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.
Today marks the release of a new full-length album by Do Make Say Think: Stubborn Persistent Illusions.
The band wastes no time in piling up layers of guitars, effects, and energetic drums on the first track, “War on Torpor.” The opener is reminiscent of some of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s best builds, minus the waiting. The song does, indeed, slay the listener’s torpor. You’ll feel your blood pressure rise a bit as you listen, and the song never settles into much of a repetitive groove. No matter–it’s aurally stimulating, and the band finally comes back to the song’s opening motif in the last part of the track.
From there, Do Make Say Think tones it down a bit with a 10-minute track two, “Horripilation.” Yes, I had to look up the word, too: “the erection of hairs on the skin due to cold, fear, or excitement.” AKA goose bumps.
It’s at this point in the record–and for its remainder–that the band tests the listener’s allegiance to whatever people mean when they say “post-rock.” To be fair, Do Make Say Think are more creative, tighter, and experimental than many other bands in this genre–think Don Caballero rather than This Will Destroy You. But if you’re looking for hooks, they seem in short supply here. By track three, “A Murder of Thoughts,” only the most patient of non-fans won’t be reaching for the fast-forward button.
Even so, there are some real bright spots on the album: a couple minutes into “Boundless,” the band locks into a groove you’ll be glad goes on for minutes, even as textures build and change on top of the steady drums. And all eight minutes of “As Far as the Eye Can See” are interesting. The musicianship on the album is really good–a trait that made up for this reviewer’s not infrequent sense of torpor when listening, propelling me to want to continue experiencing the album as a whole.
In contrast to instrumental rock bands like Caspian and Mogwai, there is nary a vocal line to be found on the album. But there are enough riffs, layers, lines, changes, motifs, and grooves that you’ll probably want to listen to this album at least two times through before you feel confident making up your mind about it.
At nine tracks and an hour long, Do Make Say Think have given their patient listeners much to digest in their first record in eight years. Your mileage may vary. I don’t think this will compete for Album of the Year (I give the edge so far to the new Slowdive… so good). But I also suspect this album will live up to its name and stubbornly, persistently grow on me and all who take the time to carefully listen.
Check out Stubborn Persistent Illusionshere at Constellation Records.
Thanks to the kind folks at Constellation Records for giving me early access to the album so I could write the review.
I’d never heard of Teen Daze before 2015, but that year Morning World was my favorite album. (Review here.)
Now Teen Daze has a new full-length release: Themes For Dying Earth. Jamison–the creative genius behind the moniker–says of the album:
I’m really excited to get to share it with you; I know the last few weeks have been difficult and tense for a lot of the world. I wrote this album as a way to work out my own stresses and anxieties, and I truly hope it can bring peace to all of you.
Themes for Dying Earth is now streaming at NPR First Listen. It’s quite a departure from the John Vanderslice-produced Morning World, but still worth repeated listens.
Seventeen years is a long time to wait for new music from a band you love. Fortunately, none of us (not even the band) knew we were waiting that long. In 2014 American Football reunited, after putting out 12 of the most enduring tracks of my college years.
In some ways the success or failure of this album was much like this year’s Vice Presidential debate: the players really just had to show up and not seriously mess things up.
The album begins with the fading in of one, then two, then three interlocking guitar parts. Mike Kinsella’s, “Where are we now?” invites the listeners to consider their place in life since the last American Football record. “Both home alone… in the same house” shows the movement of the yearning-for-love teenage emo kid to a now married but still yearning adult. The house on this album cover is the same as that on their first full-length record. This time, though, as the cover suggests, listeners get a closer look at what’s going on inside: “Would you even know, babe, if I wasn’t home… if I wasn’t afraid to say what I mean?”
As the full band enters into this powerful opening waltz, the lyrics go on, “We’ve been here before.” Or as a Chinese proverb I recently discovered puts it, “Fallen leaves return to their roots.” These guys are back to their roots of making smart, intricate, and gorgeous music. But the vocals are stronger (and mixed louder), there is a bass now, the guitar tones are more varied, the drumming is just about perfect, and the production is what you’d expect if these guys had made major label status.
There’s a sense in which LP2 sounds exactly as I hoped it would—but couldn’t have possibly imagined. The second track’s familiar arpeggios, string bends, polyrhythms, and harmonics could have just as easily appeared on the first record. But I don’t think even a die-hard American Football fan could have seen the pummeling drum and bass intro of “Give Me the Gun” coming. That rhythm section, that never existed in the band’s first bass-less incarnation, makes this album more than just an old band making a new record.
To pre-empt those who will bemoan how much this record “sounds like Owen” (especially with the acoustic guitar intro of “Home is Where the Haunt Is”), I offer three thoughts.
Mike Kinsella is one, undivided person, so for his work on other projects (Owen) not to influence this band (American Football) would be impossible.
Steve Holmes’s guitar work (not to mention Lamos and cousin Kinsella on rhythm) fill out the songs in a way that set it apart from just about anything Owen–even with full band–has created.
Band members shared the songwriting process, trading off who offered the first seed of any given song.
There is, however, one unfortunate carry-over from Owen to American Football: a few raunchy lyrics that don’t find a place amid the transcendent beauty of the music this band creates. It’s not singing about sex I’m opposed to, but I cringe at lyrics like: “Dead eyes, and a mouth that can’t be clean / I can only imagine where that dirty mouth is / It’s not on me.” And, “I’m down for whatever / the uglier the better.”
So maybe Kinsella is speaking to himself when he sings later, “Why such vulgarity?” Or is it his interlocutor? I’ve had the same question since the second record Owen released. It’s a real mismatch with the gorgeousness of the music throughout the record, and something that was never in play with American Football. Kinsella does better with lines like, “Oh, how I wish that I were me / the man that you first met and married.”
The final track, “Everyone is Dressed Up,” is as much an instant classic as the album’s first song. The 6/8 time signature and return of Steve Lamos’s trumpet are a fitting end to this album, as are the poignant lyrics, “Our love will surely be forgotten by history and scholars alike.” The song is marred only by the final line of, “Everybody knows that the best way to describe the ocean to a blind man / is to push him in,” which, besides being unnecessarily demeaning (what is this, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed?), sounds like it might have been the final pre-deadline lyric of the album. The final track and album needed a more convincing ending, worthy of all the goodness that preceded it.
The nine tracks (the same number as the first LP) clock in at 37 minutes. After about five listens I found myself already wanting LP3! I hope the band stays together. They’re as in sync as ever, and the addition of Nate Kinsella’s bass rarely feels out of place, with the drumming of Steve Lamos being better than ever. Mike Kinsella and Steve Holmes might be my favorite pairing of guitarists, too—they haven’t missed a beat.
Get started on this album as soon as you can: the trifecta of the first three tracks are pure bliss. Despite a few shortcomings, LP2 was worth the wait.
American Football’s LP2 releases this Friday, October 21.
A second new American Football track has just released today. It’s one of the songs Mike Kinsella teased at on Instagram nearly half a year ago. It sounds almost nothing like the first song, and yet it sounds like everything you’d hope American Football could be. (You’ll have to forgive the melodrama. I’m more excited about this album than I have been for new music in years.)
The funny thing about my American Football post yesterday is that I had it half written in my head before the social media new album tease yesterday. Those three Instagram samples were pretty convincing ( 1 / 2 / 3), but I confess that after a mere 20 weeks, I had started to lose faith in the second coming of American Football.
Now they’ve confirmed that a new album is coming, October 21 on Polyvinyl Records.
Here’s a piece from the press release:
The new self-titled sophomore album from the celebrated band comes seventeen years after their debut. The first single “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long” is available to hear now on SoundCloud, and on all DSPs tomorrow, August 24th.
The song–their first full, new song released since back in the day–is as beautiful as expected:
The melodic phrasing calls to mind Owen more than early American Football, but, hey, it’s the same singer, and that same singer has made a lot of Owen records since the first AF. Fair enough.
1. Where Are We Now? (4:44)
2. My Instincts Are the Enemy (4:49)
3. Home Is Where the Haunt Is (3:26)
4. Born to Lose (4:54)
5. I’ve Been So Lost for So Long (4:36)
6. Give Me the Gun (3:24)
7. I Need a Drink (or Two or Three) (4:58)
8. Desire Gets in the Way (3:28)
9. Everyone Is Dressed Up (3:39)
Pre-order information is right here, and pre-orders ship October 12.