,” or Sun Kil Moon’s 10-minute “I Watched the Film, the Song Remains the Same,” or anything from Side B of The Cure’s “Disintegration.”
“Internal Flame” takes longer to build than those songs do, clocking in at an impressive 12:43. (This ought to convince anyone that this “EP” is easily worth its $3 in digital format.) By about the 7-minute mark, I was ready for more musical variation than the four-chord progression, but as the song structure remains constant, the band continues to add tracks: more guitars, more drums, tambourine, still more guitar lines, and probably dozens of other tracks lurking beneath the surface that make the song what it is. As an erstwhile recorder of music and writer myself, I can hardly imagine the challenges involved in tracking a 13-minute song so flawlessly.
“All the New Ends” releases in digital format on April 13, with CD and vinyl releasing likely this summer. Here’s the track listing:
It’s always a little bit sad when a young band with a ton of talent puts out a couple of great records and then stops releasing music.
My brother introduced me to Amusement Parks on Fire in 2005. Their song “Blackout” is a shoegazing classic. They put out a couple of LPs in the mid-oughts, followed some EPs in the following years. In 2010 they released Road Eyes. I was impressed at the time, but the album didn’t impact me as much as their earlier stuff. Still, this is Amusement Parks on Fire, and even a less-than-stellar album from them is really good.
It had been quiet on the APOF front since 2010’s Road Eyes. Now, however, they are back. There’s a two-song EP dropping next week. (I love both songs.) And I hear rumors of a full-length to follow….
A few months ago the band re-released 2010’s Road Eyes as a deluxe edition. The re-release adds some demos, some tracks that came out on other EPs, and the glorious unreleased track “Airstrike.” (How this did not make it onto an LP or EP already is beyond me.) There are other previously unreleased tracks, too, giving you a full nine-track “Side B” that complements the original Road Eyes LP.
There are very few APOF songs I don’t love, and none I don’t like. I bought Road Eyes the week it came out, seven years ago, but it didn’t wow me then as much as the first two LPs. Going back and listening again now, though, I think Road Eyes is just as good as anything APOF has released. Having new music to digest in this deluxe edition is an added bonus.
I’m stoked that Amusement Parks on Fire is recording again. The deluxe edition of Road Eyes will both fill your APOF-less void and get you ready for their upcoming offerings. Can’t wait.
Check out the album here. It’s currently digital-only, but in February 2018 will be available in vinyl and CD formats.
Thanks to the kind folks at Saint Marie Records for giving me access to the album so I could write about it.
I’m a little excited. Maybe more than a little: a new Jeremy Enigk album drops tomorrow.
Enigk was frontman of emo’s iconic Sunny Day Real Estate. Wikipedia has great articles on both SDRE and Enigk, if you have some discretionary reading time.
I saw Jeremy Enigk live in Boston, two and a half years ago. It was only $17, even with service fees, God bless ‘im. He had just one other dude playing with him, and the fullness of the sound–even when it was Enigk alone on vocals and guitar–was hard to believe. He played a bunch of classics, both his solo stuff and SDRE, and then the room stood in reverent silence as he played a new song. He owned that venue. All the dads in the room were like the mesmerized teenagers we used to be when we first saw SDRE/Enigk play in the 90s, if we were so lucky.
And that’s how I’ve been again with his new record, which officially releases tomorrow. “Ghosts” is as transcendent as anything Enigk has offered fans in the past. It’s creative, thoughtful, catchy, heartfelt, and might even make you feel warm inside.
His 2015 tour was to promote and raise money for this album. Now, two and a half years later, it was worth the long wait–even longer if you consider his last record was 2009. Or, as Enigk sings on the gorgeous second track, “The long wait is over.”
(Another great line from a lovely waltz on the album: “I dream of ever-changing worlds.”)
Forgive the melodrama… I’d honestly given up on checking for this album about a year ago, and then my brother sent me a link to the first single the other day. I’m really happy to have this music to listen to this fall, and you might be too!
From Ti Amo’s beginning track and first single “J-Boy,” Phoenix delivers an album much more like United (2000) or Alphabetical (2004) than the catchy four-piece scarf rock of It’s Never Been Like That (2006) and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009). Ti Amo is, however, a stronger offering than the last record, the aptly titled Bankrupt!
The guitars come to the fore in the second and title track, “Ti Amo.” The groove is catchy, but the listening world could have done without the vapid and irresponsible lines, “Open up your legs,” and, “Don’t tell me no” (?!), however else those were meant. Have we learned nothing about making light of or enabling rape culture? Those lyrics should have never left the cutting room floor.
After the Tame Impala-like and somewhat uninspired “Tuttifrutti,” the introspective and guitar-driven “Fior Di Latte” offers sonic beauty, tempered only by another throw-away lyric, “We’re meant to get it on.”
From there the album seems like it will take a turn for the better, with one of its best songs, “Lovelife,” introduced by synthesizer octaves and a catchy drum beat. The ascending scale synthesizer riff is one of the album’s best moments. Tracks six through nine, unfortunately, are navel-gazing and uninteresting.
In the end, Phoenix delivers a good closing track, “Telefono,” a fitting blend of guitars and synths that one wished had better pervaded the album. Nine additional songs more like the last one would have made this a strong album.
I really do like this band—they’re talented and have written two of my favorite indie rock albums. I hope their next album will be more focused and introspective.
You can listen to samples of the album here (Amazon) or here (iTunes). It’s on Spotify, too, if you want to check it out in its entirety there.
Thanks to the kind folks at Glassnote for giving me access to the album so I could write the review.
For more than twenty years I have been writing and playing guitar music with a partial capo. It’s always been the Kyser full six-string capo, just commandeered for my 4/6 capoing purposes. I’ll put the capo on strings 3-6, leaving the high E and B strings open—nice and ringy! It’s a great way to approximate an alternate tuning without having to majorly re-tune the strings.
The approach has generally worked well, even though that’s not the intent of the six-string capo. Still, I’ve long wondered how one of Kyser’s actual partial capos would work. One of their partial capos is the Short-Cut. I recently reached out to Kyser and they were kind enough to send me a black Short-Cut capo to review.
This is one of the funnest products I’ve gotten to review, and I’m a big fan of the Short-Cut.
The immediate effect is that you can approximate DADGAD tuning with a simple putting on of the capo.
But there’s actually a new world of sonics and chord voicing opened up with this little guy, too.
I want to show you some pictures and say a few more things, but first, the best I can do to describe the capo is to offer you this snippet, with the Kyser (full) capo on the second fret and the Short-Cut on the fourth.
Any time you put a capo (of any kind) on, you’ll have to tweak the strings a bit to make sure they’re in tune. This is especially (but expectedly) true of the Short-Cut capo, since it pulls up (toward the player, that is) just a bit on the third string, making it a touch sharper than it would otherwise be. This is easy enough to adjust, of course. It just means that the Short-Cut capo does not allow you to actually avoid re-tuning altogether. Not a surprise, and not really a strike against it.
I’ve had my store-bought Kyser capo for ages, and it’s held up really well, so I expect the Short-Cut will, too.
I’m still having fun with the novelty of capoing three and not four strings. though I would love it if Kyser made a 4/6 partial capo. There still is not (that I’m aware of) a good capo on the market that covers the third, fourth, fifth, and six strings only—a tuning I’ve written and recorded a number of songs in. The Short-Cut covers just the third, fourth, and fifth strings.
But the great benefit to the Short-Cut over adapting the six-string capo is that it doesn’t look like it’s about to snap off at any moment. It’s totally secure.
Here’s what it looks like:
And with both capos on:
The Short-Cut is a great product, well-made, and will bring a new level of energy and creativity to anyone’s guitar playing.
One last thing—the folks at Kyser included in my package one of the cleverest and (I hope they don’t mind my saying) adorable lapel pins I’ve ever seen:
You can get the Short-Cut capo at Amazon, probably, but Kyser is a family-run business, so if you’re going to get it, you can support their good work by ordering directly here.